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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Why I Don't See Hillary Clinton's Candidacy as a Feminist Triumph

You know, a couple of posts back, when I was writing about the difficulties the next president will face, and I was writing "he or she," I got a little thrill up my spine every time I typed it. "He or she." He or SHE.

For the first time, ever. An electable-for-president She.

When I was in elementary school, my teachers (who were of course largely female, given 90%-- that is a real statistic-- of elementary school teachers are women) would always tell me, as they told the whole class, that one of the greatest things about living in the United States of America is that here, any citizen could be president. Any one of us kids, sitting there at our desks, could grow up one day to be president. They told me that I could be president.

But the older I got and the more I came to understand gender politics, the less I felt that to be true.

The older I got, the more I realized how much many men and even some women hated the word "feminist," and used it like a slur.

The older I got, the more I interacted with adult men in positions of power who actively and obviously distrusted the ability of women to make sound decisions or solve complex problems without the male help.

The older I got, the more I realized that women who try to lead forcefully are often labeled bitches or shrews, and that women who try to lead gently are often marginalized or ignored.

And when I became a mother, I witnessed first hand how society expects professional women to take on a disproportionate responsibility when it comes to housekeeping and childcare. And I witnessed first hand how the business world discriminates against mothers, offering them less pay than men or single women, denying them promotions, scrutinizing their sick days, implying that their loyalties to the company must be inherently compromised by their loyalties to their children and home. All while fathers earn higher wages and more promotions than single men, because they are seen as more reliable and more responsible.

I know this atmosphere sets up a hell of an obstacle course for an ambitious professional woman to overcome if she wants to get anywhere with her career.

And I know that women politicians face even greater criticism and scrutiny than women in most other professions.

So I am thrilled, seriously thrilled, that the time has finally come that we have a viable woman candidate for president.

But I do wish it were another woman.

I wish it were another woman, in large part, because I wish we had a woman candidate running right now completely on her own merits.

I know some people are portraying Hillary Clinton's candidacy as a triumph of the feminist movement. I don't actually believe that is the case. I would categorize Hillary Clinton's candidacy as a really good victory for feminists, sure. But a triumph? No.

Because the fact is, one of the primary reasons the Democratic Party has been willing to consider her as a viable candidate is that they know many voters will see her candidacy as a chance to re-elect Bill Clinton.

It puts me in mind of that ancient European tradition where a girl can become Queen, if, of course, there is no suitable male heir. (And yet, these "accidental" monarchs almost always seem to make fantastic leaders. I mean, hello. Queen Elizabeth the First? Kicked ASS. Way better than, say, Henry the Eighth, or King George the Third, for example. Yet no one ever seemed to catch on that it might be a good idea to just go ahead and let smart, motivated girls be queens even if they had politically acceptable brothers. LAME.)

Now, it's certainly not Hillary Clinton's fault that she has a famous husband. I mean, unless you want to argue that her husband might never have been so famous without the help of a sharp and motivated wife, in which case, I guess it is her fault he's famous, but only in a good way.

And I am well aware that Hillary Clinton is intelligent, thoughtful, educated, and very experienced in both politics and law. I know she is an excellent lawyer, a shrewd planner, and a skilled politician and I know that she is all of these things in her own right and her strengths and skills in these areas are entirely her own. I know that, for the past few years, she has served as a very productive and respected Senator without any obvious involvement on the part of her husband.

So, I am certainly not trying to hold Hillary Clinton's history as a First Lady against her personally, or as a candidate.

And I know that, all "legacy candidate" issues aside, her historic candidacy will open doors for girls and women for years to come.

But I wish knew for a fact that a woman without a last name made famous by a man could run for president, right now, and win.

And I wish that Hillary Clinton herself seemed more confident that she could run on her own merits, and leave Bill Clinton, and Bill Clinton's legacy, at home.

I agree with Gloria Steinem that a black woman with Barack Obama's experience and background probably couldn't get elected president in the current climate, or even be considered a serious contender. Of course that would be unlikely. She'd have not one, but two strikes against her, facing entrenched race AND gender discrimination. She'd lack Hillary Clinton's famous last name.

But, I do differ with Gloria Steinem in that I would say a black woman with Barack Obama's experience and background SHOULD be able to be elected president. Such a woman SHOULD be a serious contender, especially if she had the same record of attracting a diverse group of supporters from across party lines as Barack Obama, and commanded the same sort of respect as an inspirational public speaker as Barack Obama does.

I would vote for her.

And that, in fact, brings me to the second reason I wish the first-ever Electable She were another woman.

Based on certain policy issues, campaign integrity issues, and personality issues, I don't want vote for Hillary Clinton.

I wish Hillary the best of luck. I really do. I would love to see a woman be president.

But, I'm voting for Obama on Tuesday.

And in my next post, I'll tell you why.

9 comments:

JessiTRON said...

Next post! Next post! Tuesday is only a few hours away. Motivate me to vote for Obama.

Dana said...

"I wish it were another woman, in large part, because I wish we had a woman candidate running right now completely on her own merits."

Whoop, there it is. It disgusts me that she paints herself as a successfully INDEPENDENT woman. Sham.

Condi Rice? BRILLIANT BLACK woman. The most underused and overlooked talent in American government. Alan Keyes? BRILLIANT BLACK man. He's the smartest man living in politics. Both these candidates are sideline not only for their color but because they are conservative. Racist and partisan to me. I would vote for Alan Keyes or Condi before ANY top contender right now. Alan is also running for president - where's the Hollywood backing for him? His experience makes Obama look even less experienced than he already is.

I know I just pulled an Alan/Condi comment hijack, but samnit if I don't love them to bitty bits!

Dana said...

Gawd, typo much, Dana?

SAMNIT!

Jaelithe said...

Next post, Jessitron! It is up.

Rebecca said...

I do disagree with this; I understand your wish (because it is mine as well) to have a woman come forth (much like Obama has done) and become a presidential candidate, without previous attachments. However, I don't think you can say Hillary isn't a triumph for feminism, because of her husband, anymore than you can say Obama isn't a triumph for African Americans, because he is of mixed racial background.

Jaelithe said...

Rebecca, I am not trying to say her candidacy isn't a triumph because she has a former president for a husband. I am trying to say that her candidacy isn't a triumph because I believe THE ONLY REASON the Democratic Party leadership thought it was safe to let a woman run for the top prize this time around is BECAUSE she has a former president for a husband. My assessment on that front has nothing to do with Hillary Clinton herself. This has to do with the state of our society and our political system.

I'm disappointed that there was only one woman in the field. Half the candidates should have been women.

Like I said in the post, I think it's VICTORY for feminism. Just not a triumph.

Jaelithe said...

P.S. I guess my point is, I'm just a greedy sort of feminist ;)

Rebecca said...

Jaelithe: thanks for your clarification. . . I read it differently, and apparently incorrectly.

I agree that the democrats think of hillary as a safe option as far as women go. and while i'm a greedy feminist too. . . i suppose we gotta start somewhere. and considering how much i really like hillary, i'm ok with starting with her ;)

(by the way, i too wish she would admit the iraq vote was a mistake. i've since admitted my own mistake in originally supporting the war. but she knows it would be political suicide. she's just playing the game. and you have every right to hate that game.

in college, a friend of mine would tackle the most impossibly hard topics for her english papers. i chose less hard theses to properly defend. and i always got a better grade than she did, despite our otherwise equal intelligence and writing abilities. i played the game. i wasn't necessarily proud of it, and she wasn't happy with it, but you do what you gotta do.)

Jaelithe said...

Well, obviously if you misinterpreted it, it needed clarification. So I'm glad you challenged me on it.