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Politics disadvantage women

Kate Fridley, Contributing Writer
May 15, 2014 • 1,083 views

With the United States already gearing up for the 2016 election season, arguments are inevitably surfacing about whether Hillary Clinton – or a woman in general – is suited for the presidency. An article I read recently claimed that Clinton’s new role as a grandmother would interfere with her presidential duties.

I will spare you the details of why this article made me want to rip my pocket-sized copy of the U.S. Constitution to shreds. It’s probably obvious to most Oles why this is ridiculous, so I will move on after mentioning that Mitt Romney has five sons and more grandchildren than I feel like looking up right now, yet we heard nothing about his family life getting in the way of his political career.

There are, however, a number of common arguments regarding women in politics that I would like to stop seeing:

1) “The U.S. has a lower percentage of women in its government than countries like Afghanistan and Pakistan do.”

While people who say this may have good intentions, this argument is problematic because it assumes that Western countries represent the paragon of all that is good and just in this world. Shaming the U.S. for falling behind non-Western countries does nothing to mitigate our own shortcomings.

2) “Women basically have equality in this country, so I don’t see why feminism is relevant to politics.”

It’s true that women are much better off today than they were 50 years ago. However, people use this argument with the stereotypical white, empowered feminist in mind, when in reality many modern feminists ascribe to the idea of intersectionality. These feminists recognize that different types of oppression frequently overlap. A black woman faces discrimination based on both her race and sex; the two oppressions intersect in a manner that proves difficult to separate.

Feminism also encompasses those who identify as LGBTQIA+. No federal law exists that provides explicit legal protection against discrimination based on gender identity. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, trans people face an unemployment rate double that of the general population, and 97% of trans people have experienced harassment at work. These injustices are just the tip of the iceberg. Political feminism will lose its relevancy when all people achieve political, social and economic equality, not just upper-class white women. And by the way, white women still are not fully equal to men. I’ll stop my feminist complaining when we’ve had 44 consecutive female presidents.

3) “I’m not sexist.”

No one wants to admit that they possess problematic attitudes about oppressed groups. Before you go into defensive mode by claiming that you are not part of the problem, however, do some research on feminism as well as racism and classism. Ask yourself: why would someone accuse me of being sexist? How does my own privilege play out in my relationships?

We like to think that we’re perfect, but the fact remains that we live in a society that conditions us to embrace problematic views of underprivileged groups. I doubt an Ole exists who has not inadvertently exhibited problematic opinions or behaviors at some point during their four years on the Hill. The good news is that once we figure out what we’re doing wrong, we can fix it, and help others to do the same. Maybe when we all take a step back and examine our attitudes about feminism, we can all have a productive conversation come election season.

 

Kate Fridley ’14 (fridley@stolaf.edu) is from Apple Valley, Minn. She majors in English.

Graphic Credit: CAROLINE WOOD/MANITOU MESSENGER
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