Tuesday, May 13, 2008


“I’d Rather Vote for Hilary Duff Than Hillary”

Writing about the battle for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, I feel a little like Puerto Rico: I can’t vote, but I want to express something about it. The way in which I am not like Puerto Rico: Chelsea needn’t campaign in me because I support Barack.

I took the above self-portrait as a ghetto burlesque of the “I’d Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur” campaigns put on by PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). Of course I don’t dare compare myself to the likes of Eva Mendes, Pam Anderson, Jenna Jamison, or my favorite, Dita VonTeese, but I am kinda like...Belinda Carlisle circa 1993? (Or at least Charlotte Caffey? Please, not Gina Schock!! Just kidding...I love all the Go-Go’s...)

I think these PETA ads are interesting because they use a very superficially feminine discourse (Cheesecake pin-up) to attack the political wrongness of a very superficially feminine discourse (enhancing your body with the skin of animals tortured and killed for that purpose). I used “I’d Rather Wear...” as a medium of my self-portrait, not just because I am an avowed reader of both Allure magazine and Hilary Duff, but because I wanted to think about the function of a politician. Specifically, I wanted to think about this disturbing idea going around that female voters who support Hillary would “rather vote for” McCain or no one, rather than vote for Hillary’s (black) male rival. And Hillary's own exploitation of "feminism" in her bid for power. In tandem with this, I wanted, as usual, to think about how femininity fits into the picture of this so-called feminist desire to get the first (white) woman president into the White House.

I’m not vegan—I'm not even vegetarian—but I am very opposed to fur coats. So obviously, I think of Hillary as a fur coat...that one ought not to wear. Well, let’s say at least that it is a fur coat I’d rather not wear. The fur coat is a symbol of feminine luxury that has been, more specifically, a symbol of anti-feminist feminine luxury: rich men pelt their wives or mistresses to show off their monetary wealth, which enriches the women’s material-sensual lives while simultaneously undermines their independence. But in the history of its objectness, the fur coat is a feminine luxury item that began as a multitasking sign of human survival: cavemen needed to eat, so they killed furry creatures, and then found they were cold, so they used the skins of their dinner for body-warmers. Hillary functions like a fur coat for women who may consider themselves feminist. The symbolism of Hillary as a feminist icon grew out of a real need that was date-specific to the '90s, when her careerism was derided, and her icy intelligence was derided by threatened males. But by this time--in 2008, a full decade and change later--she has morphed into a sign of superficial feminism that actually hobbles the women who “wear” her.

I think the people—mainly white women—who hold on to Hillary for “feminist” reasons are ultimately misreading their use of politicians. They are still stuck in thinking about the politics of representation, rather than wearability. I really think that feminism has in fact moved towards wearability and away from representation. Still, these old-school Hillary supporters project themselves upon her: “I want to vote for someone who’s experienced the same thing as I have as a woman.” They are thinking: “I want in the White House someone who has the same genitalia as I do.”

The feminist critic Rita Felski writes that “Equating women with feminism encourages critics to believe that any work by a female writer or artist must be subversive, and to hunt for hidden signs of insurrection and antipatriarchal protest.... There is nothing inherently critical or subversive about women describing female experience....” Substitute “critics” for “us” and “writer or artist” for “politician.” Felski is critiquing the politics of representation. The practical idealogy of feminism must move from culture inward, rather than from the psyche outward. No longer should we be concerned with how a “female” experience is being expressed, but how cultural material—with which we can, now more than ever, absorb into our psyches with addictive ease—“fit” the kind of psyche that longs for feminist goals. “How well does this art/ text/ person/ object integrate itself into my life as a woman and feminist?” This kind of feminism requires that we demand different things of our art-text-politicians. The new feminist of wearability does NOT desire a genital and genetic mirror image through whom we can live our fantasy lives. Instead, s/he must ask of their politicians: How porous are they? How flexible are they to my needs, which are, because I am human and not a representation, themselves flexible and porous? How wearable are they to my soul?

I don’t want to get into a catty bitchfest about Hillary here—others have done that plenty and well (although in cattiness, I can probably outdo them). I’ll just say: to wear Hillary is to wear dead pelts. To use her genetic and biological femaleness as a text to read her feminism is illogical and wrong. This past weekend, during a rally in West Virginia, Hillary cited her “favorite” encouraging message from a woman who wrote her: “It’s not over until the lady in the pantsuit says it is.” What Hillary likes about this image of herself as “lady in the pantsuit”: woman as feminist in the 80’s power mode; woman enacting the traditional patriarchal mode of power, which is authority—“she gets to say when “it” is over. I’m disturbed by her gleefully enjoying her fantasy of mastery and paternalism. If, as Toni Morrison once said, Bill Clinton was our first “black” president, then it seems Hillary would be, if her fantasy comes true, our 44th “white male” president. Women who want Hillary want a woman who acts like a traditional man to “represent” them in office. Never mind the fact that she wears so easily “the pantsuit” that symbolizes the patriarchal and paternalistic mode of power; if we “know” that she is a genetic-biological female underneath the fabric, then it’s alright. Is this feminism? I don’t think so.

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