Soapbox Sunday: Women in power

I am making a major effort to understand the US election and it's giving me a headache – just like trying to get through A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius did (pass the Panadol!). You seriously need a political science degree. But my faux intellectual interest gained some genuine-interest momentum when Hillary won the New Hampshire primary. Her critics are saying she got over the line after she momentarily emoted something other than cool control when asked by a random fellow female, "How do you do it? How do you keep upbeat and so wonderful?". As the story goes, touched by the fact someone actually cared to ask how she might be doing under the circumstances, Hils almost shed a tear.

This reminds me of the whole Samantha Jones character scenario in Sex and the City. It wasn't till she had her heart broken and then got cancer that she softened up a little. The thing is, as much as we could relate to Samantha's weaker moments, her character was built up on unwavering self-confidence; we already had Carrie and Charlotte and Miranda to fill in the blanks. And, as much as I love and can most definitely relate to Carrie (I'm a Katy girl, too!), I'd rather Samantha was running the country (Carrie and I could do coffee.). I'm not sure if this is because of Samantha's masculine, straight-shooting attributes in the work place and bedroom or if I liked the way her particular brand of feminine power enabled her to control and intimidate men (grrrr!), making us believe the glass ceiling was but a myth. But is pre-cancer Samantha Jones, devoid of traditionally girlie emotion, the myth?

New York Times columnist Judith Warner reckons the Clinton victory says more about the women who voted for her than Hils herself: "I don’t for a moment begrudge Hillary her victory on Tuesday. But if victory came for the reasons we’ve been led to believe – because women voters ultimately saw in her, exhausted and near defeat, a countenance that mirrored their own – then I hate what that victory says about the state of their lives and the nature of the emotions they carry forward into this race. I hate the thought that women feel beaten down, backed into a corner, overwhelmed and near to breaking point, as Hillary appeared to be in the debate Saturday night. And I hate even more that they’ve got to see a strong, smart and savvy woman cut down to size before they can embrace her as one of their own."

My inner feminist wants to believe womankind is willing to support and encourage any fellow femme who dares to play with the boys based on her values and policies, regardless of her hairstyle, family life (or lack thereof) and ability to emote. New deputy PM Julia Gillard (a total Miranda, no?) is a case in point. I really don't care what she does when she goes home or who cuts her hair or why she's chosen not to have children (or if she slips over in her heels) – I just want her to do the right thing by our country. But, at the same time, I expect her to represent feminine interests in parliament; to be a champion for women aspiring to senior managerial and political roles. And I would think American women would expect the same from Clinton, who has thus far avoided going down the I-am-woman-here-me-roar route (lest she alienate half the population). But do we really need them to be more 'real' by revealing their shortcomings, by having a cry? 'Cause even in workplaces around the country, women would rather have a bawl in the bathroom than let on to their co-workers that they're not completely in control.

This week Jezebel posted a small tribute to Lisa Simpson, who, I imagine, Hillary would have been like as a pre-law-school youngster trying to compete with the boys while making friends with the girls on campus (I'm stretching to tie this up here, people): "Lisa Simpson is... curious, outspoken, dedicated, and tries to be socially-conscious. But she's still vulnerable to the trappings of femininity, like body image issues, and easily seduced by the fun indulgences of girlhood, like ponies, unicorns, and her Malibu Stacy doll. In a clip from an old Simpsons episode, Lisa comes to the same realization about Stacy that most of us came to about Barbie -- that her image and cultivated personality are sexist representations of women. The problem is, she is fun, and pretty, and lives in a pink mansion! God! Why is being a girl so fu*#@ng complicated?"

In response, Jezebel commentator Vivdarkbloom said: "Hey, I played with dinosaurs AND Barbies. I can wear pink and read fashion magazines while collecting books about world politics. And I don't feel a single bit conflicted about any of it."

Should this new feminism, one which allows women to be lawyers who read Vogue and worry about their weight (a sort of Sex and the City brand), be the standard by which we judge our female leaders, or should we expect them to tough it out and suck it up like men?

Yours truly,
Girl With a Satchel