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The New Gender Politics, I Hope

“What is it that women want?” Don Draper, the tall, dark, and handsome brooding protagonist asked his advertising team in the first season of Mad Men. In the show set in the 1950’s, they were trying to persuade housewives to buy a certain brand of deodorant for their husbands. The scene breaks with the team joking about women’s insignificance and guffawing, much to the chagrin of Draper. Clearly, breaking into the female psyche, Draper was on to something.

Let’s fast forward to the last few weeks. This is before the stock market went on it’s own bridge to nowhere early this week1, prior to being stripped down to two American financial institutions (from five)2, and pre-Ike ravaging the Gulf Coast3. Up until this past weekend, the headlines were of Governor Sarah Palin – a be-speckled and be-lipsticked mother of five who also happened to be the Governor of Alaska. There have been hotly contested debates regarding her qualifications, her background and what McCain was trying to accomplish by anointing the first female on the Republican Party Presidential ticket4 as his running mate – was he trying to steal the politically moderate women who were Hillary supporters? Attempting to appeal to the conservative base who have been less than thrilled with his nomination? Or was he just loco?

Since her speech at the Republican National Convention on September 3rd, where she put her family and her motherhood in the spotlight, criticized not only the Democrats in general, but dealt many direct blows to Senator Obama, and did what seemed impossible – successfully rejuvenated the Grand Ol’ Party (GOP)5. No small feat, considering the Republicans reputation as the Good Ol’ Boys club. Since her speech at the convention, Palin has become the star of the Republican Party, has shown chutzpah (to the point some say it’s reckless and have been making parallels between her and George W. Bush6), and has had no qualms about epitomizing contradictory aspects of persona and being a gun-toting, baby-cradling, church-going, femme fatale7.

After her speech, the polls were knocked around, and the comfortable eight point gap held by the Obama campaign was eliminated8. The most recent polls show Obama and McCain in a statistical dead-heat among voters, McCain at 47% and Obama at 45%9.

Anyone who has known me for more than ten minutes also knows that ideologically, I have almost nothing in common with Sarah Palin. I spent the first six months of the year on phones, canvassing, screaming on street corners, and sending (probably very annoying) e-mail blasts about my candidate – Senator Hillary Clinton. Since June, I’ve had many heaping servings of Crow’s pie and my bitterness has subsided quite a bit. But, it still hurts. What has served as more a salve to my pain is that, in a post-Hillary-for-President world, it seems that women’s role in the political process has changed dramatically for the better.

Whether you want to say it was a result of Clinton’s campaign within the Democratic Party which, or just a natural result of the gradual erosion of much of the patriarchal foundations of American politics – women hold more political significance as an electorate and as officials than ever. Women are more than half of registered voters in America10. Furthermore, at the Democratic National Convention, the majority of delegates were women11.

While many journalists are quick to make light of the significance of Palin’s nomination – deeming her and McCain’s campaigning efforts as a “honeymoon”12, or calling Palin “Hottie Grannie”13, the facts cannot be ignored. Both Obama and McCain campaigns have significantly stepped efforts towards women voters. Post the Palin selection, this week, the Obama campaign is campaigning with the theme“Women for the Change We Need”. Both campaigns are increasing advertisements during shows that women watch. Oprah has gotten the most campaign advertisements, even though she had made a very public endorsement of Senator Obama in the early stages of the race. Shows such as Dr. Phil, Live with Regis & Kelly, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show – shows with high female viewership – have also had significant ad time bought by both campaigns14.

Even Saturday Night Live has tapped into the female influence in the political sphere. The opening skit during Saturday’s season premiere was not a parody of McCain and Obama, but of Tina Fey masterfully inpersonating Palin, alongside of Amy Poheler’s Clinton impression15. This was the highest watched season primiere of SNL since 2001, and the most highest watched episode since 2002, in no small part to this opening skit16. In reality, Sarah Palin acknowledged Senator Clinton’s accomplishment in her acceptance speech, and in her interview with Charles Gibson on ABC. When making her controversial statement about Obama’s mistake in not choosing Clinton as a running mate, she described Clinton as someone with “determination, grit, and grace.”17

Across the world, Benazir Bhutto, although tragically assassinated, has her memory and spirit go on. Her son and her husband still epitomize much of the hope that she did for so many people, and they serve as leaders of her party, the Pakistan People’s Party. Her husband, Asif Ali Zardari, was elected as President of Pakistan18. The political ramifications of this remain to be seen, but can we not celebrate the fact that even after the death of a prominent female politician, people felt so strongly about her that her legacy lives on? Or, what about the most powerful woman in the world, as deemed by Forbes – Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany? Merkel’s accomplishments include raising the retirement age, placing more women in senior government posts, and raising payments to new parents. Additionally, she was voted Europe’s most influential politician – over France’s flashy Nicolas Sarkozy and Britain’s unyielding Gordon Brown19.

As the story of women goes, our work is not done. Among other problem areas, American women still make less than men, and suffer discrimination and harassment in the workplace. However, as Senator Clinton said “Although we haven’t shattered that highest, hardest glass ceiling…there are 18 million cracks” – and in no small part to these modern-day female politicians, and their precursors who are smattered all through history, such as Margaret Thatcher and Sandra Day O’ Connor.

So what is the answer to Draper’s question? Through the episode, he keeps asking the women in his life what women want. He gets a variety of answers, but nothing that satiates him. His boss tells him to not worry about it, since “women just want what the other girls have”. The answer is quite simple for Draper. Women just and deserve one thing: everything. And it seems like we are headed in the right direction. — Sheebani Patel

6 thoughts on “The New Gender Politics, I Hope

  1. You created a very good position with what you stated. People have to read your posting to allow them to have a much better perspective about this subject. It was wonderful of you to offer great information and encouraging reasons. After reading this, I know my mind is pretty certain about the issue. Continue the fantastic job!

  2. Why do they have to pick a political party? It’s a laugh. The organizers of their convention expressed that their goals were to big right-wing republican candidates. All their bashing is against the Democratic Party.

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