Let’s take a look at a few different things. First, a comic.
Yeah, it’s funny. It’s also freaking depressing. One of the things that struck me the most about the documentary was the fact that one of the main concerns leveraged at feamle politicians was the “who’s looking after the kids?” bolshevik. Our society seems to have this weird thing going on in it where women absolutely MUST be the primary caregiver for a given pair’s children, despite everyone always being ~so proud~ when a man is ~courageous~ enough to stare at his phone, ass parked on a nearby bench, while his kids are playing in the park. The disconnect between the two concepts is mind-boggling. A man somehow showcases inner strength and character by doing what women are supposed to do, even though by doing what women are supposed to do the man is making the woman become a “failure” by preventing her from fulfilling her “primary function?” Is this some of that patriarchal, imperialist crap or something? By wresting control of a situation from a woman, a man shows his power, or some stupid thought like that? Note as well that the non-parents in several panels seem to default to thinking that the single dad “does it better” than the mom as well. Ain’t that a slap to the face…
Anyway, I’m deviating from the point I’m trying to make. Most of the mothers shown in Strong Sisters took a third option and chose to bring their kids in to work whenever they could. While I would consider this an elegant solution (gets the kids exposure to political discourse early, forms strong bonds among various political individuals by becoming “extended family” to the kids, helps cross-party solidarity by providing a physical example of what everyone is ostensibly there to help nurture and protect, et cetera), I can’t help but wonder if some of these women have had their careers undermined in the perceptions of the Old White Guys. Bringing a child in to the congress/senate during meeting-times may very well have had certain folk thinking that a) the woman is “wishy-washy” by not wanting to choose between career and family, or b) the woman should be focusing on her “primary function” and not bothering with this playing at politics. As the comic points out, people seem to automatically think that children are supposed to be the sole focus of a woman’s life–so what happens when someone with that default thinking is confronted with a woman who contradicts that bass-ackwards thinking?
Here’s the thing, though: even the women in Strong Sisters seemed to default to thinking they should be solely dedicated to their kids. I don’t know if it was the women simply reacting to cultural perception or not, but I don’t think I recall a single moment where the idea of the stay-at-home dad was considered an acceptable counterpart to the housemom. I do recall a moment where one interviewee said something along the lines of “nobody can replace Mom,” which is something I’d agree with, sure–if someone is serious about taking up the role of “mother,” and acts upon that, then it’s next-to-impossible for another individual to take up the mantle as well. Similarly though, nobody can replace Dad–and yet nobody ever seems to blink an eye when Dad is hardly ever around. The documentary took some steps to counteract this response by noting that many of the young fathers getting into politics were also taking steps to have their kids around, but frankly I got the sense that this was rather more optional for a male than it was for a female. Though I have to wonder, again, how much of that sense of “optional versus mandatory” came from these women responding to social pressure and stereotypes as best they could.
Let’s look at another thing: a certain commercial for a feminine hygiene company.
Please tell me people have seen this stuff before. Always makes a pretty damn good point. To do something “like a girl” should not for some reason mean that one does something objectively worse than other people. Strong Sisters is making the same point, though it also presents a point that the Always ad campaign only kind of touches on: to do politics (or other activities) “like a girl” inherently means that one does not do politics “like a boy.” The actions taken by males and females are not–and it seems like one of the themes of the documentary is that such actions should not be–interchangeable. Men and women approach action differently, but “different” is not a qualitative judgement.
However, what the Always campaign also presents quite subtly is another point: beyond male and female difference, no two people do anything the same way. Everyone performs action differently from everyone else. Take a look at how the different girls in the video above run or throw. They all showcase power and speed, most certainly–but their forms, their styles, are very, very different. This is a vital point to make, especially when it comes to females in politics. A still image from the documentary struck me hard: at one point, roughly two-thirds through the film, a shot of a political committee was shown–and it was roughly eight Old White Guys, a woman, and a black man. The Smurfette Principle and the Token Minority were disappointingly in effect, probably purely to fulfill a demanded quota at the worst, and to “attain a feminine/minority perspective” at the “best.”
Let me go informal-second-person for a moment: hell no, you moron, you aren’t getting a cultural perspective from one damned person. You’re getting an individual perspective, just like you’re getting with all your damn white, male friends. Our political system is quite possibly one of the best examples of the idea that one person cannot properly represent an entire population (and this is a point that Strong Sisters makes frequently, noting that one can only attempt to represent one’s specific, narrow slice of culture “as best as possible”), so why the hell do we still think that token minorities can do so on damned committees?
I’m annoyed by this thought, you might say.
Hopefully, we’ll all eventually wise up and start treating people as people instead of category-fillers like a on freaking sports team, but Cynical Eliot is coming out at this point, so I’m going to grouch about how long that’ll take for a bit.