Thursday, March 04, 2010

No Yeast For You, Blanche. And Other Thoughts On Emily's List.

Emily's List (named after Early Money Is Like Yeast), an organization which supports pro-choice women in politics, has had it with Blanche Lincoln:

As I travel around the country, I've been asked repeatedly about Senator Lincoln's political troubles and what, if anything, EMILY's List will be doing to help her win a third term in 2010.

My answer? Nothing.

In 1998, EMILY's List helped elect Lincoln to the U.S. Senate. We believed her when she told us that that, if and when the Senate took up right-wing Senator Rick Santorum's bill to ban what he called "partial birth" abortion, she would insist on a health exception that protects women.

Our members gave generously to her campaign, believing that she would steadfastly stand by the pledge she made to us to protect women's reproductive freedom.

She took our members' hard-earned money to get elected. Unfortunately, when the Santorum bill came up for a vote, Lincoln voted for it even though it provided no exception to protect women's health.

It makes sense not to give her any more support.

But here's the snag: The United States Congress has a measly number of women. Internationally speaking the United States is somewhere between the positions 61 to 72 in the rankings of the world's parliaments by the percentage of women in them. And the challenger for Lincoln's seat is Bill Halter. I have not been able to find out what his views on women's reproductive choice might be, and that omission in itself is most revealing. No female candidate could have come this far without us easily finding where she stands on reproductive choice.

None of this is intended to be taken as a defense of Lincoln's policies or politics, not at all. I'm probably really talking back to Dana Goldstein's article about Emily's List and its new president, Stephanie Schriock. These bits, in particular:

What Schriock says she won't change is EMILY's List's commitment to supporting only female candidates—even if a male primary challenger has an equally progressive platform on issues like abortion rights, domestic violence, and health care. Some critics suggest this mission prevents the organization from weeding out undisciplined or uncharismatic female contenders, like Martha Coakley, whose loss of public support leading up to the Massachusetts special election caught her Washington backers by surprise.


To sell skeptical younger voters on the idea that gender equality in representation is as important as issue positions, Schricok says she'll focus on the number 17—the percent of Congress that is female. "Our challenge is to tell the story about the numbers," she says. "Is it really
OK that the U.S. is ranked 61st or 72nd in the world, depending on how you count, in the number of women who serve in political office? That's terrible. … If we're not there in close to equal numbers then we're not a representative democracy."

I'm not really sure what to say about this all. If we take the argument about the irrelevancy of the politician's gender to the extreme, then would it be perfectly acceptable to have zero women in the Congress, as long as the Congress otherwise acted in accordance to feminist issues? But what would that tell about the society? It couldn't be an egalitarian one unless one believes that women are genetically incapable of or uninterested in the active solution of shared societal problems. Otherwise the dearth of women is a sign of something that stops more women from becoming involved.

And would an all-male Congress really be able to have all the expertise needed to decide on, say, women's reproductive choice? Why is a 17% female representation not something one should address when women are more than 50% of the population? It's possible that conflating issues and representation is in some ways not meaningful because a truly representative Congress would also have some forced birth women in it, for example. But I'm fairly certain that the 17% figure tells us something, something that we should not ignore.

Now, it could be that conflating issues and representation by gender is not useful. But both appear to me to be important from a feminist angle.