Susan Faludi, she of Backlash and Stiffed, is mad at the pollsters for their failure to understand American women. And she’s not going to take it any more.
In an LA Times column today, Faludi tries to set them (and us) straight. She hones in on the New Hampshire primary and tells us that the talking heads, who said that racism or tears were to blame (or thank) for Clinton’s victory, and tells us why they’re wrong. It’s not compassion, she claims, but mere competence that led NH women to turn out for Clinton.
Faludi analogizes Clinton to the middle-aged power suited woman standing in line at a pharmacy, caring for her ailing and aging mother. She says:
As it happens, I’m not alone in wishing for a nation run by someone whose desire for our well-being is passionate but whose actions on our behalf also exude bedrock competence, someone who lacks any flash whatsoever except the flash that keeps a person assiduously doing the hardest things in life. In New Hampshire and all across the country, many female voters seem to be thinking along the same lines.
The media, punditry and pollsters have been viewing this historic female candidacy, and the candidate herself, through the Madonna-Medea prism they’ve applied since at least the Victorian era to women who venture into American public life. In so doing, they have ignored a whole other model of womanhood that is central to female experience. If they are determined to think of Hillary Clinton in stereotypical female terms, at least they should get the stereotype right.
In other words, by viewing Clinton through the mommy prism as opposed to the caregiver prism, the media fails to see what many women — especially middle-aged women — like about her.
So here’s my issue: I think Faludi’s central point — that women have a role as caregivers for family members other than children (in addition to caring for children), and that that role too often goes unnoticed — is a good one. Women are the primary caregivers in the country not only for the kids, but also for parents, siblings, etc. It takes a toll on women emotionally, financially, and in terms of career trajectory. Sure, the Family and Medical Leave Act addressed this…but it was only a start, and it has amounted to very little for many thousands of women. Faludi’s also right that talking heads fail to understand the complexity of women’s lives in creating their archetypes.
But for me, it boils down to this: why buy into the fact that we’ve got to shove Clinton — or any other politician for that matter — into a stereotype to begin with? Why not argue against that impulse from the start. Faludi, I think, does more damage than good in her attempt to recast Clinton. She should have done away with typecasting altogether.