Monday, September 08, 2008

What women "deserve"

The Hindu, Sunday Magazine, Sept 6 2008

The Other Half

Hillary Clinton has lost her chance to have a go at the U.S. Presidential stakes this time around. Yet, she remains a presence. However much those who hated Hillary might have wished that she would fade away, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will allow her do so. By choosing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, Republican Presidential nominee John McCain has clearly shown that he will go all out to woo Hillary supporters. Some have already joined his campaign. And Barack Obama and the Democrats also know that the 18 million voters who supported Hillary, many of them women, will have to be persuaded to remain with the Democrats.

To us in this country, this might seem peculiar as there is still no defined “women’s vote”. In the U.S., however, the women’s vote has become a factor in elections and in the forthcoming Presidential election, it will be particularly important. Yet, why would women, who supported Hillary not just because she was a woman but also because of her position on a number of issues affecting women such as abortion, now contemplate voting for a man and woman who are against women’s abortion rights and for the war in Iraq?

Generational shift
The explanation perhaps lies in the generational shift in the U.S. amongst women that is not so perceptible in this country. The women’s movement in the U.S. has fought hard for many rights for women. The daughters of those who fought for these rights are now entering the work force, women with the confidence to know that they do not need to apologise for being women.

As a result, their take on women’s rights is different from that of their mothers’ generation. It is mediated by a different reality in which they must survive. It tends to be less strident and perhaps more pragmatic. It is not anti-men. On the other hand, the older women who supported Hillary feel affronted that their candidate was treated badly, that she was derided because she was a woman, and that in the end, there was no place for her. They see this as a reflection of the bitter battles they have fought for decades.

An article by Hannah Seligson, a freelance journalist and author of New Girl on the Job: Advice from the Trenches in The New York Times (August 31, 2008) spells out some of the challenges that women in their twenties face in the U.S. And her conclusions possibly explain the difference between the women who support Obama, or have decided to give him their full support even though Hillary lost, and those who remain unreconciled. Young women in this country, particularly the educated urban woman, would find a resonance in what she writes.

Seligson describes how, while growing up and in college, she did not experience any institutional gender bias. It was a time of “girl power”. Women students excelled in academics. They also helped each other and there was a feeling of solidarity.

Then these women entered the work force and realised that they were unprepared. First, the solidarity amongst women that they had taken for granted in college did not exist in the highly competitive space at work. Career mattered first, peer support could wait.

(To read the rest of the article, click on the link above)

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