Sunday, October 18, 2009

You've Come a Long Way, Maybe by Leslie Sanchez: A Review, Part II

The chapter I liked the most in is the one that provides an absolutely brilliant analysis of what will need to happen for Americans finally to elect a woman President or Vice-President ("From the Kitchen to the Kitchen Cabinet".) Sanchez correctly states that "there is a different level of notoriety - a national comfort level - that women must achieve before they can be considered safe. Call it a different acceptance curve for women." Female politicians also have to bear the burden of needing to be perceived as "nice" while persuading the voters that this niceness will not prevent them from being "tough" where it will matter.

What I appreciate the most in this chapter of Sanchez's book is that she suggested to me an idea I never considered before: it's more difficult for women to unite behind a single female candidate than it is for men to unite over a single male candidate because there is a much greater variation in possible lifestyles among women than there is among men. A male candidate does not have to worry as much about his lifestyle choices as a female candidate, simply because for a man those choices are never as contradictory as for a woman. According to Sanchez, "women want to vote for other women who reflect their own life experiences and - perhaps a bit chillingly - are suspicious of a woman who has opted to follow a path too far departed from the one they themselves have chosen." I have to confess that I never thought about it this way before, but now that I have there is no choice for me but to acknowledge that Sanchez is completely right.

So why does this happen? Why do the life choices of female politicians matter so much to female voters? And most importantly, is it a bad thing? Speaking from my personal experience, I have to say that it is pretty annoying never to be able to see an image of a woman who lives, acts and thinks the way I do either in books, TV shows, movies, or magazines. The only images of women we ever see in high and popular culture are nothing like me. As any literary critic will tell you, female readers routinely identify with male characters in a novel because female characters are usually lifeless, doll-like, and pathetic. We, women who are intellectually, financially, spiritually independent and see ourselves as just as valuable as men, do exist. If we can't see ourselves represented on a book page or the TV screen, then maybe we should be represented in the Oval Office.

For now, this is not very likely to happen. People only seem to be able to accept the image of a woman (in politics as well as on the movie screen) who is dependent on a man and subordinate to him. This is the case of Michelle Obama, analyzed by Sanchez with insight. The general tendency in the way the public perceives first ladies is that they are loved and accepted only while they make it very clear that they will have no life and no opinions other than their husbands'.

Sanchez ends her book with an analysis of female candidates who might attempt to run for president in the future. Her contention that a successful woman candidate might come from the corporate world seems pretty baffling to me. A long time will have to pass and the wounds of an economic crisis that is still raging will have to heal for people to stop seeing anybody who has made a fortune in the corporate world as a potential crook. It's hard to find any one at this point who hasn't suffered from predatory actions of big business that has adopted some pretty disgusting practices in order to weather the crisis.

Sanchez's call for a bipartisan feminist union also seems very unrealistic. I know that nothing in the world could persuade me to support any candidate (male, female, or intersex) coming from a fanatical fundamentalist background. There are also many women who would never support a strong, powerful, and independent female candidate simply because she would remind them too strongly of everything they have renounced in order to lead a secondary existence in a shadow of some man.

Overall, I am glad that  I read Sanchez's book. It was a pleasant surprise to see a book written by a Republican journalist that isn't filled with hate, lies, and insults. If there were more visible Republicans who think and talk like Leslie Sanchez, American politics would definitely be a better place.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this great review! I've been wondering whether or not to read this book and you helped me make my mind.

Anonymous said...

When do you find the time to read so much?

I'd like to read this book but I have no idea when I'll have time for that.

Clarissa said...

I chose a profession that would offer me a lot of free time. I'm such a lazy person that I could only be a professor. :-)

Clarissa said...

Thank you, Anonymous! It would be great to know whether you decided to read or not based on this post. :-)