What feminism isn’t about: Cabinet headcounts.

obama feminist

UPDATE 1/14/13: Please note that Joe Scarborough [see below] apologized this morning to Mika Brzezinski , and it was an entirely warm and human moment, and that’s a nice thing to see.

Feminism is the radical notion that women are people and as such, have an innate right to the same human and civil rights enjoyed by other people.

To the extent that we have mostly failed to incorporate that fact into the norms, mores, culture and laws of humanity over the vast sweep of our shared history, it’s good to practice a kind of affirmative action that seeks out and advances women of skill. When conditions beyond your control mean that you start the race a mile behind everyone else, at a certain point, it’s only fair that you be given help in making up the difference.

But that help is not, unto itself, the realization of feminism, nor is it the only thing necessary to realize feminism in human society.

I say this because there is a flap being made about the fact that President Obama’s second Cabinet is shaping up to be a very male (and very white, it should be noted) group.

Some Democrats are behaving as if the President has betrayed us, and some Republicans are suggesting that the whole “Obama is better for women” thing was so much mendacious diversion, because look! It’s a sausage fest up in the Oval Office! Joe Scarborough went so far this morning as to yell the following at his Democratic co-host Mika Brzezinski (and then later snap his fingers at her! [Yes, really! Video below]):

For Barack Obama and his team to savage Mitt Romney for a month off of an offhanded comment that really meant nothing, and here we are on something that matters. And you’re forgiving him, while you lit into Romney for a month, and the media lit into Romney for a month, and now you all are hypocritically, and I will say it, hypocritically giving this man a pass because he’s a Democrat that you’re cheering for.

Scarborough’s reference was, of course, to Romney’s “binders full of women” comment, which, had it been an isolated moment of poor phrasing would, in fact have been “an offhanded comment that really meant nothing.”

But here’s the damn thing, aggrieved progressives and conservatives alike: That comment was neither offhanded nor meaningless, because it reflected the Republican Party’s oft-expressed and acted-upon attitude toward the rights of Americans who happen to be women, and feminism is more than a headcount.

The feminist movement (to the extent that there is one thing that can be called that) is about bringing women’s humanity to bear on every aspect of life, and as I have noted on several occasions, President Obama has spent his Presidency expressing his dedication to feminist values. Over and over and over (and over and over) again, he has done the work and forwarded the ideas necessary to actually change the reality in which women and girls live, to not pay lip service to our humanity but to acknowledge and act on it.

Here’s another radical notion: Part of why this President has so many more men than women to choose from when filling any post rests in the sexism which continues to mark and harm our society, at each and every level, not least the professional level where women continue to suffer systematic discrimination. And for all that, 43% of Obama appointees have been women (and hey now! Valerie Jarrett’s leg is just visible in this by-now infamous but somewhat misleading photograph). Not to mention that if the GOP had not successfully hounded Susan Rice out of the nomination process last month, we wouldn’t even be having this conversation right now — because the optics of a single woman of color would have been magically enough.

I want to see more women in leadership positions. I want to see more women getting better jobs and better pay and better benefits. And (note to the Republican Party) I want to see women treated as human beings, rather than vessels for the next generation and/or lying sluts who spread our legs and cry rape. I want my daughter and son to see these things, and believe me, I’m hoping that the President surprises us over the next week or two with a couple of women. Press Secretary Jay Carney has suggested that we wait until Obama has actually made all of his appointments before we pass judgement, and given the President’s record, I’m inclined to take the suggestion to heart. If I’m disappointed in the end, I will not hesitate to join those holding Obama’s feet to the fire on the issue. That’s my job as an American citizen, and I take it seriously.

But not a feminist? Not good for women? Somehow pulled the wool over our eyes and tricked all us silly, slow-witted, eyelash-batting wimminz? Just stop it.

We are, as I have said before, in the process of actually recreating humanity right now, and there is simply no way in which any such process could ever be easy or smooth.

In word and deed, in promise and in policy, my President has demonstrated his feminism time and again, making the country in which I live and in which my daughter is coming of age a better, more perfect union. And that is much, much more important to me than an Oval Office headcount.

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Hereunder you can watch Joe Scarborough act like a damn fool:

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