Harassing Harriet says nothing of equality
By Ellen Goodman
Call me a cockeyed pessimist but I'm having trouble finding any good news in the trashing of Harriet Miers. Somehow Harriet has become proof that we have moved on to a great gender-free utopia, a post-feminist world in which we can now mercilessly tear down a woman without fear of being labeled a sexist piglet.
First we were told that Miers got the nod as a woman. Now we are told that the full-scale attack proves she is one of the boys. Tina Brown even wrote, "the healthiest aspect of the Harriet Miers nomination is that women haven't rallied to her cause." Whoopee.
I'm not a big fan of Miers but I do not see her as proof of the arch prediction that equality would be the day mediocre women take their place beside mediocre men. So I can't sign on with those who see the slashing of Miers by women as a sign of progress for women.
Let's reprise the past few weeks. On the right, the women's auxiliary groups of the conservative movement have been more fragmented than cable networks. The Independent Women's Forum decided to trust George and go with Harriet. The Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute decided not to. Concerned Women for America has not "learned anything more about Miss (sic) Miers that justifies endorsement."
Meanwhile Peggy Noonan, erstwhile speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, has called on her fellow Republican to withdraw as a noble act, committing suttee for her man. And teeth-in-liberal-ankles Ann Coulter actually harrumphed that Ruth Bader Ginsburg's academic record was better than Miers'.
On the left, we have Sen. Barbara Mikulski and feminist activists like Marcia Greenberger and Ellie Smeal blasting the "double standard" applied to Miers while they oppose her as the president's standard-bearer. In the middle we have assorted raps on her dress code (Talbots), on her marital status (single), on her work ethic (workaholic), even on her devotion to detail. Yet when Laura Bush cried sexism, she was derided as retro.
If sisterhood is powerful, what do you call this? Impotence?
One thing the Miers nomination has brought to the front is the way red and blue have trumped pink and blue. In Brown's words, "Ten years ago, there would have been a lot of reflexive solidarity" for a woman nominee. Well, 14 years ago when Clarence Thomas was up for confirmation, bumper stickers were plastered across the land that read "Honk If You Believe Anita." But even then a whole lot of women sat silently in their cars.
Go back even further to the halcyon days of the suffrage movement and you find the anti-suffrage movement also led by women. The National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage numbered 350,000 in its heyday. One of president Josephine Dodge's rationales for fighting suffrage was that the vote would wreck the nonpartisan unity of women reformers.
Today, partisans are poles and polls apart. Nevertheless, Democrat Celinda Lake and Republican Kellyanne Conway, who do pink and blue polling for their red and blue clients, collaborated on a new book called "What Women Really Want."
This odd couple found a sister 'hood where shared concerns for issues such as healthcare, pensions and children top the priorities. They write, rather too hopefully, that women are "quietly erasing political, racial, class and religious lines to change the way we live." But in real life, the 'hood keeps getting wrecked: Gender is trumped by ideology, shared issues are blown away by partisan fingers on the hot buttons.
It's no wonder that television's first female commander in chief was cast as an independent. It's no wonder that Geena Davis got criticized anyway ... for her lipstick.
I am not suggesting that women stand behind their woman, especially if she returns the favor with an elbow to their rights. The latest news — that Harriet Miers once supported a constitutional amendment against abortion and has been dicey about the existence of any right to privacy — is alarming. Her confirmation may, ironically, depend on the Democratic belief that she's as good (if bad) as it gets.
But it is possible to walk and chew gum at the same time, to see sexism even in the criticism of an opponent, to rue the double standard even when it is applied to someone you don't stand with. She's not qualified? Compared to whom? Clarence Thomas? She's unknown? Compared to whom? David Souter?
Finally, it's absurd to think we've moved into a gender-blind era without ever getting rid of the blinders. It's self-deceptive to think we're in a post-feminist world when we never tried a feminist world.
Harriet Miers is one of us. Now let's just hope she knows it.