Monday, March 10, 2008


HIllary-Supporters and the Dutiful Daughter Syndrome

By Christopher Fung, Ph.D.

First of all let me say that this is not a jab at people who support Hillary Clinton because they agree with her stances on the issues.

But my observations of 70-80% of the "Hillary is better than Obama" stuff (and in particularly the denunciations of Obama from self-appointed "spokespeople for women" such as Gloria Steinem and Roseanne) makes me uncomfortable because there's a streak of something very nasty and unprincipled running through much of this discourse.

There's a very strong whiff of disappointed entitlement coming out of the Clinton camp. The particularly vicious exponents of this approach are suggesting that it's "Not His Time", as if this were a game of Clue or Chutes and Ladders.

This metaphor is actually quite interesting because it illuminates a particular aspect of bourgeois supremacist thinking that perverts progressive ideas such as justice into self-serving arguments about entitlement. Not surprisingly, this thought-structure also underlies the overtly racist arguments advanced by white people (usualy only to other white people) that "Obama will only work for the blacks, so we should vote for a white person".

Liberal theory argues that there are certain inalienable human rights and that access to these rights is what constitutes civilization. Entitlement to these rights is the carrot that is offered to those who wish to participate in the system as the consenting ruled.

As the exponents of privilege theory have pointed out, the beneficiaries of privilege protect themselves from the notion that they are truly advantaged by proposing and supporting the notion that the system is at least in theory, fair even if there have been failures to enforce that fairness in the past. By this logic, rewards doled out by the system have been earned by righteous behavior within the system and not as a quid pro quo in a system of structured inequality.

An implicit idea in liberal theory is that participation in the system is a guarantee that full rights will (eventually) be extended to you as a matter of course. Thus enfranchisement of white men meant that in theory all white men had the theoretical ability to become powerful politicians, cultural patriarchy meant that all men had the theoretical ability to bask in the obediance of "their" women, white supremacy meant that all whites were superior to all blacks, yellows, reds and browns, and cultural class-consciousness meant that all who learned how to be "middle class" could expect the rights of citizens as a matter of course.

The rights of "all" were never actually extended to all. Liberal democracy was no different from other forms of social structure in systematically denying full participation to marginalized groups.

White women have historically played the part of the dutiful daughter in a patriarchal family. The dutiful daughter gains recognition through adherence to her role in the family, and the possibility that she will gain real power if she stays within the system long enough to become a mother, a mother-in-law or perhaps even a ruler in her own right on the death or failure of the male heads of the family.

Just as with lower-status white men, white women have been told, "Keep your nose clean, and one day you could be one of us. We'll protect you as long as you don't question the basic mechanisms of power in our community". And for many women (those who opposed the ERA for example), this bargain proved to be acceptable.

Feminism directly challenged this consensus in the 1960s, and the response of the status quo was to subvert and neutralize the white middle-class feminist critiques of patriarchal, capitalist white supremacy by giving white women increased access to individual economic security, the dismantling of cosmetic sexism, and the provision for increased cultural, social and political privileges for white women which were not extended to brown, black and red women, nor to yellow women who did not marry white men.

With the candidacy of Hilllary Rodham Clinton, white middle class women finally feel that their decades of loyal service to the system are at last bearing fruit. It's her time because she and by extension, generations of white women have given their support to a system they know to be unfair, but like good immigrants and dutiful daughters, they have put up with the indignities in return for small but real gains, and the promise of even greater gains in the future contingent upon their continued support.

Barack Obama's candidacy is "out of time" because it violates the unwritten contract between the powerful and the consenting: We will preserve your relative superior status over others in return for your commitment to us. A black man gaining office "before" a white woman strikes at the notion of white solidarity and the rewards dutiful daughters "ought" to reap from a system that "works for them".

Obama's candidacy also exposes nagging anxieties whether the system itself is actually fair. But rather than confront this possibility, dutiful daughters would rather blame the "troublemakers" who are "spoiling it for the rest of us". In much the same way, whistle-blowers in dysfunctional families rather than abusers are often blamed for bringing unwelcome attention and "spreading lies" by other members of the family.

Make no mistake, a thwarted sense of entitlement is a very powerful force: it underlies the American Revolution, the French Revolution, the Russian Revolution and the Chinese Revolution just to name four.

Just as we have seen the racist opposition emerge, so too we see the "status-quo"-ist proponents rally against Obama. To combat these, we should not buy into the frame of the arguments advanced by these opponents, but we SHOULD be aware of the power that these frames have for the electorate as a whole.

The quandry of how to bring progressive change to people who have been taught that their own personal security rests on the very things you want to dismantle is the challenge that Obama and the rest of us face. The solutions lie in keeping one part of our beings reminded of the power and desirability of real justice, and on the other reaching out to those who are in fear to find ways to address their fears while refuting the notion that their security really does rest on their position of supremacy over others.

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