Gloria Steinem's rant today in the NYT does a terrific job of completely missing the point about Obama vs. Hillary. She makes a number of completely unsubstantiated claims and assumptions that make no sense whatsoever- such as the idea that a woman running with Obama's style would be portrayed as emotional.
She assumes that Obama's appeal is based on the thrill of breaking down a major racial barrier in American politics, and wonders why breaking down a major gender barrier isn't equally important:
But what worries me is that he is seen as unifying by his race while she is seen as divisive by her sex.
Of all the unsupported assumptions in her column, this is the most flawed and most fatal.
Obama's appeal truly has little to do with his race; at the very least, he has been extremely careful to avoid bringing his race into the question. Whether others choose to do so is not his concern. Obama is not seen as a uniting figure because of his race, or even in spite of it, for the most part (certainly there are exceptions, but we're talking on the aggregate here). Instead, he is seen as unifying precisely because he is sincere when he speaks, because he is a perpetual optimist about Americans, and because he is not angry or bitter.
Hillary is seen as divisive for many reasons- and yes, gender is one of them. But that is because she actively makes her gender an issue; she wants us to elect her in part because she is a woman, whereas Obama appears to want us to elect him because he is an American.
On top of that, when Hillary talks about ending the "old boys network," she is being disingenous- she is part and parcel of that network now; it is a transparent attempt to say "vote for me because I'm a woman." Indeed, Steinem says that "we have to be able to say: “I’m supporting her because she’ll be a great president and because she’s a woman.” (My emphasis).
Steinem's desire, then, is that everyone subvert their own interests to the faction that views having a female President as an end unto itself. Steinem believes, in essence, that voters should align themselves with the ever-shrinking militant feminist interest groups, which is fine- she's entitled to wish people to join her interest group. If Obama's campaign has been about anything, it has been about trying to find a common interest amongst the myriad factions in this country- by the looks of things, he is largely succeeding. If Hillary's campaign has been about anything, though, it has been about demanding people align themselves with her constituent factions.