Tuesday, November 6, 2007

The balls to walk

I’m truly enjoying the blogging going on over at Slate’s new all-female blog “The XX Factor.” The corniness of the name aside, the writers are raising excellent points across the board. A recent post about Paula Radcliffe by Emily Bazelon has sparked response from her fellow contributor June Thomas about what it means to be a strong woman and how that relates to both Radcliffe and Hillary Clinton.

Bazelon describes the “imperfect Hillary parallel” wherein Clinton breaks “the country's biggest gender barriers,” but in doing so “has to be utterly singleminded, and try to mask her female identity in certain key ways” in order to prove she can fulfill the role of President, a role that in our eyes, necessitates being a man. To clarify, it is not that the American people are so simple as to think that only a man can become an excellent President. Some people would argue that there is value in traits commonly associated with women (compassion, understanding etc.) and think that they might be readily applied to the position. Rather, the real obstacle, as Bazelon points out, is the idea that a man would not be expected to fulfill his other roles (husband, father) as readily while in office as a woman might. The women who impress the public, such as Radcliffe and Clinton often in some way sacrifice their woman-ness for their passions.

People are awed by a woman who has children and is back running on the track before the doctor can cut the umbilical cord. And why shouldn't they be, a woman such as Radcliffe has commit quite a feat. It’s not that I think we shouldn’t applaud Radcliffe for her dedication to her sport, but like Thomas, I still feel uncomfortable with the reason she is an emblem of success. Something about the idea of beating out the femaleness (Ok, no more “nesses,” I promise) out of a mother feels wrong and I believe it's at least partially missing the point of feminism. How can we make room for a myriad of types of women, without marginalizing anyone's choices? I’d like to know how other women answer these questions. How do you reconcile your passions with something like a biological clock?


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