Why So Many Feminists Are Deciding to Vote for Barack Obama

02/01/2008 12:55 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Something's happening in these elections that feels like a tipping point.

From a national women's media training to my local women's book club, from

exchanges among long-time feminist activists to conversations with my feminist

son, I hear a buzz about why so many feminists are deciding to vote for Barack

Obama. Count me among them.

Almost without exception, we'd love to see a woman president. Anyone who thinks

gender doesn't matter hasn't seen Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin or Wisconsin

Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton before a room full of women hungry for

solutions to low pay, unfair treatment and lack of time to pee, much less care

for loved ones. To paraphrase Eleanor Holmes Norton, we're well aware that the

under-representation of women in political positions has nothing to do with

talent or merit. A woman in the highest job would inspire many more women to

push against the barriers. And we're outraged at the sexist treatment of

Hillary throughout the media.

But we know the Big Boys have also excluded people of color of both genders from

the halls of power, and constructed a massive set of racial roadblocks and

indignities. We won't allow ourselves to be pigeon-holed into choosing which

matters more, sexism or racism. Both hurt women. Both profit the Big Boys and

allow them to maintain the status quo. Justice matters.

In Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama, voters have a choice between two

smart, capable and energetic candidates, either of whom would be far preferable

to the current occupier of the White House who has made our nation an occupier

in Iraq. Both stand for many of the changes we want to see, including fair

pay, living wages, workers' right to organize, and new standards like paid sick

days and family leave insurance, so family values don't end at the workplace


So what's tipped so many feminists to Obama? For some, it was when the Clintons

began treating him as women are treated -- patronizing him as merely a "good

speaker," trivializing his accomplishments, minimizing the importance of his

early judgment and risk-taking in opposing the war in Iraq, and using

surrogates to demonize his morality.

For me and many others, the key attraction is Obama's vision that people need to

be eager, desirous for and participants in the change we want to see (the very

strength the Clintons either don't get or deliberately misstate). Barack Obama

doesn't just make people feel hopeful about the possibility of change -- he

inspires them to become part of that change, makes them feel it's the only way

we'll get there. And in doing so, he's motivating the base, reaching

independent and swing voters, and perhaps most important, inspiring young

people and many undecided-whether-or-not-to-vote voters -- people most affected

by injustice who often feel their votes, and their lives, don't matter in

elections where money has so much sway.

This public mobilization is precisely what Hillary failed to do with health care

reform in 1992. She owns that failure but not the reason for it.

As long as money determines elections, we won't have the perfect candidate. Many

of us wish the two leading candidates took stronger stands, like Edwards and

Kucinich have, against the role of lobbyists and corporate greed and the

continuation of poverty. As activists, we know that whoever wins will be

subject to huge pressure from the Big Boys and will go only so far as organized

movements of people demand that they go. It may take a president to push through

a law, but it takes a movement to say, "Ignore us at your peril."

I believe Barack Obama has the best chance of helping to galvanize that movement

and to stay connected with it.

Ellen Bravo is a long-time feminist activist and author who teaches women's

studies at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her most recent book is

on the Big Boys, or Why Feminism is Good for Families, Business and the