May 122008

Being relatively ‘exotic’, an African-American commands greater ‘respect’ than just another woman. And, supporting an African-American therefore might seem more righteous than supporting a woman

When I woke up this Wednesday morning, May 7, the first thing I did was read the results of the Indiana and North Carolina primaries. It immediately became clear that Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton was not going to be the Democratic Party’s nominee for president. For me this was a bitter day.

I have supported Hillary and hoped that she would be the Democratic nominee. Over the last few months I have seen her chances dwindle, but now it seems she has virtually no chance left of achieving that goal. The question that almost every commentator keeps asking in every major newspaper in the US is: why doesn’t she just give up?

On Wednesdays I operate, and during surgery I play music, usually qawwalis or else old rock favourites. This day, among others, I chose to play a Helen Reddy album that included her feminist anthem: “I am woman”. As I listened to the lyrics I realised why Hillary cannot give up. And, I accept the fact that she is not going to give up until she has no choice.

I am a feminist of the old school, perhaps of the same school that Hillary comes from. When I arrived in the US in 1971, I was already a proto-feminist. After all I had a mother who was perhaps the first woman from her village to go to high school and then medical school and thereafter marry the man of her choice. And this happened somewhere back in the early 1940s.

The early seventies were for all of us a time when, as Bob Dylan sang almost a decade earlier, “the times they are a changing”. For many of us the new anthem of our times was Helen Reddy’s song “I am woman, hear me roar”. And two days ago, when I re-played that song in my operating room, I could well understand why Hillary will not give up until she has no choice left.

Forgive me dear readers if I quote a few lines from that song. As is often said, if somebody has said something better than you can, quote them and don’t say it in your words:

You can bend but never break me
‘Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
‘Cause you’ve deepened the conviction in my soul

Hillary is not going to give up until of course she is literally beaten into the ground. And here perhaps another few lines from the same song might be worth looking at:

And I’ve been down there on the floor
No one’s ever gonna keep me down again

Therein lies the conundrum faced by all those who want Hillary to give up. She is not going to give up until she has to, and I accept and support her point of view. But the real question for me is: has the feminist movement run its course?

During a recent conversation I asked my daughter, a committed feminist, why she was not supporting Hillary. She said to me, we are now living in a “post-feminist world”. The interesting fact is that my wife, who was born in Karachi, and grew up in London, Singapore and Hong Kong, voted for Hillary in the New Jersey primary while my daughter, who was born in New Jersey and grew up there, voted for Obama.

However, the idea of a post-feminist world stayed with me. My generation grew up at a time when literally everything was changing. As one of the ‘boomers’, I was a part of that changing world, as a liberal and also a confirmed feminist. Now, almost four decades later, many of those changes that seemed so revolutionary then are a part of our normal lives. Few of us today really believe that, at least in the US, women are at a great disadvantage compared to men. Some discrimination exists but it is muted.

Racial discrimination is still there and even though most people would insist that they are not racists, many still are. That is a personal observation based upon three decades spent in one of the bluest of blue states. As such it would seem to me that most people, especially of the ‘liberal’ sort, might wish to support an African-American rather than a woman for president just to prove that they are now truly devoid of any racist ideation.

Indeed, women suffer from another drawback. The old adage, that familiarity breeds contempt, sort of applies to them. After all, each one of us grows up with women — mothers, siblings, wives, daughters and other relatives — but how many of us actually grow up with people of different races or cultures? In my thirty years in the US, I knew many African Americans but only a very few as friends. Most of these were professional colleagues.

Perhaps, being relatively ‘exotic’, an African-American commands greater ‘respect’ than just another woman. And, supporting an African-American therefore might seem more righteous than supporting a woman. Here I wish to say that Barack Hussein Obama is a man of great intellect and personal accomplishment and would make a good president. At the same time, I will also want to say that Hillary Rodham Clinton will in my opinion make a great president, perhaps better than Senator Obama.

The point I am trying to make is that many goals of the feminist movement have been achieved. After all, we already have a speaker of the House of Representatives that is a woman, a first in the history of the US. So, having a woman president probably seems less important to most liberals and to many of the young than having an African-American president. But what the American people really think will become evident this November.

Syed Mansoor Hussain has practised and taught medicine in the US. He can be reached at

Courtesy: Daily Times, 12/5/2008

 Posted by at 7:25 pm

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