This is a poke around inside a moment’s feelings, not a reasoned consideration, which would require much more time and thought.
I only catch up on the global news a couple of times a week now. It’s so horrifying and dispiriting. I don’t think I could go on if I listened, as I did for many years, before getting out of bed every morning. So anything that qualifies as ‘good news’ is precious, cradled, pondered over. Such was my immediate reaction to the election of Michelle Bachelet as President of Chile. Wow, a woman – and an unconventional one at that, in such a conservative country - and a member of the Socialist Party! And in Chile: like South Africa, always in the heart of all who grieved and campaigned from afar for the return of democracy.
Then I wondered at my impulsive reaction, since it’s a long time (well, 1997, probably) since I expected anything much from politicians. And anyone who expects a politician to be more humane or radical just because she’s a woman… well, where have they been for the past 30 years? And I don’t mean just Right-wingers. I tend to feel that the kind of person who can survive in politics (hyper-energetic, skin like a rhinoceros, love of the limelight) is just not likely to share many of my perceptions and priorities, not deep down or long term, even if they start out principled and well-intentioned. Back in the early 1980s, I had the opportunity to work for a few days with the first Minister for Women to be appointed in a European country – perhaps the most overtly feminist minister and ministry there has been. She was emphatically NOT a nice person. She shook up some assumptions in her country, though, in ways that have partially stuck. So does it matter if she was a nice person? I guess I think it does.
Why would women politicians, just because they’ve not been at it as long as men, be more humane or idealistic? Expecting this is similar to having different, higher, expectations of women bosses. My closest friend at work and I have talked a lot about how we always expect more of women in authority because we identify with them and unconsciously look to get the same kind of empathy back.
It’s a naïve assumption that we should perhaps let go of - just like the naïve assumption that a woman politician and someone who defines herself as Left of Centre will strive for a real impact on social and economic polarisation in Chile, or anywhere else. But I’m never sure, really, whether I should try to let go of it. Perhaps not to let go of it, but to cherish its origins in hope and solidarity, whilst nonetheless cultivating a wider and more realistic awareness. There is something to be said for naïvety. There are other, less condescending, words for it: simplicity? optimism?
Of course, I don’t think a Centre-Left coalition government in Chile is the same thing as a government of the Right - ANY degree of interest in defending freedom and democracy and trying to mitigate the hardships of the poorest is worth having, worth voting for.
And I’ll always owe a certain gut-level solidarity to Michelle Bachelet JUST because she’s a woman – if only because of those niggling paragraphs I find in every news report, like the last in this (ugh!!!).
¶ 5:10 pm
Yes, those final paragraphs undo the whole sense of having gotten somewhere, don't they? Exasperating. It's either that, or a paragraph about jackets and shoes.
For a number of years I have found a stark difference between women in or affiliated with university, students, teachers, intellectuals, and women in business as far as feminist agendas go. In the business world feminist ideals barely seem to exist, except as lip service. I've found, then, a huge divide between theory and practice. So, while I love Bachelet as she is presented by the media, and can't imagine anyone who looks like that in photographs can be anything other than humane, left of centre, socialist. But she's survived in that business world, the world of politics, and even a military appointment, and so I wonder. About lip service, about 'the look,' about the differences between the intellectuals and the women out there, working, raising families, climbing corporate or political ladders, without placing meaning on it in any way that I could understand as feminist. And perhaps none of it matters- Bachelet's simply the best person for the job right now, and Chile is damn lucky that's run and that she's been voted in. Healing from Pinochet, oh yes. She's got an in-line to something there that may, at least for me, draw together the divergences I've seen between the academic and the business/political woman so that some sort of a vision for the future (so sorely lacking in feminism, which is mainly a form of social criticism) might be born. (Whew. Hope that wasn't too run-on confusing!)
Leslee, yes you're right! French name too - the old French families are something of an aristocracy in Chile, I think; I used to work for one of them. Which is not to say they haven't suffered. My ex-boss, an upper-middle class and perhaps somewhat dilettante student politico in 1973, had to flee the country, his mother was arrested and tortured and he wasn't able to go back for 15 years.