Left-wing American women are caught on the horns of a dilemma: whether to try to elect the first woman to the White House, or rally behind the man seeking to be the first black president.
At the beginning of the 2008 presidential campaign, it seemed to be a done deal. Former first lady Hillary Clinton was ahead in the women’s vote by two to one over her rival, Illinois Senator Barack Obama.
But as the race has unfolded, the charismatic young Obama, with his ready smile and stirring speeches, has been seducing women voters as he has criss-crossed the country in search of support.
To the ire of hardline feminists.
“They are running to the rock star, to the momentum, to the excitement,” lamented Darlene Ewing, the chair of the Dallas County Democratic Party, and an activist and feminist. And with no obvious other women candidates standing in the wings to take up the baton, Ewing told the Seattle Times: “I’m worried that if Hillary doesn’t get elected, I am never going to see a woman president in my lifetime.”
Since the February 5 “Super Tuesday” votes in some 22 states left the two Democratic hopefuls deadlocked, Obama has been chipping away at Hillary’s support among women.
In the last four primaries he has won, he took some 56 per cent of the women’s vote to Hillary’s 42 per cent.
Then in Ohio and Texas on Tuesday, Hillary succeeded in stopping the rot. She won 54 per cent of the women’s vote in Ohio and 53 per cent in Texas, with Obama behind on 45 and 43 per cent, according to exit polls by Edison/Mitofsky on Tuesday.
Some feminists argue that to vote for Obama is inherently sexist and puts back the cause of women.
“There are some people who promote Barack Obama because they want anybody but a woman. Would they like a white man instead of a black man? Of course,” said Marion Wagner, an Ohio regional director for the National Organization of Women (NOW).
“But they’ll take a black man over a woman. I never thought, in 2008, that we’d still be dealing with this,” she said. But it’s a difficult dilemma for women, who appear to have to choose between casting either a sexist or a racist vote.
“I really believe the biggest divide in the world is men versus women, but most people don't seem to feel that way,” Marj Signer, chairman of the NOW Virginia Chapter, told the Washington Post.
“A lot of people identify with race first and so that can mean Obama. They forget about sexism.”
But the ardent Hillary supporter admitted that her 23-year-old daughter had fallen for Obama’s charms.
In many ways it does seem to be a split among generational lines, with young women seemingly more susceptible to Obama’s rhetoric and his message of change. Older white women of 65 and above have not swayed in their support for Hillary, meanwhile.
But there is also a backlash against the idea that women have to vote for Hillary out of some notion of feminine duty and solidarity.
“The division between women on this issue, coupled with anger and accusations of betraying feminism, is a serious one, not just for the presidential election but for the women's movement itself,” wrote Nina Darnton, in online The Huffington Post.
“If a man is more compelling than a woman candidate, if he generates excitement and inspires idealism in a way that she doesn’t, and if he runs for office with a woman’s agenda, we are not betraying our feminist credentials by voting for him. In fact, we are affirming them.”