Friday, January 05, 2007

Oh, Nancy...

I should've known it would be like this. That our first female Speaker of the House would face the same kind of sexist/stereotypical bullshit that every other female politician has had to face. That she'd have to succumb to it and play into it.

I held out hope, though, that with a fireball like Pelosi, an unabashed feminist, it wouldn't happen. But that marble ceiling she keeps saying that she broke is still mostly in tact.

What I'm talking about may seem subtle. And it may seem like I'm being one of those oversensitive feminists, overreacting to a simple "figure of speech." But figures of speech still have a great deal of influence on public opinion.

What I'm talking about, of course, is Pelosi's continuous references to "cleaning house" as the new Speaker.
(I'm not the only one writing about this gender-stereotypical crap; Jen at feministing has a piece about the constant focus on her family life - by both the media and Pelosi herself - that's mostly unheard of with male politicians.)

The first I heard was when I came out of my self-induced finals week hermitage to watch the Barbara Walters "10 Most Fascinating People of 2006" special. Nancy Pelosi was the Top Most Fascinating Person. Which was! so! exciting! I was stoked, and Pelosi talked about how the first 100 hours were going to be rockin', and how her first priority was to fix the mess that is the Iraq War.
And then her 2nd priority?
"Draining the swamp in Washington." (referring to the corruption in DC and how she plans to bring integrity back to the Capitol. Ok, good goal.)
BW: "The Democrats can clean up that swamp?"
Pelosi: "Maybe it'll take a woman to clean up the swamp."

I was angry at first. And a little heartbroken. And I was confused as to why she was still pulling that "women are holier-than-thou" in politics thing, after she's made it, after she became 2 steps from the presidency.
And then I realized that even though she was Speaker (at that point, unelected, but clearly speaker nonetheless), she still has to play the game. She still has to defend her place in politics as a woman and play that gender game, fitting herself neatly into the very gendered box of a female politician.

But I didn't think she'd keep using that line. I had hope still that maybe, once things settled down a bit, she'd just start being a politician, not just a female politician. Which is not to say that her gender shouldn't matter in the least - clearly, it does - but I just hoped that the stereotypes that go along with her being a breasted American in possession of a vagina would play less of a role.

But my hopes seem to have been dashed. She keeps going back to that same logic that we used 100 years ago to gain the right to vote; that is, that women need to be in politics to make the menfolk play nice and to clean up after their messes. I thought we were past this. I thought we could accept women as politicians without touting their "innate" superior consciences and morals.
Apparently, I was wrong.

Because then I saw the article on BBC, Women Power Comes to Capitol Hill. It was a happy little article, about how there was a huge number of women running for political office this year, and an unprecedented number of women who won. It talked about how the percentage of women in Congress rose 1.5%, which may not seem like a lot, but when it's been stagnant and hovering around 15 since the "Year of the Woman" more than a decade ago, that's a lovely accomplishment.

And then, Nancy Pelosi.
There was one good part that I loved, about how her achieving the status of Speaker of the House was "breaking the marble ceiling" (which may or may not be true; one woman's, albeit incredible, achievement does not a marble ceiling break...crack, maybe, but not quite shattered..). How it was "similar to the "glass ceiling" in the business world, only harder," and how Pelosi "has the bruises to show for it."
I liked it.
I was impressed by the article. And by the marble ceiling/bruises quote from Pelosi. Very nice. Plus, it had a really incredible picture, which I love:

Men still outnumber women in both houses of Congress

And then, there it was again, the subtle (or not-so-subtle) gender norms/stereotypes and gendered division of labor seeping into political rhetoric:
"Ms Pelosi has vowed to restore civility and ethics in government, saying: 'It takes a woman to clean house.'"

Seriously, Pelosi?

I'm not angry, like I was when I saw the Barbara Walters special. Because I know she has reason to do this, and I know she does still have to play that gender game. But it makes me sad.
It makes me sad to see a woman as wonderful as Nancy Pelosi stooping to these levels of gender stereotypes in order to make herself a viable politician. It makes me sad that politics is still so, so gendered, and that in 2006, women still have to prove their right to be in the political arena. Still have to rely on the "greater purity" of women, on our better ethics, our morality, in order to be legitimized in the public opinion. Still, after all these years, have to base our right to exist in the public sphere on our ascribed role in the private sphere.

It makes my heart sad.
But I don't know how we can move beyond this shit, short of an unprecedentedly successful nationwide consciousness-raising campaign.
And so it'll keep on.
But for how long?

How long is Nancy Pelosi going to have to rely on the "house cleaning" phrase in order to be accepted as Speaker?
How long is Hillary going to have to tout her superior morality, her womanly forgiving heart, in order to be accepted as a candidate for the presidency?
How long is it going to be that women have to rely on a huge push on the part of numerous donors and sponsors and organizations in order to increase our number in the federal legislature by just 1.5%?

In the words of the suffragists, almost a century ago:
How long must we wait for liberty? How long must we wait for justice?

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