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I’m a happy as a pig in mud (with or without the lipstick). Campaign seasons energize me. And even though I tend to stay up too late watching the news, I love what I’ve come to think of as the Great American pageant: The coast to coast discussion of national priorities that accompanies every presidential election.
This year’s election seems to me to be a perfect cross between a beauty contest and gladiatorial combat. No matter who wins, the outcome will be “historic.” But for me, the real history that’s being made this fall isn’t only skin-deep or chromosome-linked. I believe that what we are witnessing is a lifting up of our collective societal curtain to reveal the war of values, culture, and national identity that’s been going on backstage for a very long time.
Feminists and racial civil rights activists have openly salivated over the prospect of women or racial minorities holding some of the country’s highest positions. Shattering the glass ceilings that generations of professional women and minorities have hit their heads on may be more symbolic than substantive in the end analysis. But I think the playing field will never really be level until someone who is not male or not Caucasian has won a national election.
The truth is that the United States may be -- and is -- on the verge of putting that challenge behind us. But the point of getting beyond racism and sexism isn’t to create a political climate in which refusing to vote for a candidate on the basis of race or gender is replaced by choosing to vote for a candidate on the basis of race or gender.
There does seem to be something rather odd happening, though. When it comes to ideology and political issues, the chances of my agreeing with Barack Obama are very slim. Still, remembering some of the racism I witnessed growing up, I feel good about seeing a black man running at the top of the Democratic Party’s ticket. But it seems that not everyone can put differences aside long enough to celebrate the fact that a woman is this year’s Republican Party vice-presidential nominee. Instead of keeping civic matters civil, a cadre of mostly women has gone after Gov. Sarah Palin personally. Why? I think it’s because her kind of success signals the end of what the American feminist movement has become.
You don’t have to agree with Palin’s politics or recreational activities to know that she didn’t get where she is by fueling anger or bitterness against men or a patriarchal system. Whatever you think of the kinds of policies she would promote, she does not present herself as a victim in any way. She is married and has a career. She is the mother of several children, and seems to take that role seriously. She says she is pro-life, and has chosen to welcome a son with Down syndrome into the family, as well as dealing publicly with a teenage daughter’s crisis pregnancy. She cares about her personal appearance, and exhibits a sense of style. Palin is within reach of what I was always told as a feminist to work for, live for, and dream of. But, my elder sister feminists aren’t smiling now.
There are many women, like myself, who began following Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem, but parted ways when they and other feminist leaders linked feminism to the acceptance of active homosexuality and abortion on demand. Their program of gender deconstruction has failed. The anger and victimhood they wielded has created little progress in how we value feminine experience and perspective.
As a young adult, I really felt that my choice was between family and career. When I chose family, I believed that honoring that choice meant that everything else would have to come in such a distant second that I would not be able to achieve the professional success that I otherwise would have. I was wrong. I’ve done just fine, and so has Sarah Palin.
God doesn’t vote in our elections, and Jesus was a whole lot more than a “community organizer” but I think God is watching us very closely. He is interested in how we see each other, and even whether we see each other at all. God is not liberal or conservative, nor do his policies line up with any party’s platform, but God is interested in how our faith takes shape in our world, and how we practice the command to love one another as he has loved us.
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an author, speaker, musician and serves as Faith Formation Coordinator at St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield.