In the wake of Trump’s nomination as the Republican candidate for president, I was invited to join a private Facebook group called Pantsuit Nation. At first I was a little annoyed, mostly because I don’t like being added to groups without being asked first, but my annoyance quickly turned to profound frustration. The #girlboss was no longer just a silly hashtag people were using whenever they took a step towards taking charge of their lives, but now it was becoming the basis of a movement to elect a presidential candidate.
To say that Hillary Clinton wasn’t my choice for candidate is an understatement. To me, she represented an ugly precedent being set that presidential terms could be a family dynasty with one party’s family taking over after another party’s family had had their turn on the throne. But more than that, Clinton didn’t strike me as a candidate who stood for much of anything except her own power. It seemed like her position on anything and everything just seemed to change to match whatever the lowest common denominator favored.
But Clinton and Pantsuit Nation weren’t really the problem, just symptoms of a deeper problem. Pantsuit Nation was exposed as a fraudulent money-making scheme and Clinton lost the electoral college but won the popular vote. She played by the system’s rules, modified her image to make her the most palatable woman in America, and yet the system failed to crown her queen.
The hero worship of women icons in politics includes people like Nancy Pelosi, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Rashida Tlaib, Tammy Duckworth, and to a lesser extent Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez without any critical analysis of their positions and actions. What justification is there to support the idea that women in charge of one of the largest military forces in the world and the largest prison system would be any better than the men who have been in charge for the last 200+ years?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg sided with conservative judges in the Supreme Court to allow the Appalachian Trail pipeline to go forward with construction despite both Keystone and the Dakota Access pipelines leaking. Everything protestors had warned about came true and yet the process repeats. Ginsburg has made a career of adhering to the law, in theory using the system to correct injustices where the law provides different interpretations. It may have made for a great movie, but in practice it means that rulings like that on the pipeline and others to come will happen time and again.
The Pantsuit Nation and #girlboss concept may have been intended to empower women to achieve their dreams, but what are women supposed to do if their dreams only result in domination, destruction, and more of the same awful circumstances?
If we believe that women are actually people rather than just abstractions of the men they associate with, then it should matter what a woman seeking power stands for and what she says she’ll do. It’s not good enough just to put any woman in power, because not every woman is going to do the right things. To suggest that any woman in a position is good is the same logic that dehumanizes women as interchangeable things.
The problem is not that women are incapable of doing great things or being great leaders, but working within a flawed system means complicity with everything that’s wrong with the system. The great things women do are not great because they were done by women, but because they are great things. When society chooses to celebrate women, it’s important not to overlook the facts of their work.
Was this work actually good or is she just a woman with a lot of power being given the spotlight?