Back in the day, I always voted for the woman. I can tell you exactly when that day was, too. It was my first year of college, and I was faced with a long slate of names of people running for student government, none of which I recognized. So I went right down that list with my pen, first checking off all the women, then the visible minorities.
Ah, those were the days.
Not so much.
I don't know when I stopped automatically voting for the woman, but I bet it had something to do with Hopefully Not About to Again Become A Red State, where there was a good-sized contingent of women politicos (politicas) whose values had nothing to do with anything I cared to vote for. It probably also--theoretically, rather than practically--had something to do with living through the 80s as a feminist, and realizing the profound limitations of feminism as it had been construed, not by its original founders, many of whom were incredibly sophisticated about issues of race and class, but by a whole lot of white women in the years thereafter. In other words, I realized that gender, though always important, is not always of prime importance.
Fast forward to this morning.
Let's be clear (and not at all original): the only reason John McCain chose Sarah Palin is that she's a woman. If her name were Stuart Palin, and she had been governor of the battleground state of Alaska--not!--for two years, she would not have flown to Dayton this morning. Sure she's conservative, and smart, and popular, but she's the new governor of Alaska. Not so much the VP demographic, except that she's a girl.
Which means that John McCain, the Republican candidate, presumably as anti-affirmative action and identity politics as they come, just went whole hog for the identity ticket. Whereas I told my girls that Obama chose the person who would be best for governing, not necessarily campaigning, and that I wholeheartedly approved, McCain made his choice purely instrumentally, based on nailing down the conservative Christian votes and trying to seduce those PUMAs (who appear, from what I've been reading in the non-mainstream media, to be not quite so many as the mainstream media would have us believe).
I'm sure there are people out there who vote solely based on identity (choosing the woman, the Black person, the Christian, regardless), and I'm sure there are people who do, as the pundits believe, vote on likeability (I bet I'd do just fine chatting with Palin on the sidelines of a soccer game, just as I did with all my conservative Christian friends in that state where I used to live) (that parenthesis was not at all facetious--I did have conservative Christian friends, and I quite liked them, but we never talked politics, just teachers and homework and Halloween costumes). But I'd like to think there are other people besides me who vote the issues.
(Or at least, who first consider the issues, and only then turn to identity and likeability. Because I was fine with Hillary on the issues, just like I was fine with Obama, which meant that I could then think about things like effectiveness and likeability, which meant I didn't vote for Hillary, though I also didn't vote for Obama because he was Black.)
But let's get back to feminism. Lately I've been hanging out with some smart, savvy, political young women of color who feel pretty much the same way I do when it comes to most things political. Except that I am a feminist and they are not. One of them said, last time we discussed it, that the term just makes her sad. And I get that: if you're a young woman of color, feminism as it's been lived out (not just portrayed) in American culture can be pretty unwelcoming (see Seal Press and WAM, Pandagon, et al [oh god, I just can't find the perfect link, try Jackie back in April to start]).
Sarah Palin is the apex of the best and worst of feminism. That a 44-year-old mother of five could be a governor is because of feminism at its best: women now have opportunities and the capacity to achieve in ways that were unimaginable 40 years ago. That John McCain would choose a woman as his running mate simply to grab women voters is a manifestation of feminism and identity politics at their worst--pandering "choices" designed to get the powers that be what they want.
So you know, at this point, I'm really fine with letting feminism go. I'll still call myself a feminist, but I'm not going to go out on a limb for the terminology, though believe you me I'll always go out on a limb for the rights of women. But I'll also be limb-climbing for the rights of people of color, immigrants, the poor, children, gays, whoever needs their rights the most at any particular moment. And I don't really care what you call me or it. In fact, I lost interest in the politics of symbolism and labels a long time ago. What I care about is justice and fairness and basic human rights and economic viability for everyone (let's just lump education, health care, and housing under economic viability).
And that's why I'm still voting for Obama.