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Tuesday, January 08, 2008


Gloria Steinem pulled a Virginia Woolf today in her New York Times op-ed, pointing out the dubious electability of a female Barack Obama:

The woman in question became a lawyer after some years as a community organizer, married a corporate lawyer and is the mother of two little girls, ages 9 and 6. Herself the daughter of a white American mother and a black African father — in this race-conscious country, she is considered black — she served as a state legislator for eight years, and became an inspirational voice for national unity...If the lawyer described above had been just as charismatic but named, say, Achola Obama instead of Barack Obama, her goose would have been cooked long ago. Indeed, neither she nor Hillary Clinton could have used Mr. Obama’s public style — or Bill Clinton’s either — without being considered too emotional by Washington pundits.

In A Room of One's Own, Woolf laid out her famous Shakespeare's sister argument this way:

She had the quickest fancy, a gift like her brother's, for the tune of words. Like him, she had a taste for the theatre. She stood at the stage door; she wanted to act, she said. Men laughed in her face...what is true in it, so it seemed to me, reviewing the story of Shakespeare's sister as I had made it, is that any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at.

Steinem didn't necessarily have this specific passage in mind when she wrote her op-ed. But even if she didn't, she played the same rhetorical gambit, imagining a successful male icon's female twin in order to show how a lucky throw of the gender dice determined his success. If gifted women in the sixteenth century were doomed, their twenty-first century counterparts are still handicapped. Who, speaking of the election, better fits the bill right now of the "half witch, half wizard" chimerical marvel, "feared and mocked at," than Hillary Clinton? If she loses, will she end her days in a lonely cottage outside Chappaqua?

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