As the news coverage of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s impending address to the Democratic convention intensifies, I brace myself, cringing, for one last round of obedient journalistic attention to the “PANTsuit.” Have you ever noticed the way broadcast newsbozos always stress the first syllable far more than necessary? PANTsuit. Sheesh, we get it. She’s wearing clothes.
And now that it’s 2008 already, why the modifier? I notice that Sen. Obama is never pointed out as wearing a PANTsuit. Indeed, he is wearing a pair of pants and a jacket that matches. If his clothing is referred to at all, it’s referred to as a suit. Which we all understand, because men are known to wear those, and it’s appropriate to wear while applying to be America’s executive-in-chief.
Is it news to journalists everywhere that women in executive positions don’t go to work in trailing ball gowns? Of course Clinton’s also wearing a pair of pants and a matching jacket. It’s a suit. IT’S A DAMN SUIT! Yes, I get that she can occasionally mix it up with a skirt. That still doesn’t render it necessary to point out every time she sticks with the eminently sensible choice of pants, which men regularly choose to wear without comment.
Either that, or start conducting convention coverage of all those men in PANTsuits. Sigh.
Today is the 88th anniversary of (some) women’s suffrage in the United States. Speaking to this fact, and connecting it to HIllary Clinton’s run for the White House is problematic, since both can be read as emblematic of the “whiteness” of American feminism. Nonetheless, Susan Faludi’s reflections on this and on the fact that Hillary Clinton is speaking tonight at the Democratic Convention have some important points.
In fact, there’s lots in her article that is worth remarking on, but her central point is particularly important. That is, there’s a cycle that feminists are experiencing again.
Suffrage was, like Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, not merely a cause in itself, but a symbolic rallying point, a color guard for a regiment of other ideas. But while the color guard was ushered into the palace of American law, its retinue was turned away.
In the years after the ratification of suffrage, the anticipated women’s voting bloc failed to emerge, progressive legislation championed by the women’s movement was largely thwarted, female politicians made only minor inroads into elected office, and women’s advocacy groups found themselves at loggerheads.
Among other things, the flapper succeeded the feminists, eerily like those young women today who think that the US is “post-gender.”
Today, the United States ranks 22nd among the 30 developed nations in its proportion of female federal lawmakers. The proportion of female state legislators has been stuck in the low 20 percent range for 15 years; women’s share of state elective executive offices has fallen consistently since 2000, and is now under 25 percent. The American political pipeline is 86 percent male.
Women’s real annual earnings have fallen for the last four years. Progress in narrowing the wage gap between men and women has slowed considerably since 1990, yet last year the Supreme Court established onerous restrictions on women’s ability to sue for pay discrimination. The salaries of women in managerial positions are on average lower today than in 1983.
Women’s numbers are stalled or falling in fields ranging from executive management to journalism, from computer science to the directing of major motion pictures. The 20 top occupations of women last year were the same as half a century ago: secretary, nurse, grade school teacher, sales clerk, maid, hairdresser, cook and so on. And just as Congress cut funds in 1929 for maternity education, it recently slashed child support enforcement by 20 percent, a decision expected to leave billions of dollars owed to mothers and their children uncollected.
Again, male politicians and pundits indulge in outbursts of “new masculinist” misogyny (witness Mrs. Clinton’s campaign coverage). Again, the news media showcase young women’s “feminist — new style” pseudo-liberation — the flapper is now a girl-gone-wild. Again, many daughters of a feminist generation seem pleased to proclaim themselves so “beyond gender” that they don’t need a female president.
I can’t verify all her facts, so please pitch in if you have other documented data.
I can’t remember now how I came across this, but I’ve been meaning to suggest that you check out the blog of Irshad Manji, a Muslim feminist author and documentary maker.
She’s got fascinating discussions of, for example, misplaced reliance on ‘experts’ about Islam in deciding what books to publish or what’s OK put in a documentary, based in part on ‘expert’ reactions to her own documentary, Faith Without Fear (contrasted with the reactions the film actually received). Really good stuff to read if you’re interested in epistemology, multicuturalism, freedom of expression, etc etc… So if you’re wanting a break from the US Democratic convention, head on over and read Manji!