Rebel Girl: Feminism vs. the Evil Lessers

Against the Current, No. 88, September/ October 2000

Catherine Sameh

I’LL BE VOTING for Ralph Nader this presidential election, and I hope my feminist friends will join me. It’s not that I think Nader is the best thing since unsliced bread.  Far from perfect, Nader has enormous limits as a representative of left and progressive movements.

But a vote for Ralph Nader is both a protest vote, against not one but two highly entrenched capitalist parties, and a vote for something resembling a more humane, even a more feminist, society.

What we feminists are really debating when we debate the pros and cons of voting for Nader versus Gore is what we mean by feminism and feminist politics.  Liberal feminists, even those critical of the Democratic Party, emphasize abortion.  Gore is pro-choice, Bush is anti-choice, the Supreme Court is at stake, therefore we must keep Bush out with a vote for Gore.

Furthermore, many of them argue, Nader is weak, if not absent, on the issue of choice.  Some left and socialist feminists agree, most notably Katha Pollitt in her recent Nation columns.

There are many problems with this line of thinking, and Barbara Ehrenreich, also writing in the Nation, does the best at listing them: Supreme Court appointees are unpredictable (Reagan appointed O’Connor, Clinton appointed Breyer); mass mobilizations of women, not the Supreme Court, secured the right to legal abortion; movements, not laws, create real social change.

Ehrenreich reminds us, too, that Clinton authored welfare reform.  If this wasn’t the most virulent anti-feminist backlash against poor women and children of this century, then someone, please, tell me what was! How can feminists on the left who argue for sticking with Gore and the Dems not address this enormous white elephant in the room?

Molly Ivins has argued that lesser evils are lesser in the elections, especially for the poor and weak. I would say the exact opposite is true.

The lesser evil team of Gore and Lieberman will support a woman’s right to choose-just barely.  But which women will have real choices?

Lieberman supported parental notification legislation in Connecticut.  Both Lieberman and Gore support Clinton’s vision of welfare reform.  So young women, women of color, poor women, in addition to all poor and working-class people, lose with Gore as much as they would with Bush.

Perhaps the most important reason feminists should break with the Democrats is what their tenure in the White House has done to many of our movements.  Assuming Roe v. Wade was secure with the Democrats, we’ve been caught unorganized as it slowly and surely gets whittled away. As with the labor, civil rights and environmental movements, feminists’ dependence on the Democrats created the illusion that without them our rights are not secure, while with them we’re safe.

But our long-term security-that’s all of ours, not just some of ours-around not just abortion but child care, health care, wages and working conditions depends on a radically different political and economic agenda.  And Nader, not Gore, comes closest to taking up such an agenda.

Catherine Sameh is co-manager of In Other Words bookstore in Portland, Oregon.

ATC 88, September-October 2000