Earlier this week, Gloria Steinem published an opinion titled "Women Are Never Front Runners" that left me both disheartened by her message and puzzled by her logic.
Steinem starts with the premise that a woman with Barack Obama's credentials would never have qualified for the United States Senate. She then offers that if Barack Obama were a black woman, "her goose would have been cooked a long time ago."
But could a black woman with Hillary Clinton's credentials be elected to the United States Senate? No, if for no other reason than there has never been a black First Lady. Could a black man with Hillary's credentials be elected to the Senate? No, again, as there has never been a black First Gentleman.
Senator Clinton, who, for all intents and purposes, has been the front runner for the majority of 2007, does not fit well into Steinem's message. She has enjoyed more popular name recognition than any non-incumbent ever could have. She has enjoyed more establishment support through fundraising and operations than any other candidate in the race. And yet, we are told, it is her gender that constrains her ability to become President of the United States.
Steinem then goes on to state:
"Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House."
One of the strongest criticisms of feminism in contemporary society is the lack of attention to the needs and issues of the less-advantaged women in the world -- women who suffer from multiple forms of discrimination based not only upon their gender, but also upon their race, orientation and socioeconomic status. For example, the combined discrimination of being 1) black 2) female and 3) poor may be greater than the sum of each of the three parts.
To be sure, gender is one of many unfortunate obstacles to financial success and/or stability in the U.S., not unlike race, class, and sexual orientation. Women, by the sheer size of our population, can exercise much more ability to achieve substantive representation by women, for women, or both.
For other groups, and for women of color, poor women, lesbians, or any combination therein, substantive representation is often more difficult to achieve.
Should we harken back to the 1990s, as Senator Clinton would repeatedly have us do, three memories come to mind:
First, the complete and total abandonment of Lani Guinier by the Clintons. Guinier, a black woman who was nominated to run the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice, and one of the most brilliant thinkers of our time, was quickly abandoned by the first Clinton administration following her nomination without any offer to defend her positions.
Second, there was the crime legislation of 1994, where the Clinton administration opted to reduce crime prevention funding by $3 billion rather than address the issue of racial bias in death penalty sentencing.
Finally, there was welfare reform. The Clinton administration seemingly missed the fact that for many single mothers (like my own many years ago), the most prominent barrier to employment is obtaining safe, affordable and accessible childcare for their young ones.
Senator Barack Obama has eloquently addressed the issues his own mother faced as a single mother raising her son. Similarly, Senator Edwards has made poverty and its root causes the centerpiece of his campaign for the presidency. Given a chance, I find it unlikely that another Clinton administration would act with a thorough understanding of the contours of race and poverty in 2009. To the contrary, my unfortunate prediction is that it would opt for expedience.