By Aviva Dove-Viebahn*
I don’t know much about politics, but I do know a little bit about equality. And I know that right now the two terms don’t really mix. Still, I have this fantasy about the American political system, and I can’t decided if it’s more disheartening to think that it’s still a fantasy or more frustrating to realize that some people don’t see a problem. Is it too much to ask for a political stage on which candidates are challenged based on the strength of their ideas, not the strength of their jump shot; where debates are waged over the economy and health care instead of necklines, pant length and shirtsleeves? Is it so difficult to imagine a female politician holding political office without first weighing the advantages and disadvantages of having a woman in power? When we consider each new candidate, the question shouldn’t be, “Is this woman right for the job?” but “is this person right for the job?” After all, do we often consider the merits of a male politician’s manhood?
Of course, I’m not trying to suggest that gender doesn’t matter. That kind of blanket gender neutrality is a long way off—and may not be tenable even if all other things are equal. Anyway, I rather like being woman and don’t intend to give up that part of my identity. But I think gender is not and should not be a lens through which we can issue wholesale judgments about people. Let’s judge people on their individual traits, on their integrity, and on their voting record instead of on their gender (or race or ethnicity or sexual orientation). Political equality, for me, means that I never again have to hear the phrase, “she’s doing a good job…for a woman.”
But, first, like with any rehabilitation program, we have to admit that we have a problem. Taking a step towards political equality means recognizing that, right now, politics is not an equal playing field. And this inequality should be confronted wherever and whenever it arises. Even if it’s just something trivial. Even if it’s just a slip of the tongue. Things may have improved for women since the 1950s and 60s, but we’re still a long way off. As long as there’s even a hint of gendered prejudice in the air, feminism—along with our capacity as free-thinking people to protest discrimination—will remain necessary. Or, as the old saying goes, “’Almost’ only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.”
* Aviva Dove-Viebahn is a PhD Candidate in Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester and is currently in the final stages of writing her dissertation, which explores topics in contemporary art, television studies and gender studies. She is the founder of the collaborative blog Fourth Wave Feminism .