great to be a woman during the campaign season. Everybody wants us.
W is for Women,
George Bush declares, as he speaks emotionally about encounters
with grieving mothers. Women for Kerry signs pop up all
over Kerry’s rallies. John Edwards speaks movingly, and often,
about the hard working single mother, and Dick Cheney— well,
no one expects Dick Cheney to do anything other than growl. Still,
we have three out of four of the national candidates acknowledging
us and the work we do, speaking to us about their feelings, promising
that this time they are paying attention. I get the feeling they’d
be happy to come over and do the housework, if only they weren’t
busy protecting us.
So why am I so unmoved?
Don’t get me wrong—I
am ferociously partisan in this election. I will be voting, loudly,
for Kerry. But his Women for Kerry signs irritate me almost
as much as Bush’s smirky self-righteousness.
Can you imagine signs
reading Men for Kerry? Or George is for Guys?
There’s a group
called Mothers Opposing Bush, and, as the mother of two
small children, I was thrilled when I first discovered their organization.
But only momentarily. Because, rather than using language of reason
to make their case, rather than saying mothers are people who think
deeply about political issues, this organization calls upon “the
collective power and moral responsibility [of mothers] to transform
our nation.” This is the exact same thinking which has been
used throughout time to keep women/mothers in whatever place society
has wanted them kept. Saying that mothers have a higher moral responsibility
so they shouldn’t vote for Bush is no different from saying
mothers have a higher moral responsibility so they shouldn’t
work, or own property, or have the vote. I agree with their politics,
but I won’t sign on.
The cover of the Fall
2004 Ms Magazine does the same thing. It asks: Will
it take 22 million women to save the world? Oh, grow up, I
answer. Ms. Magazine should know better than to lump all
those women into one indistinguishable whole. 22 million women voters
do not constitute a higher moral force out to save the world. They
are not going to all vote the same way. They don’t have the
same interests, ideologies, political persuasion or internal moral
compass, and to suggest that they do is to participate in the exact
same infantilizing and control of women that feminism has fought
so hard to overcome.
Then there’s the
Safety Mom, the one who has replaced the Soccer Mom, and is voting
for Bush because she is afraid of terrorism and wants to keep her
kids safe. Well, don’t we all? And isn’t it possible
that the group called Safety Mom is actually made up of millions
of individual women who are each voting for Bush for his other agendas
as well? Caring for her kids is one of them, I’ve no doubt,
but so might be taxes, gun control, wanting to snow mobile in Yosemite.
Different women, different agendas.
Of course, men get lumped
into political groups as well, but these are determined as much
by activity as gender: NASCAR Men, Swift Boat Veterans— stereotyping
is going on, but at least it acknowledges that these guys get out
of the house.
George Bush, John Kerry,
John Edwards and all the special interest groups out there, read
my lips: Being a mother and a woman does not dictate who I am in
this world. Informs my sense of self, yes, but neither my gender
nor my reproductive organs define who I am, what I believe, or how
I will vote.
And that’s my problem
with all these people courting my vote. They each campaign as if
women, and mothers, have only one agenda, only one voice. That we
only act out of morality or fear and that we can be reached through
simplistic rhetoric. That we are all forces for good, or forces
for caring, or simply, forcefully, afraid.
Well, gentlemen, watch
out. Eventually there will be a candidate who recognizes the invalidity
of the patronizing, paternalistic way you address us. And when that
candidate acknowledges the individuality of women, the ways in which
each one of us is unique, complex and motivated by a host of forces—
well, then, maybe, the revolution will truly begin.
: mmo :