Sticking Your Neck Out on Gender: So Uncool

05/25/2011 12:25 pm ET

Massachusetts' political establishment is coming out en masse to support Barack Obama, and one of our most prominent female politicians is mad as hell. In Massachusetts, where I live, MA Senate President Therese Murray said she's disappointed that so many male elected officials, including Sens. Edward Kennedy and John Kerry, are supporting Obama.

Senate President Therese Murray, a prominent Clinton supporter, chastised prominent male Democrats for abandoning Clinton to support Obama. "I don't want to be pushed aside anymore," Murray told the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus during an event this morning. "I don't want to be patted on the head, saying, 'You did a good job on that, but now we got this young person, we got this attractive man, because you can't get elected because the media said you couldn't, because the polls said you couldn't. We're going to put this guy out front.'"

I don't think Murray made many friends in the Statehouse today. Leadership literature cites the "double bind" faced by women in power: as Catalyst writes, "Women leaders are perceived as "never just right." If women business leaders act consistent with gender stereotypes, they are considered too soft. If they go against gender stereotypes, they are considered too tough." By the same token, in this post-feminist age, women who bring up gender risk being attacked for bitching, asking for too much, or my favorite, "being shrill." But we can utilize gender when cheering for Hillary at a rally (You Go Girl!), or planning a conference or panel on "Women leaders in business/law/medicine/politics/golf": I'm planning one right now.

Feminism is so nuanced now. We can't burn our bras, shout, protest, and call it a good effort. Many women operate by maintaining an inner dialogue with our bad and good feminist selves, picking our battles, and enjoying shared, often subtle, protestations when with peers. For God's sake, it took Gloria Steinem to articulate what many women, younger and older feel: that voting for a woman president means something, and that gender is the ultimate restricting force in American life. Steinem can get away with it. Can you? Can I?

For example, NOW, the old grey lady of the women's movement, went too far in New York, and risks a huge backlash. Read this strident yet ballsy, statement from NOW NY, courtesy of the Albany Project blog:

Women have just experienced the ultimate betrayal. Senator Kennedy's endorsement of Hillary Clinton's opponent in the Democratic presidential primary campaign has really hit women hard. Women have forgiven Kennedy, stuck up for him, stood by him, hushed the fact that he was late in his support of Title IX, the ERA, the Family Leave and Medical Act to name a few. Women have buried their anger that his support for the compromises in No Child Left Behind and the Medicare bogus drug benefit brought us the passage of these flawed bills. We have thanked him for his ardent support of many civil rights bills, BUT women are always waiting in the wings.

And now the greatest betrayal! We are repaid with his abandonment! He's picked the new guy over us. He's joined the list of progressive white men who can't or won't handle the prospect of a woman president who is Hillary Clinton (they will of course say they support a woman president, just not "this" one). 'They' are Howard Dean and Jim Dean (Yup! That's Howard's brother) who run DFA (that's the group and list from the Dean campaign that we women helped start and grow). They are Alternet, Progressive Democrats of America,, Kucinich lovers and all the other groups that take women's money, say they'll do feminist and women's rights issues one of these days, and conveniently forget to mention women and children when they talk about poverty or human needs or America's future or whatever.

This latest move by Kennedy, is so telling about the status of and respect for women's rights, women's voices, women's equality, women's authority and our ability -- indeed, our obligation -- to promote and earn and deserve and elect, unabashedly, a President that is the first woman after centuries of men who 'know what's best for us.'

Whew. NOW's been rewarded with everything from smug headlines, as in the Atlantic's "Angry! Liberal! Women!" from Marc Ambinder, to a general sentiment of distaste from women bloggers: a la the Moderate Voice: "To their credit, the feminist bloggers whom I regularly read are as mindblown by NOW-New York's hissy fit as I am." Whatever the result, NOW NY's statement was seen as extremely uncool, a little old fashioned, politically unwise, and definitely shrill in the blogosphere. I have not seen one defense.

But then again, gender protestations are often easy to dismiss. I'm wondering if the entire Massachusetts political elite had endorsed Hillary, not Obama, if racial intimations would be brought into play -- and not so easily dismissed.

For me, the fact Senators Kerry and Obama, Congressman Michael Capuano, and MA's Governor Deval Patrick have all endorsed Obama is a significant signal from the establishment, and I'm not sure gender plays a role in their decisions, but I respect those who question if it does. It's a fair question. A few weeks ago I wrote that women should consider voting for Hillary just because she's a woman (and I think she's the best qualified candidate). I got a lot of heat for that: one reader said my approach was "nauseating" but for what it's worth, this Massachusetts voter stands away from the Establishment. Who'd have thought standing for Hillary would ever be anti-Establishment?