Katha Pollitt is a diehard supporter of Hillary Clinton and in the minority among Nation magazine contributors, as attested by the magazine's endorsement of Senator Sanders for the Democratic presidential nomination. Pollitt believes that a double standard prevails when feminist Clinton supporters are accused of being "vagina voters" but male Sanders supporters must not be called sexist or labeled "penis voters." Sanders himself has disavowed any appeal to male solidarity or chauvinism, as Pollitt notes, but as with many self-appointed representatives of groups that have suffered discrimination, she sees privilege behind his attitude. "When the whole system has been set up by men for men since the founding of the Republic," she writes, no explicit appeal to male supremacy is necessary -- and no appeal to gender-blind objectivity is adequate. In a recent Nation column Pollitt states bluntly that "Women should have 50 percent of power in every area of life, if not more....It's simple justice." She believes the U.S. should emulate Ireland, which recently enacted a law requiring political parties to give at least 30% of their nominations to women in order to receive public campaign funds. She remains convinced that despite all the counterexamples available of reactionary female politicians, from Margaret Thacher to Sarah Palin, "more women in government benefits women."
"Is that such a wild thing to say?" Pollitt asks immediately afterward, and I'd answer that it is if she believes that only more women in government can benefit women. I suspect that Pollitt does believe that, since she spends the rest of her column asserting that the one big thing Sanders can do as President to benefit women is to make sure there are more women in government. Pollitt's kind of feminism is a form of extremism. In her insistence on proportional representation by gender as a minimum demand she's asserting an extremist form of "inclusive" politics, at the opposite extreme from the blatantly discriminatory, exclusionary politics of the recent past. This sort of inclusivism shouldn't be confused with the compensatory policies designed (or desired) to counter past discrimination. Those policies, viewed objectively, are designed to level a playing field with an eye toward the true meritocracy dreamt of by Martin Luther King. While debates continue to rage over when the compensatory regime should end, most advocates of those policies envision an end, however distant and however unilaterally determined. Pollitt is advocating something else: inclusivity as a permanent principle of government, according to which there must always be a certain minimum of women in power. That demand is based on the sort of essentialist thinking we were supposed to have overcome, the assumption being that women, as women, have something unique to contribute to any deliberation or decision, both for the common good and for women especially, so that the community as a whole and women in particular suffer when women are insufficiently represented in government. The implicit corollary assumption is that no man can represent or serve women's interests as well as women, for reasons of temperament, perhaps, or as a plain matter of identity. At some level, the demand for permanent proportional representation for women (or for men) presumes an inimical element in gender relations. Pollitt half-jokingly suggests minimum representation for races as well, and the message would be the same then: one race can't be trusted to serve the others' interests fully or all equally. She may as well demand minimum representation for gays, with specific quotas for lesbians, bisexuals, transgender, etc., but we really should discourage this sort of thinking, especially if all of this is an argument for Hillary Clinton. To say that questioning Clinton's integrity is misogynist, as some (if not Pollitt) imply, is as bad as saying that any critic of Israel is an anti-semite.
The whole point of the great anti-discrimination movements of the 20th century and beyond, or so I thought, was not just that no group was superior or inferior to the others, but that no group had special qualities or attributes to exalt or stigmatize them. The argument against racial discrimination was that there was no difference between black and white, yellow or brown. The argument against gender discrimination was that the biological differences between male and female were irrelevant to their intellectual capacity or fitness for responsibility. Any argument for proportional representation rejects these premises, asserting instead that women, for instance, do have essential, exclusive qualities and attributes, the only difference being that now these must be recognized and included -- in some cases without asking too many questions about who specifically is included -- rather than excluded. But if every group recognized (or stigmatized) under the old hierarchy of discrimination and chauvinism has some essential quality or attribute, then what is the special particular attribute of the white male -- or, if you will, the Christian or the straight white male? I can't help suspecting slightly that some if not many outside that circle, however you draw it, will say its special quality is evil. If that group is assumed hostile to every other group, what else can you assume about it? Granting that many straight white males (to include myself), not to mention Christians (to draw the circle wider) have done evil in history, to believe, as extremism like Pollitt's implies, that this group is inherently adversarial if not oppressive toward all the others, and incapable of representing anything but itself, is to be a bigot.