Where the boys are
Someone waits for me,
A smiling face, a warm embrace,
Two arms to hold me tenderly…
Connie Francis, 1960
In early February of 2016, Gloria Steinem and Madeline Albright told young women that it was “their duty to support Hillary Clinton” in her presidential campaign.
“We can tell our story of how we climbed the ladder, and a lot of you younger women think it’s done,” Ms. Albright, the first female Secretary of State in US history, said of the broader fight for women’s equality. “It’s not done. There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!”
A day earlier, Ms. Steinem had stumbled badly on the HBO series Real Time with Bill Maher when she suggested in an Overtime segment that younger women were backing Mr. Sanders just so they could meet young men. “When you’re young, you’re thinking: ‘Where are the boys? The boys are with Bernie,’ ” she said.
Those remarks drew an immediate, widespread and hostile reaction from young women across the country.
“Shame on Gloria Steinem and Madeleine Albright for implying that we as women should be voting for a candidate based solely on gender,” Zoe Trimboli, a 23-year-old from Vermont who supports Mr. Sanders and describes herself as a feminist, wrote on Facebook. “I can tell you that shaming me and essentially calling me misinformed and stupid is NOT the way to win my vote.”
Word. Keeping it real myself, I have to admit to a brief moment of schadenfreude. Having gotten an earful a time or two for insensitivity to the challenges facing women in a patriarchal society, most recently from my wife and daughter over the recent revisiting of the Bill Clinton / Monica Lewinsky scandal, I was kind of happy to see a feminist leader of the stature of Steinem get flamed. If anyone should get a pass for saying or doing something stupid, she should. They’re probably going to erect statues of Steinem in campus quadrangles around the country. Books and plays will be written about her life and leadership. They’ll name high schools after her. And after she passes, a movie will be made of her life and struggles entitled simply, ‘Gloria.’
The most I’ll ever get is an epitaph on a headstone that reads, ‘He tried hard not to be an sh*thead.’ Unless I outlive my wife and daughter, that is. Not likely.
As a political junkie, I noted this kerfuffle at the time as a potentially significant event demographically. After all, young women among the Mil-Gen′s who were voting for the first time in 2008 supported Barack Obama over Hillary Clinton. Later, in 2016, polls showed they strongly supported Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton, prompting the reaction from Albright and Steinem and the counter-reaction just described. I began to wonder if these facts were a bellwether of an attitudinal change in gender relations; hence, a change in gender politics. I wondered if they weren’t early evidence of a post-postfeminist ethos forming among young Democrats.
Then came the revelations about Trump the pussy-grabber and serial womanizer. Then came the Women’s March. Then came Cosby, Weinstein, Lauer, Roy Moore, Louis CK, and dozens of others. Somewhere in there came the accusations locally against Rep. Tony Cornish, State Senator Dan Schoen, and US Senator Al Franken. All of which fit perfectly with the focus of Fourth-Wave feminism as defined by feminist writer Prudence Chamberlain: economic and social justice for women and opposition to sexual violence and sexual harassment. Nope, I thought, 2008 and 2016 were just the anomaly of two charismatic male candidates opposed by a uninspiring female candidate with a militant sense of entitlement and a caustic demeanor on the stump.
But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
The first proof that something like a post-postfeminist polity was forming among young DFL’ers – at least in Minneapolis and the 5th CD – came when they turfed-out Rep. Phyllis Kahn, one of the longest-serving legislators in Minnesota history and consistently among its most progressive members. Kahn herself was an early leader among Third Wave feminists when she got torqued-off over being marginalized by the G.O.M.C. at the U of M and decided to do something about it. In 2016, she got pushed-out in the primary race by Ilhan Omar – a political newcomer (now a candidate for Congress, newly-anointed by the CD5 progressive cognoscenti) – who claimed Kahn was not responsive to the needs of the Somali community, a charge which Kahn strenuously disputed at the time.
The next proof came a year later, in 2017, when Democrats in Minneapolis, the “Heart of the Party” (ahem), turfed-out Mayor Betsy Hodges in favor of Jacob Frey, a one-term member of the city council and self-confessed carpetbagger from Virgina. True, Hodges had two high-profile police shootings take place during her term that rocked the city and dropped a mountain of blame on her head. And she might have weathered the storm if she’d put in just two more bike boxes south of Lake Street. Still, Frey’s many campaign promises for police accountability and criminal justice reform failed to explain how his policies would have prevented either shooting. That didn’t seem to matter to Minneapolis progressives too much. And although Hodges had served on the Minneapolis City Council for eight years prior to her election as Mayor of Minneapolis, and was one of a handful of members who voted against the Vikings stadium, she wasn’t progressive enough to suit the restive electorate last fall, coming in third behind Jacob Frey and State Rep. Ray Dehn in the first round of run-off balloting and third behind Frey and Tom Hoch in the second round.
Tellingly, those same Minneapolis progressives who showed the door to Kahn and Hodges also turfed-out CD5 Chair Husniyah Bradley, the first CD5 Chair to complete a two-year term since 2008 – the preceding five chairs having resigned while in office to pursue personal and career goals. They rejected Bradley, a woman of quiet integrity and intellect, and not incidentally a woman of color, in favor of Brandon Schorsch, a white male who fit better with their progressive values and agenda. In Bradley’s case, they did it just because they could.
The final proofs came at the DFL State Convention on June 2, first when Matt Pelikan, a candidate with no prior history of elective office of any kind proved an electoral match among delegates for Attorney General Lori Swanson’s job, by garnering a vote of 47% on the first ballot to Swanson’s 52%. “Progressive leadership means picking the fights that need fighting and sticking it out until the end,” Pelikan said in his convention speech. Really, Matt, is that what progressive leadership means? Funny, somehow I missed that in my catechism class. Apparently, Swanson didn’t pick fights that need fighting and stick to ’em too good by Pelikan’s reckoning and the reckoning of those of his ilk. He even accused her of caving on the 3M lawsuit. Having worked there, I know that 3M has a whole floor in the headquarters tower that houses nothing but litigation attorneys who practice blood sacrifice and it has offices ‘Of Counsel’ on retainer all across the country. 3M could have fought that lawsuit for many more years. But Swanson caved, ‘cuz, see, that’s what happened.
Swanson, perhaps the most progressive and effective Attorney General in the history of the state, then withdrew. Even though she was ahead. If, as rumored, it was out of pique my reaction is: ‘Who can blame her?’ Swanson served Minnesotans for twelve years as our first female Attorney General. But it appears that among today’s Mil-Gen progressives long experience, faultless service, and scandal-free tenure count for nothing. If Swanson was pissed-off at the delegates for granting her so little credit for her long and exemplary service as a progressive leader, she had every right to be. In her place, I might’ve done the same thing and shown them my back. The rest, as they say, is history.
Also tellingly, and also at the DFL State Convention, gubernatorial candidate Erin Murphy immediately named Rep. Erin Maye-Quade her running mate upon receiving the endorsement. Maye-Quade is also a woman and also an urbanite. Others have noted that that combination isn’t likely to play too well outside of the 4th, 5th and 8th congressional districts, but it appears that’s the sandbox where the Two Erins plan to play. And they may even be successful, at least for the primary. The problem is, of course, that the general election is a whole different ballgame because then the Republicans step into the ring armed with bagfuls of money and lies. They’re already spreading a story among the nose-pickers that Ellison will institute Sharia Law in Minnesota if he gets elected. Hoo-boy, you gotta be a half-wit to believe that one.
That’s why Murphy’s choice raised a few eyebrows among the pundit class, even aside from the fact that the DFL party espouses gender balance in everything we do, right down to how we rank alternates. Had it been a male candidate choosing another male candidate for Lieutenant Governor, can you imagine how the feminists would have hissed and howled? Murphy may believe that she can win the gubernatorial race with a 3/5th vote from Minneapolis, St. Paul and Duluth because Mark Dayton did it that-a-way. But Mark Dayton had the widespread name recognition of having been a US Senator and having come from a prominent Minnesota family. The Two Erins have none of that in their tool kit. They are both unknowns outside the metro and mostly unknowns inside it.
What all of this seems to add up to is that the newly energized Mil-Gens – who failed to show up to vote in 2010 and 2014 and stayed home to sulk in 2016 – have no use for aging feminists, accomplished female political leaders, records of prior service rendered, or even the DFL policy of gender equality in both party and public office. They want, what they want, when they want it. And they’ll take it from whomever offers it as long as that person drives a Prius, drinks Fair Trade coffee, and wears organic cotton-hemp blended clothing.
And why not? What can gender equality and women’s empowerment even mean in a non-gendered world? Among Mil-Gens, the new criteria for gender-balance in both party leadership and elective office is no longer done by declared gender. The new, genderless criteria among Mil-Gens is ‘non-binary, non-male and non-female’. In other words, a delegate or candidate for party leadership is no longer required to declare what gender they are to achieve gender balance, they need merely declare what gender they are not.
How, then, can we speak to a policy of women’s empowerment, when women are only one gender among a spectrum of genders? Isn’t that just another form of gender preference and gender dominance, which the policy of gender-balance was intended to correct? In a non-binary, genderless world does women’s empowerment include empowerment of ‘non-binary, non-males’? Does it exclude female to male transgenders? Do the genderless have an unfair advantage over the gendered, since they can stand for any party office by declaring themselves either ‘non-male’ or ‘non-female’ as the occasion warrants? Perhaps we need to apportion representation within our delegations and party offices not on the basis of geographical districts, but rather on the basis of non-identity politics including (presumptive) non-gender, (presumptive) non-race, (presumptive) non-ethnicity, (presumptive) non-religious affiliation, and the like.
Maybe that’s why young DFL progressive seem to have disposed with the idea of gender identity altogether when it comes to choosing delegates, electing party officers, and vetting candidates for public office. It all gets too confusing and conflicting. With regard to gender identity, there is no longer any there, there.
As a result we in the DFL may have truly attained a post-postfeminist state and state of post-patriarchy, just not in the way that feminist leaders and activists had envisioned it. Feminism is dead because women’s empowerment is dead, Women’s empowerment is dead because gender is dead. Male and female as gender identity is dead. Boy meets girl is dead. The war between the sexes is dead. All romance is dead and all past romance discredited. Eros and Cupid have been blinded and neutered. The soul and the joy of a people is dead. Requiesce in pace.
Soon all that will remain of love and marriage will be furtive fumblings in pitch black rooms between more than two individuals of indistinct gender wearing vulcanized rubber coveralls and attended by opposing squads of black-shoe lawyers in night-vision goggles, who loudly threaten injunctions and lawsuits while calling out the terms of time-limited contracts including the action items, timings, obligations and deliverables.
Dimitte mortuos sepelire mortuos.