Feisty bloggers vs. old-school Steinem-ites!

Are feminists really finding unity so elusive?

Published February 2, 2008 1:00AM (EST)

Remember this week's press release from Marcia Pappas, president of NOW's New York State chapter? The one that claimed Sen. Ted Kennedy had committed "the greatest betrayal" against women by endorsing Barack Obama for president? It's the sole piece of evidence used today in a New York Times article headlined: "Feminists Find Unity Is Elusive."

The Times depicts the disagreement as proof of a generational divide between feminists. Pappas, the 57-year-old president of NOW's New York state chapter, is pitted against Jessica Valenti, the 29-year-old founder of Feministing, which called the press release "unhinged" and "mind-boggling." As author Susan Dominus frames it, it's flirty banter versus feminist fury; video blogs versus press releases; and sassiness versus sisterhood. But for all these generational differences, Dominus takes great pains to highlight their similarities: They both went to state college in Albany, N.Y., "focused intently on women's studies," and come from middle-class homes. Why, they're practically twins! The piece even concludes: "The two women should probably talk. Surely, there's a message board somewhere big enough for both of them. We already know they have a lot in common." In other words: Just, please, shake hands and make up!

Somehow, I'm not disturbed by disagreements among feminists; I'd like to think it suggests that men and women from across the political spectrum can rally around a fundamental belief in women's equal rights, while debating the best way to secure and defend those rights. But, I'm not so sure that the response the NOW-NY press release garnered from feminists is actually evidence of serious disunity. In fact, the widespread disavowal of Pappas' position seems to come closer to defining, rather than calling into question, the party line. NOW's very own president, Kim Gandy, publicly disagreed with the chapter's press release and several top staffers were reportedly mulling whether to order Pappas to issue a retraction.

Whether in blogs or old-school press releases, it seems clear that most feminists have agreed to disagree with the suggestion that the best candidate for the Oval Office is the one with ovaries and that voting for anyone else is a betrayal of womankind.

By Tracy Clark-Flory

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