Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The new feminism?

Ever since Sarah Palin came into the presidential race, the media has touted a new milestone in the evolving definition of "feminism". While McCain may not have exercised much professionism or wisdom in looking to credentials for his selection, he intuitively knew that Palin as his running mate would provide a kick to his race, this race of "assocation with the leaders' stereotypes".

Indeed, the Economist's Lexington columnist pronounced her coming onto the scene as "the triumph of feminism." I think Lexington is likely male. He made inevitable comparisons to Hilary Clinton, who, together with Sarah Palin, have achieved to crack the glass ceiling 18 million times. But the responses from many women were quite furious. The Economist article does provide the opposing opinion. Glorian Steinem, "American feminism icon", said that Palin shares but a chromosome with Hilary Clinton. Yet, Camille Paglia, who developed the power of feminist sexuality, "hails her as the biggest step forward for feminism since Madonna."

To be sure, Sarah Palin has hit some nerve amongst a previously unrepresented group of people being 'successful' working mothers. Sarah Palin is like the epitome of their ideal, balancing a successful and important role as Governor of an entire state, now candidate for Vice-President of the nation (mayor of a town is not good enough), while taking care of her five children (two wouldn't be enough), maintaining values true to her evangelical beliefs (pro-life for her teenage daughter), such as living out an perfect marriage ("We met in high school, and two decades and five children later he's still my guy.") Plus, she's good looking. :p Many wonders whether she would solicit such a response if she didn't look the way she does, or have less children, or could show her pro-life support other than internally through her teenage daughter (of course, there is no comment why she is pregnant in the first place), or brought her kids to piano lessons and math class instead of hockey practice. Plus, her candidacy as vice-president is more consistent and comfortable with creation order rather than a woman candidate as president. :p And, as if Hilary Clinton were neither a wife nor a mother.

I find all of these viewpoints quite amusing. I personally find the topic of feminism only mildly interesting, and to be sure, there are many relative definitions of the term. While women still face various societal barriers (inequal pay is the most oft-quoted example), I think the goal of "equity = equal opportunity" has more or less been achieved, and the 'equal pay' does not disprove the 'opportunity' that is hailed as goal. In other words, I'm not really sure what feminists are really rooting for. I don't associate with the Gloria Steinem way, (or the Hilary Clinton backers way). On the surface of it, I do admire Sarah Palin in some ways. Likely, it is some emotional association with her motherliness 'balanced' with some sort of professionalism.

Other than Hilary Clinton, the last time that I recall a huge media frenzy over feminism was (already!) ten years ago when none other than Ally McBeal appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in the article, "Is feminism dead?" [Crazy... 10 years ago -- June 28, 1998]

The article isn't very good... especially since Ally McBeal was a fictional character who couldn't truly be thought to have developed America's feminist thinking. Plus, the author evidently does not fit into the group who relates to Ally McBeal and therefore became a fan of the show (of course, I am quite clear of what that is!)

It reminds me of one of Ally's famous quotes: “If women really wanted to change society, they could do it. I plan to change it. I just want to get married first.” In that case, without going into any extreme psychoanalysis of a fictional character, I think Ally McBeal would support Sarah Palin. :p Similar to myself, there is a regard in someone who can balance family with career (though I'm not saying Sarah Palin truly can -- her husband stays at home, right?)

And on the other extreme... I received a complimentary copy of Fortune magazine in my mailbox the other day. The cover article was The new Valley Girls" -- about the successful women in silicon valley. The tech world has a new inner circle. They're young, they're global, they have power marriages and little kids. And unlike their predecessors, they're relying on a unique social network to get ahead.

The article again isn't very interesting -- it talks about their social networking skills, and how they all know each other (Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook has 1114 friends on Facebook!) It presents a way in which they have found to balance their careers with family (outsource everything in their "power marriages"), where both spouses are high in the ladder and still climbing. What I found funny, actually, is that the Vanity Fair-esque cover photo shows these executives all with deliberately sprawled hands... only to emphasize that they are all happily and successfully married (with huge rocks, of course), and not the power feminists of the old generation? Perhaps. I wonder if they associate with Sarah Palin or Hilary Clinton? I don't associate with the women in this article... in fact, I can't imagine such a lifestyle anymore. But it's also because I'm too comfortable. :p

Anyway, while American culture can continue to debate as to whether Sarah Palin or Hilary Clinton better embodies the success of feminism over the past decade, let's just hope that the U.S. Presidential election (and all the other elections, for that matter) can look past the celebration of cultural milestones and look to merit for their selection.

And then on an unrelated note, Tina Fey's portrayal of Sarah Palin is hilarious!

Until next time, this is Gladys Yam.

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