The likes of Hillary Clinton and Mary Mitchell O’Connor should be judged irrespective of gender
Mel Gibson is being tormented. Having been granted the power to hear women’s innermost thoughts in What Women Want, he wanders through Central Park with his hands over his ears overwhelmed by the different and confusing female voices.
I think about that scene all the time, most recently after all the awe and astonishment at the number of white American women who didn’t vote for Hillary Clinton.
By all means have a go at those who cast their ballot in support of a sentient air horn, but don’t undermine the valid criticism of Trump supporters by also implying women breached an unspoken obligation to always vote for the female candidate.
Erring on the side of optimism and assuming they won’t all be corralled into underground bunkers for breeding and baking at the president’s pleasure, these rich white women who supported Donald Trump won’t fare too badly. Certainly not as badly as women of colour and LGBTQ women, or transgender women in particular, who are right to be genuinely concerned. Women don’t all think and feel the same way, and we’re not predisposed to looking after each other.
This was encapsulated beautifully by an Irish journalist, of all people, on a recent television panel. Musing on the power of a Trump administration to revitalise the patriarchy, she said she wasn’t too fussed actually about overt sexism or unapologetic objectification.
What she, a middle-class woman working in a male-dominated industry, was really apprehensive about was the gender pay gap and females being overlooked for promotions. That’s not feminism at all, that’s selfishness. Never conflate a woman’s intense interest in herself with any kind of concern for the socioeconomic progress of all women. The sisterhood, I’m afraid, is still very much an opt-in organisation.
“I’m a woman; vote for me,” is a terrible platform. A rhetoric which suggests women were either for Clinton or against her supports the tired idea that women are always dichotomies, but men are varied and complex and deep. It’s not just men who are capable of being anti-establishment or even xenophobic but analysis of Trump’s female supporters seems to always paint a picture of some kind of fatigued housewife who couldn’t imagine herself having coffee with Clinton.
In Ireland, where we didn’t even have a vote in the matter, the sense of betrayal at even a hint of cynicism about Clinton’s campaign or candidacy were surprising. Did I miss the coven AGM when we selected the likes of Clinton, or say, Mary Mitchell O’Connor to represent the matriarchy in political office? Feminists rallied around the jobs minister when she was heavily criticised recently, cooing assurances about the rights of female ministers to have bottle-blonde hair and shocking pink nails without fear or favour.
I would sooner and more comfortably defend the minister’s right not to be particularly outstanding at her job. Men in politics, after all, have enjoyed the unfettered right to be lacklustre since the foundation of the state.
A woman being bad at her job is just that; and it’s more sexist to imply that criticism of Ms Mitchell O’Connor stems from some kind of deep-seated misogyny than honest analysis. If the jobs minister doesn’t know who Michel Barnier is, and having listened to her in the Dail I’m not 100 per cent convinced she does, then of course she deserves to be slagged off.
At one level it’s understandable to have a primal feminist urge to defend women ministers, or expect us to rally around Clinton, or cheer a female prime minister who did little to nothing as British home secretary to help women and girls fleeing to the UK from sexual abuse and oppression. Perhaps because at some subconscious level we’ve also bought into the idea that women are one homogenous group. When one woman fails, we seem to think we’ve all taken a hit despite little to no evidence that when one of us succeeds we all benefit.
Of course women are different from men. You can appreciate the earnest argument that we have a moral duty to get behind a female candidate, at least in recognition of all those decades when the only time a woman was in a corridor of power was to vacuum it.
There’s no doubt women are in a worse place now that a misogynist has been awarded the highest political office and it’s easy to mull over Clinton’s flaws with the safety of the Atlantic between us and Washington DC.
As a young woman in 2016 it feels a little stale to only now see a woman having a genuine shot at the White House. What was even more exasperating was faith in a single campaign to capture a gender. No one person can know what women want.