The Fem Spot

Falling in love with your inner Betty/Leslie/Eleanor

Posted in Film and Television, Humor, Politics, Sexuality by femspotter on November 29, 2009

November 29, 2009

Thursday night on NBC should really be renamed from “Must See TV” or “Comedy Night Done Right” to “Ladies’ Night.” The staple show for me is The Office at 9 p.m. EST. As I have mentioned in other posts, on this show, office lovers Jim and Pam have gotten married and own a house together with a private art studio for Pam in the rear yard – wouldn’t Edna Pontellier of The Awakening be jealous!, and “matronly” Phyllis is happily married rather than – as some might expect it – withering away as an “old maid,” her unattractiveness to the opposite sex limiting her romantic prospects. At 9:30 p.m., on 30 Rock, we get to witness the career exploits of  successful female Television Writer-Producer and Third Wave Feminist Liz Lemon.  But before all of that begins, we can spend 30 minutes with Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), deputy director of the Parks and Recreation Department in Pawnee, Indiana. Parks and Recreation, a picaresque show, features the industrious Knope trying desperately to claim abandoned Lot 48 for a new park, which, as she envisions it, will be “a perfect park with state of the art swing sets, basketball courts and, off to the side, a lovely sitting area for kids with asthma to watch the other kids play.”

She really has thought of everything.

Leslie Knope: a Betty?

Deputy Director Leslie Knope

I love Leslie! She is completely earnest but not always politically savvy, much like myself. She challenges established authority, often makes a fool of herself when drinking too much and almost always says “the wrong” thing thinking it’s the right thing. Her office is full of portraits of her political heroes (Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright to name a couple) and she dreams of being the first woman President. (I let that dream go when I was 10 or 11.) Wouldn’t Knope’s election to Mayor, State Senate, Governor, Congress or even President be a fine ending to this empowering story?

When it comes to protecting her department’s claim to the former construction site turned abandoned pit, Leslie runs into certain obstacles: lack of funding, public disapproval and the “diabolical, ruthless bunch of bureaucrats” known as the Library Department. “They’re like a biker gang; but instead of shotguns and crystal meth(amphetamines), they use political savvy and shushing… The library is the worst group of people ever assembled,” she tells us, the viewers. “They’re conniving, rude, and extremely well-read, which makes them very dangerous.”

I had no idea that librarians could be that nefarious. (No wonder I’ve always stammered when asking for help with the Dewey Decimal System.) When led by Tammy, Leslie’s boss Ron’s ex-wife (Megan Mullally), that’s exactly what they become. Tammy is smart and pleasing to men. In other words, she’s Veronica to Leslie Knope’s Betty. And everybody knows that, in the world of classic comics, Veronica always gets her way.

Best Friends or Worst Enemies?In Betty and Veronica, an Archie Comic circa 1950, two high school girls, best friends and simultaneously worst enemies, fight over one boy, namely Archie, and other things like clothes and popularity. And it always comes down to somebody winning out: on the material side, Veronica Lodge finds herself happy in her enviable position as a wealthy teen; but on the side of morality, Betty Cooper wins as the girl who will always do the right thing. In theory, every girl would like to be Veronica with pretty clothes and tangent high school boys fawning over her. But in reality, even if we want this kind of material wealth and attention, only some of us will have it. And the rest of us will have to settle, as “Bettys,” for whatever is left over.  In the comic’s 600th issue, Archie proposed to Veronica. Poor, poor Betty.

Of course, it’s all relative. There are many Veronicas I see that make me feel like a Betty. But I’m sure I’m probably Veronica to somebody.

It’s not that Veronica is all bad – or that Betty is all good, for that matter, it’s that Veronica is in possession of the things we validate as achievements in our culture, especially for women: money and good looks. Veronica therefore exhibits a sense of entitlement to all things within her grasp, where as Betty is prepared to fight for the things she wants in life. And of course, classifying women by “types” – such as how some men have done over the years thinking of us as either Madonnas or whores – is reductive. But this Betty/Veronica invocation is theoretical hyperbole used to examine our actions and how they affect the women in our lives.

Pawnee’s own Betty and Veronica, Leslie and Tammy, find this age old conundrum to be true: will Veronica or Betty get the thing they both covet? At first, Leslie thinks that she’ll be able to talk Tammy out of “stealing” Lot 48 to build a new branch of the library. She optimistically enters Tammy’s office, confesses her true passion for the park and finds that Tammy is strangely accommodating, agreeing to drop her crusade to rule the lot. “We government gals have got to watch each other’s backs, right?” Tammy remarks. And even though Leslie suspects that something about Tammy isn’t completely sincere, she shakes hands with Tammy. “Government Gals,” to our Betty, sounds like a wonderful and empowering organization. For shouldn’t women really want only the best for other women? (Yes, I have fallen for that trick too.)

Wanting to return the favor, Leslie tries to help her boss and his ex become friends again, which works and the two engage in an exaggerated and humorous series of sexual encounters. “I truly believe everyone should be friends with their exes,” Leslie tells us. “I can’t even tell you how many of my ex’s weddings I’ve been to.”

Leslie feels quite satisfied with her actions until she realizes that the sexual activities between Veronica and Archie – uh Tammy and Ron – are part of Tammy’s plot to seize control of the lot. “That woman really knows her way around a penis,” Ron confesses, adding that sex with Tammy is “like doing peyote and sneezing slowly for six hours.” Then he admits something quite controversial. Tammy and he have arranged a trade: sex for the land.

Leslie confronts Tammy:

I know what you’re doing. You don’t care about Ron. You’re just using him to get Lot 48 for your library.

Leslie, that’s crazy; and correct.

Why are you doing this?

Les, there are two kinds of women in this world. There are women who work hard and stress out about doing the right thing. And then there are women who are cool. You could either be a Cleopatra or you could be an Eleanor Roosevelt. I’d rather be Cleopatra.

Cut to: Leslie, direct-to-camera interview

What kinda lunatic would rather be Cleopatra over Eleanor Roosevelt!?

Cut to: Leslie and Tammy at the elevator

Haven’t you ever messed with a man’s head to see what you could get him to do for you? We do it all the time in the Library Department. You should come join us some time.

I would never work at the Library Department… We’re no longer Government Gals!

And that was the end of female political unity in Pawnee.

Well, not really; but this scenario does take us right back to the classic love triangle featuring two women and something they both love: giant pits of dirt. And it also stirs up a lot of moral murkiness. For instance, is trading sex for something acceptable in the political arena or anywhere else? There are theorists like me who would argue that trading sex for money as a service (prostitution) is morally acceptable and consistent with feminism provided that all ground rules are met: participants are safe and the money that is agreed to in advance is exchanged. However, I take issue with trading sex in this case because the sex represents an unfair advantage of one woman over another. Ron tells us that he likes pretty brunettes and breakfast food, and that Tammy made him breakfast while naked earlier that morning. He doesn’t want breakfast food (sex) from blond Leslie. Therefore, Leslie does not have the means to compete with Tammy.

Furthermore, in a professional environment where sex is restricted from being a commodity, Leslie and other women shouldn’t have to compete on a sexual turf for Lot 48 or any other resource. They should be able to make their best arguments for the use of the land and let an impartial leader, who isn’t sleeping with either of them, make an impartial decision. (I know: when does that ever really happen? Like Leslie, I’m optimistic that fairness is possible.)

The other issue I take with this type of sexual maneuvering is that it’s really bad for our feminist cause. It isn’t that Tammy is physically or emotionally hurt in the process – though Ron sustains some emotional scars, it’s that Tammy will damage her reputation and the potential for herself and other women to advance in their careers. Ever heard a man or woman around the workplace refer to another woman as requiring knee pads to do her job? This kind of cynicism makes it very difficult for women to get ahead because of their intellectual merit. In other words, the Veronicas of the world owe us Bettys some fair dealing when it comes to peddling sexuality lest we all will be undermined in our careers. Just because Tammy sleeps her way to the top, doesn’t mean the rest of us do. And just because a woman sleeps with her boss doesn’t mean she isn’t good at her job.

These are real paradoxes that exist for some women. I am really anxious to find out what will happen in the careers of David Letterman’s co-workers and simultaneous sexual “partners.” While our culture hasn’t been very hard on Letterman, human resource departments will struggle over whether Letterman’s ladies are Veronicas or Bettys: women who took advantage of male sexual desire to get ahead in business or women who were taken advantage of. Their ethics will be questioned even if his aren’t. Were they actually good at their jobs or just good in the sack? And what about why they did it: did they think they had to sleep with the boss lest they be excused from employment at The Late Show? It’s really muddy water over there at CBS…and everywhere in puritanical America where sex is concerned, I’m afraid.

This episode would probably have ceased to be funny if Leslie had done what I would have done: file a report with human resources the minute Ron told me he was participating in a sex trade. I’ll cut her some slack in the name of sitcom frivolity. (Shame on Ron, however!) But I do want to mention the opposing argument that I met with many times in graduate English seminars when talking about women in Victorian literature. Let’s take The Wings of the Dove, for instance, wherein a woman schemes to marry a poor man by asking him to seduce a dying woman so that, once she dies, all of her money will go to him and he’ll be free to marry the schemer. I remember a classmate explaining to me that I couldn’t be mad at the schemer because she’s a woman and she has to operate within the boundaries of the period and culture she lives in. The only way she can marry the man she loves is if they have some money, and the way she’s found she can get that money is to con an innocent out of her fortune.

That’s tragic. I’ve never been able to agree with this viewpoint, however, because I think a woman hurting another woman is counterproductive. This is why we have an expression “kicking someone when they’re down.” Women historically have been the underdog, so why would we kick each other? That same sympathetic logic applied to the Pawnee triangle would mean that Tammy’s actions are acceptable, even though Leslie gets hurt, because the limitations of Tammy’s circumstances make it difficult for her to get the lot any other way than by sexual means. Leslie was first to claim Lot 48 and she’s been working on her park idea for months. She is an obstacle for Tammy that can be overcome through sex. So, for me, the sex is just the means to a horrible end: Leslie loses her park. Is the sex wrong? Yes, because Leslie gets hurt and not because it’s sex. Bribery with any commodity like money or a promotion or food, etc. would also be wrong…because Leslie gets hurt.

Which is the prevailing feminism? It probably isn’t mine. In my experience, many feminists aren’t critical of women in these types of hypothetical scenarios. The tendency is to blame the man: it’s Ron’s fault, he’s in charge and he’s letting what he wants get in the way of doing his job, he’s using Tammy for sex and nothing more, etc. But in my book, I think that, while Ron is contemptible, so is Tammy. Tammy also should know better. Tammy should be kinder to a female comrade, a fellow “Government Gal.” Tammy should play fair and pose her argument for the lot to higher powers based on practical concerns for the community. (Where will the children with asthma sit in her library, for instance?)

And I agree with Leslie: only a “lunatic” would rather be a conniving, manipulative person over a bona fide hero.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt: Another Betty?

Eleanor Roosevelt was the First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945, married to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Her legacy includes such democratic feats as: co-founding Freedom House to evaluate the level of human rights consideration in government, supporting the creation of the United Nations and even serving as a delegate, as well as proving instrumental in launching the “Second Wave”  of the Feminist Movement.

Perhaps she too was a Betty. Nothing like a conventional beauty, she often sacrificed personal satisfaction, adoration and comfort for a life of public service. And she had her own Veronica: Lucy Mercer Rutherford, her former social secretary. Informed and angry about the affair between her husband and her former employee, Eleanor reportedly threatened him with divorce, also known as political murder/suicide. She arrived at his deathbed to find Lucy by his side, which is really a tragic end to an unsatisfying romance.

However, Roosevelt’s unhappiness in love did not infect her political, feminist and humanist triumphs.  Betty she may have been, but she was no less than the Betty I want to be.

Barbie: heroine or villainess…is it that simple?

Posted in Personal Essays, Pop Culture by femspotter on March 5, 2009

March 5, 2009

As a feminist, I’m supposed to hate Barbie. She’s the one who you’d think blighted my otherwise cheerful adolescence – turning me into the once nearly anorexic mess that now, to my dismay, wears a size 10. Barbie is the suspected harbinger of low self-esteem. But I’ve got news for you: Barbie didn’t do anything to me. I never wanted to look like her. I never compared my roundness to her willowy frame. I never allowed her seemingly perfect appearance to challenge my wonderfully imperfect appearance. I never threw up my lunch so that I could squeeze into smaller clothes and pretend to be the blond beauty.

Barbie for President 2000

Barbie for President 2000

She’s not real…she’s plastic. And if Barbie sprung to life, reportedly she’d topple over because her boobs are too big for her frame and her feet are too small for her weight. Additionally, she only has room in her diminutive midsection for half a liver and a small portion of her intestines. It wouldn’t be long before Barbie would die a miserable death from malabsortion.

Barbie has always been a blank canvas for me; a place to project my hopes and dreams on a small stage. For all the girls who – like me – wanted to be ballerinas when we grew up (however chunky we might have been whilst engaging in this fantasy), Barbie has many a ballerina costume. For girls who dreamed of exploring outer space, there was “Miss Astronaut” Barbie (1965). For all the girls who – like me – wanted to be the first woman president, Barbie corporate suits were available in different colors and styles. And in 1992, Mattel released its first signature “Barbie for President” doll, which has gone through several transformations over the years. Sure, “Beach Blast Barbie” isn’t nearly as challenging or redemptive as the American Girl dolls with their anti-bullying and anti-racism messages, etc. Barbie is just a hanger for pretty clothes and accessories. Little girls (and some boys) like to dress and accessorize that hanger.

While early attempts to fashion Barbie after interesting career women resulted in traditional female job dolls (singer, ballerina, nurse and flight attendant), by the 1980’s – courtesy of the advancements of real women in the real workforce – Barbie had become a television news anchor, a UNICEF ambassador, a teacher, a soldier and an aerobics instructor. That was great news for girls (and some boys) who wanted to take the career fantasy a step further. Barbie had the career clothes (over 100 different careers in 50 years), and consequently you could pretend – by projecting, imagining or playing – that you’d get your dream job when you grew up. (Take a look at Time‘s photojournalism Barbie history exhibit HERE.)

Barbie AND her wardrobe give children fuel for the imagination, just like any doll. Baby dolls help you pretend to be a mother (or father), for instance. Barbie helps you project your fantasies about future opportunities. You dress her up and do her hair…then you stuff her in a box somewhere until you get a new plastic outfit to daydream about, and you start all over. Barbie offerings have evolved and now come in many different hair and skin shades. (Perhaps there’s even a Barbie or two in the White House these days, though I haven’t been able to find evidence of either a predilection about or aversion to the toy on the part of “Mom in Chief” Michelle Obama.)

Of course, I knew Barbie in the 80’s and 90’s when her wardrobe was almost entirely plastic – tragically- though I was still drawn to its sparkle and glamour. Just when I was starting to think my mother and I have nothing in common, I inquired about her experiences with Barbie and – sure enough – she had a Barbie doll for the pretty clothes too: “Part of the appeal for me…was that they were these beautiful little fabrics and they were store-bought,” my mother confessed.

“My mother made all my clothes,” she continued to explain. “They were very serviceable. They were very useful. I wore brown tie shoes, leather oxfords, to school…nothing frivolous! These Barbie clothes were – to me – so exciting because they were colorful and they were store-bought.”

I’ve seen her Barbie (she still has it) and it’s lovely. She bought it in 1963 (Barbie was just about 4 years old then and still a novelty). Mom’s Barbie has a stylish 60’s brunette bubble haircut (retail value in those days was $2.99) and about ten pristine outfits (retail value $1.50 and up). But, aside from the shoes, there’s no plastic in sight for 1963 Barbie. In the early days of Barbie, clothes were assembled with real thread (instead of glue) and made of cotton and polyester (instead of shiny paper-like fibers).

My mother – long blond braids in tow – would trot down to W. T. Grant’s department store on a weekly basis to check out the new shipment of Barbie outfits that arrived. Once, she bought the flight attendant ensemble, complete with overnight bag and wedge cap. On another occasion, she purchased the backyard cookout set, with chef’s apron and barbecue utensils (metal with wooden handles). She had the peignoir nightgown and matching pink slippers, as well as “glorious!, the ballerina outfit!” Devastated was she that Grant’s never ordered the bridal ensemble. Or, if it had, another hopeful tot swept it up before she could set eyes upon its elegant cream chiffon layers.

Not only did my grandmother make my mother’s clothes, she made her lunches too. And every day my mother would return home in the middle of the day for soup and sandwiches a la Grammy’s warm wishes. The family was well enough off so that Grammy could spend her days at home, but – with four children, one of them deemed “special needs” – money was not wastefully spent on toys outside of Christmas and birthday giving.

Mom wanted a Barbie. She wanted to project the same way I did. She wanted to dress the doll up and envision her own ascension to the realms of stylish and sophisticated careerdom. She wanted Barbie so much that she had to work for it: she worked in the school cafeteria, hosing off lunch trays and stacking them for reuse. But the payment was free hot lunch for each week she worked…not money. Mom, and her similarly blond-tressed friend K****, were the two school children entrusted with this task; and, for K****, free lunch was a necessity. Mom, on the other hand, still travelled home to eat. Grammy – fairminded as she was – coughed up the $1.50 that hot lunch was worth as an allowance…and, after two weeks, Mom had enough to buy the brunette Barbie of her dreams.

Peaches 'n Cream Barbie

Peaches 'n Cream Barbie

Barbie must have meant as much to me, though not on a pecuniary level. I remember chewing the rubber feet on a friend’s Barbie once when I was about 6 years old in exchange for whatever unforgivable injustice she had done to me, knowing that the doll’s desecration would vex her. And when a cousin and I were gifted slightly different “Peaches ‘n Cream Barbie(s)” for Christmas one year, I threw an elaborate temper tantrum convinced that there was some conspiracy that resulted in my cherubic cousin getting the prettier of the two dolls.

I guess I thought – for a fleeting moment – that pretty Barbie’s were only for pretty girls and that maybe my less pretty doll was a reflection on my being the less pretty cousin.

The drama subsided, however; I loved the PRETTY Barbie I’d received, and I had other dolls over time. As far as I can remember, I never felt bad about myself just looking at and playing with the Barbies that I did.

It would seem that either my experience was unique or a West Virginia politician has come up with a corny way of making headlines. Democratic Delegate Jeff Eldridge has proposed a state-wide ban on Barbie doll sales claiming that “such toys influence girls to place too much importance on physical beauty, at the expense of their intellectual and emotional development.” I don’t know about other women who played with Barbies in their youth, but I feel intellectually and emotionally developed.

If parents are concerned about body image and emotional development when it comes to Barbies, then they need to explain the facts: Barbie is disproportionate and thus physically impossible. And while they’re at it, they should explain that actresses and models on magazine covers are airbrushed and have full-time personal trainers and nutritionists to guide them to their svelte shapes. Looking at magazine covers did more to damage my fragile ego than playing with a doll – any doll – ever did.

And – speaking of parents – the heaviest shrapnel fire that rained down on my body image came from my dear mom and dad (sorry Mom!). They taught me to fear/loathe food and made me self-conscious about being overweight, just as their parents had done to them. Mr. Eldridge, before you ban Barbie, you should make sure that you’re not telling your 6-year-old daughter that her delicious ice cream sandwich will make her undesirably fat or that she’s predisposed to obesity. Don’t parade her by McDonald’s whilst telling her that Big Macs are “the devil.” Don’t hide “naughty” snack food – like chips and candy – on an unreachable shelf and tell her that she can’t have those things. If you do, you’re worse than any Barbie doll. By forbidding the chips and candy, you’re saying that success in life is tied to physical perfection and are therefore robbing your daughter of the promise that she can be the first woman president if she wants to. Barbie, at least, offers her that fantasy.

Barbie is 50…but from afar she doesn’t look a day over 25. And if you look closely, you’ll see that she isn’t nefarious, scheming to undermine your self-esteem.

She’s just plastic…and glitter…and imagination!

So what kind of feminist are you anyway?

Posted in Feminist Theory, Personal Essays, Politics, queer theory by femspotter on May 22, 2008

May 22, 2008 (revised September 16. 2009)

Someone asked me that in an English graduate seminar. He was rather caustic about the whole thing. I think it bothered him that he couldn’t put me in a category.

In my ignorance, I thought you could either be a feminist or not be a feminist. The question had me stumped.

I’m not like…say…oh…we’ll call her “Kara.” She’s a militant Marxist, or socialist, feminist who hates men, specifically the kind who marry…or rather she hates the institution of marriage and thinks it shackles females.

I’m also not a conservative feminist who would criticize women who adopt a “male model” of careerism and public achievement. That’s far too restrictive.

I’m not a liberal feminist. While I do support the notion that all humans are deserving of equal treatment under the law, I do not support the idea that all women can assert themselves and achieve without altering the social constructs we live in.

In much the same way, I am not a post-feminist. I don’t deny the existence of oppression. I do think there is need for change.

It would seem that there is one extreme left: radical feminism. I do not believe that female oppression is rampant – at least not in the United States – nor do I believe that all, or most, men are out to stifle us in order to boost their fragile egos. Misogyny is a big problem – globally, but I believe it can be combated by the elimination of gender stereotyping. In other words, out with “masculine” and “feminine” labels! These are social constructs that fluctuate. To be feminine in 1950 meant to be submissive and quaint: ask no questions and challenge no authority. Today, femininity is part and parcel with a certain predatory quality that signals an interest in sexuality, rather than an indifference to it. If we stop expecting women to be feminine and men to be masculine; if we accept public displays of emotion from men and the lack thereof from women; if we celebrate the institution of stay-at-home paternity in addition to its counterpart, etc. then we begin to raise the status of all women without hindering the status of men.

The man at the seminar scratched his head when I couldn’t entirely identify with one faction or the other. He wasn’t quite sure what use I was to the blanket feminist agenda: equality.

I think we saw this same reaction in politics as Hillary Clinton strove to win the Democratic nomination for President in 2008, even with very little hope left. Let’s humorously examine what all these different feminists might have been saying about Clinton’s tenacity.

Socialist: She should be running under her maiden name. It’s archaic to adopt a man’s last name when marrying. It’s really too bad she married at all. And while she’s at it, why doesn’t she give her millions to starving children in China instead of to her hopeless campaign?

Conservative: Those pantsuits are very unbecoming. She should adopt a softer tone. Instead of talking about the gas tax, she should be sharing baking tips.

Liberal: Barack Obama and Clinton are equal, damn it. They have the same levels of intelligence, experience and likeability. Also, their policies are very similar. Wait…now I can’t figure out which one to vote for.

Post-feminist: As naive as it sounds, I’m voting for a candidate who thinks he can change the way Washington does politics. That’s a man. Sue me!

Radical: The media consists of misogynist freaks who always say negative things about Clinton, even when there are perfectly nice things to say. It’s all a big conspiracy. I think an Obama sympathizer masqueraded as Clinton that day “she” talked about being under sniper fire. Think about it. It all makes perfect sense.

I don’t agree completely with any of these positions on the Clinton candidacy, but they each contain interesting points, which I hope will fuel discussion at many levels, from water cooler conversation to university discourse, for many years to come.

I wouldn’t tell Clinton what to do with her money – I’m a capitalist – but I myself made the conscious decision to keep my maiden name, at least in so far as my career is concerned. (I don’t get mad when people call me Mrs. M*****.)

And while I would never say that Clinton should behave in a way that is unnatural or uncomfortable for her, I do think that she should remember that she is a female and can be “feminine” if she likes. I embrace the differences between myself and my husband. But, hey…if I don’t want to bake, I DON’T BAKE!

I think that it’s important to talk about the candidates’ inequalities, and thus make informed decisions when voting for political figures. While I don’t feel qualified to judge intelligence, I do feel empowered to say that Clinton has always struck me as the more concise, realistic and decisive candidate. In these aspects of character, Obama and Clinton are not equal.

Finally, I think it is necessary to examine the role the media played during this primary season. CNN, for instance, had been declaring a victory for Clinton impossible since March, 2008, demonstrating that Obama is its favorite. On the other hand, Fox News headlines read more like news bites, showing less favoritism and more feigned indifference. That’s probably a function of how far left or right each network leans.

But it could be misogyny.

Misogyny can be difficult to prove, however. I think the largest problem for Clinton has been much like the problem I’m faced with when trying to declare my allegiance with one or the other types of feminism: I don’t fit many of the established “rules.”

There are some who look at Clinton and see a woman defying femininity, and others who look at the role she’s in and think she’s too feminine – they think that only a masculine man will do. Does she appease the first half with a show of tears? Does she cater to the others and refuse to weaken, not apologizing for her Iraq war vote in 2002, or drop out of presidential politics altogether? Either way, she’ll do it as a woman. But everybody seems to want to pinpoint what kind of woman she is.

Perhaps former vice-presidential and presidential candidate John Edwards said it best in his Obama endorsement speech: “There is one man who knows and understands that this is a time for bold leadership. There is one man that knows how to create the change, the lasting change that you have to build from the ground up. There is one man who knows in his heart there is time to create one America, not two… and that man is Barack Obama.”

He could have said “one person” or “one candidate,” but he said “one man” and thereby left the window ajar for mighty Clinton to throw open. The quote means to me that, while Obama might know these things, there may be a woman out there who knows them too. The question has always been a definitive one: will the U. S. elect a woman to our highest office?

While Clinton kept forging ahead in the primary campaign, speaking forcefully into microphone after microphone, other women on the trail did something different: Michelle Obama and Cindy McCain, wives of Obama and Republican presidential nominee John McCain respectively, posed for the camera. They appeared in issues of Vogue magazine. (Where’s Bill Clinton’s fashion spread, I wonder?)

Clinton is loud; she’s tough. Often, she comes across as a bit abrasive. But that’s probably because up against these other two, the one’s who’ve embraced the supportive, eye-candy wife archetype – as she once did, or at least tried to do – she can’t help but appear to be rough around the edges. Mrs. Obama is wearing pearls; Mrs. McCain’s golden locks are blowing in the breeze. Clinton, meanwhile, has thick legs and a cropped coif. However will she compete with this idealized version of femininity?

I guess I’m the kind of feminist who would say that she shouldn’t have to compete. I would say, “No rules!” I support the personal choice to be a housewife, househusband, female president or whatever-we-call-the-husband-of-the-female-president.

And who am I or Clinton to tell Obama or McCain that they shouldn’t model for magazines? I just hope that it makes them happy.

That school acquaintance of mine didn’t like it when I said there shouldn’t be any rules. He threw up his arms in protest saying, “Well, if women can do whatever they want…”

I’m glad he didn’t finish that sentence. I would have had to ask him, “Why can’t women do whatever they want?” And I don’t know how to win an argument with a feminist who has rules for women just like everybody who isn’t a feminist has rules for women.

THAT kind of feminism – the feminism with all the rules – just doesn’t sit well with me.

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