Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Great Leap Backwards For Feminism

This is how the White House spokesman Tony Snow characterized the exchange between Barbara Boxer and Condoleezza Rice:

However one interprets Sen. Barbara Boxer (news, bio, voting record)'s remark last week to Condoleezza Rice that the secretary of state, single and childless, doesn't have a "personal price" to pay in Iraq, the brief exchange still has people debating.

And for some women, it highlights a larger question: Just how do you define "personal price" when talking about your country's war?

Boxer's comment came during a contentious Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last week, as Rice was grilled on Iraq by mostly skeptical senators. "Who pays the price?" asked Boxer, a California Democrat. "I'm not going to pay a personal price. My kids are too old and my grandchild is too young. You're not going to pay a particular price, as I understand it, with immediate family. So who pays the price? The American military and their families."

The reference to Rice's personal status was an instant catalyst for vigorous chatter on blogs, TV and talk radio, ranging from the conservative Rush Limbaugh (Boxer hit "below the ovaries") to the liberal Joy Behar on ABC's "The View" (Rice "deserved it.")

As for Rice, who assured Boxer she understood the sacrifice of military families, she later had a more pointed response, telling Fox News: "Gee, I thought single women had come further than that." On the same network, White House spokesman Tony Snow called Boxer's remark "a great leap backward for feminism."

Not to the country's most prominent feminist, Gloria Steinem, who said Snow's remark "takes your breath away."

"It had nothing to do with feminism," Steinem told The Associated Press. "It was perfectly reasonable, and it could have come from anyone — a grandfather as well as a grandmother. Sen. Boxer was trying to draw a parallel" between herself and the secretary.

This is a very odd story in the sense that a similar conversation between two men in power can't even be imagined to take place. Just try to imagine someone accusing Barney Frank (who, as far as I know, has no children) of not being affected by the war effort to the same extent as George Bush, with two daughters. It just wouldn't happen, because it is only the women who are supposed to turn into completely different creatures based on their motherhood status.

So was Boxer's remark sexist or derogatory of single women? Or derogatory of people without children? The article I quote makes a point of following the idea that people with children and grandchildren might actually feel more concerned about the killing power of war because they have a more personal stake in the outcome. This would assume that human beings can't feel worried about the survival of other people's children, though. And notice how the interviewed people are selected to be women, not men.

I think the real sexism is not so much in Boxer's comment, though perhaps she could have thought it out more carefully, but in the whole idea that this is something to do with the rights of women to talk about the war and to care about it. George Washington had no children, you know.

It seems that I forgot to agree with Gloria Steinem on this issue. Oops. Must hand in my feminist membership card.

But I do find disagreement with this comment, too:

For Christina Hoff Sommers, a scholar at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Boxer's comments were not so much a "leap backward" as merely "mean-spirited and thoughtless," not to mention "sexist and politically absurd."

"She seems to be saying that an unmarried, childless woman should not be involved in decisions that affect traditional families," Sommers said. "By that standard, Susan B. Anthony would be disqualified. And how about Elizabeth I?"

"But I don't expect to hear much protest (from feminists)," said Sommers, "because their left-wing politics always trump their commitment to the cause of women."

Christina Hoff Sommers is a good example of a person who chooses to call herself a women's advocate while hacking away at all rights for women. Her whole career consists of trying to get less for her sisters, and this is established right-wing politics. Which might just explain why feminists tend to support what Sommers calls left-wing politics.