Forum exposes opinions about gender and politics

By Marie Wilson

The race for the Democratic presidential nomination may be between two candidates, but speakers at the “Women and the 2008 Election Panel” on Monday night argued that the issues surrounding race, gender and politics are much more complicated than just two representatives.

The University’s chapter of the National Organization for Women, also known as NOW, sponsored the event to ensure that women’s political issues are being discussed.

“We want to make sure women are represented in a positive or a realistic light,” said Tarah Williams, senior in LAS and the event’s organizer.

But discussing women’s issues inherently leads to discussing other concerns because women are not a homogenous group, said speaker Isabel Molina, professor of communications and Latina/Latino studies.

“The results are not always what you expect with women and politics,” said speaker Kristina Miler, professor of political science. “You can’t just ask about gender anymore. You have to ask about gender and race or gender and age.”

Concerns relating to gender and other social and cultural factors may overlap and cause people to be conflicted when choosing a presidential candidate to support, said speaker Fallon Wilson, graduate student at the University of Chicago.

“That’s what I call the ‘oppression Olympics,'” Wilson said. “Putting gender considerations over race considerations, but they overlap.”

Wilson said that as a black feminist, she is torn between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. She thinks the only way to make a decision is to evaluate each candidate without suppressing controversial questions.

“You can vote for someone and still critique them,” Wilson said. “I feel if you don’t do that, the issues you care most about will never get discussed.”

Miler said gender has been an important consideration in presidential elections as early as 1872. But the issue is resurfacing this year because of Clinton’s campaign.

“The office of the president is both symbolic and embodied,” said speaker Sharra Vostral, professor of history and gender and women’s studies. “You can put a man into the slot and the presidency continues. But does gender trump the office, or does the office trump gender?”

Vostral and the other speakers left many such questions unanswered because they do not have clear solutions at this time. But those who listened to the panel said discussing diversity issues as they relate to politics is still important.

“Especially on a campus like U of I that’s trying to have a diversity initiative, it’s important to look at politics from these points of view,” said Megan Rim, junior in LAS.

From a gender analysis point of view, a possible female president would have to walk a fine line between female and male gender norms, Molina said.

“You have to remain socially acceptably feminine, and you cannot take on masculine characteristics in a way that will be seen as threatening,” Molina said. “But you’re penalized if you seem too stereotypically feminine.”