Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Revenge of the Middle Aged Woman

The story of the New Hampshire Primary is that women, especially boomer women, broke overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton. JC Wilmore put it in stark terms when he said:

The status quo won a victory in the face of the "change agents" in New Hampshire

But I think he’s wrong. Let me say he is a well meaning and honest progressive who views Obama as a new kind of politician. I do too. But at some level, JC, and many others, miss completely that for boomer women, they did not see themselves as voting for the status quo in New Hampshire yesterday. They were fighting for somebody whom they viewed as a genuine change agent who had fought 40 years of battles for them, and with them. And those women were deeply offended that men and young people, both male and female, neither recognize nor acknowledge that fact.

It may indeed be time for the torch to pass to a new generation. But it should not do so without recognition that those who bore it before also fought for change and left a far different and in some ways better world than they found.

Let me give you a little personal history that might explain how unimaginably different the world is today than it was back when Hillary and I were growing up. We’re roughly the same age and from suburban areas near a major city (her from Chicago, me from New York).

When I was 14 years old, back in 1968, many of my mother’s friends staunchly believed that a woman should ask her husband’s permission before buying herself a new dress. Women did not work outside the house and received allowances from their husband with which they bought groceries, ran the household, and if they had anything left over, purchased some personal items. They raised children and their main sense of accomplishment came from those children’s successes.

Back then, I discovered the early Women’s Lib movement. Nothing seemed to make more sense to me than the notion that women should earn equal pay for equal work.

Other people, however, argued that it was just and fair for women to earn less money because they needed less. People expected a woman to be married and to have a husband supporting her. Any money a woman might earn outside the home was expected to just supplement the family income or be used for luxury items.

Worse, some people also believed that it was selfish for a woman to want to get satisfaction and a sense of achievement through work outside of the home. Such a woman was criticized for taking a job from a man who needed it more and shortchanging her children who needed a mother at home every minute.

But there was something very wrong with this argument.

For one thing, those same people would never say that a garbage man with ten children should make more money than a single investment banker with no children. If somebody suggested it, they would be told that we didn’t live in a socialist nation and that the free market determined salaries for men.

Even more important, lots of women, even back in the 60s, actually were the sole support of children and did need more money than the men whose salaries were greater. There were widows and divorcees, some of whom had been abandoned by husbands. Men traded up for trophy wives then just as they do now.

Today, a young woman graduating from college has every expectation of getting a good job, entering a profession and earning a decent salary. When that young woman marries and has children, she will be able to choose whether to keep working at a challenging job she enjoys or stay home. Nobody will criticize either decision. Although women still get paid less than men for doing the same job, nobody thinks it’s fair anymore. Very few young women today call themselves feminists or identify with the Women’s Liberation Movement. They don’t have to because women like Hillary fought that fight for them.

And they – we - took flack for it. When I said I was a feminist, back in 1970, a male, liberal friend of mine said to me, “Well then open your own damned door.” And he let that door close right in my face.

I won’t forget that. And ask any baby boomer woman who went out there and fought for our equality and she will have a similar story.

And that’s why even if we are not for Hillary for President, we still feel, “don’t you dare ever, ever make fun of her claim that she worked for change. She was a change agent before many of those laughing at her claim were old enough to say the word “change.”

If she’s now the Establishment, it’s a very different Establishment than the one she and I found. Not always better, but different and more equitable. There’s still miles to go before it’s truly just or equal. We still see the double standard all the time. We still see injustice, war and poverty. And it may take a new generation to lead us out of it. And Obama may be the one to do it because he is so inspiring.

But today’s progressives stand on the shoulders of those who came before so they can achieve even greater things. But do remember those whose shoulders you stand on.


spotter said...

I'm about four years younger than you and about ten years younger than Hillary Clinton. I have always been the second professional woman to do anything I did. I lived a lot of what you're talking about, and agree with much of what you say. Things have changed dramatically, but sexism is far from gone. Younger women do not fully appreciate the opportunities that are now available, or the struggles that made them possible.

The sexist comments of pundits, especially Chris Matthews and Tim Russert, about Hillary Clinton absolutely infuriate me, and have infuriated me for a long time. But they do not make me want to support her.

Hillary Clinton, I'm sure, was always the first woman at anything she tried. She knows that she represents all of those who will come after. So I know she knows better than to CRY! She has made it that much harder for every woman who will follow her. It's just disgraceful.

Vivian J. Paige said...

spotter - I'm truly at a loss to understand why you think Hillary's display of emotion (and, for the record, she didn't actually cry) sets anything back.

Hillary was damned no matter what. Her earlier lack of display of emotion elicited comments that she was cold and unfeeling. So she displays a bit of emotion - likely brought on by sheer exhaustion - and she gets comments like this.

If I learned anything from the feminist movement, it is that a woman can be anything she wants to be, whether it be a lawyer or a homemaker.

I'm a bit younger than both of you. Younger women don't have this whole internalized oppression issue that women of the early feminist movement had. That's what I see in your comments about Hillary's display of emotion. I never have understood it, though.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

As Vivian points out, Hillary did not cry. Her voice grew soft, it cracked, the emotion was evident, and her eyes did tear up. But, no, there were no sobs. Tears did not roll down her cheeks. She did not lose control. She simply showed human emotion at a time when she was very tired and had faced a discouraging defeat.

If femininism fought for anything, it fought for equality and that includes the right of all people, men or women, to be in touch with their feelings.

Not to lose control but to acknowledge their humaness. There's a difference between those two concepts.

I wouldn't want a president who totally lost control and became an incoherent babbling mess, or worse exploded with uncontrollable rage.

Anybody in the position of leadership of this nation must be able to keep a grip on their feelings and remain rational. But that doesn't mean they can't display any honest emotion.

Hillary remained coherent and eloquent. I believe that she showed a human side,and that was perfectly acceptable.

On another note, about double standards, I had dinner with a friend of mine who is somewhat older than me. She's not a Hillary supporter either, but she too gives her credit for fighting for change and opportunity for women.

This friend told me that when she applied to law school, she aced the LSATs (or whatever test you take to qualify for law school)and had the grades. She went in for the interview and did very well. And she was told that she would go on a waiting list just in case some man turned a place down. Fortunately somebody did and she went on to be a successful attorney.

Former Supreme Court Justice, Sandra Day O'Connor has recounted the story that after graduating tops in her law school class, the only jobs she was offered was that of legal secretary.

When people here this today, they are astounded because it is unfathomable that such discrimination was even legal.

But it was. And those of us who remember it still honor our pioneers whether they are Republicans like Sandra Day O'Connor or Democrats like Hillary.

It doesn't mean we will necessarily vote for them, but we won't diss them either.

Anonymous said...

Well said AIAW. I support Edwards, but there is a part of me that would love a Clinton/Obama ticket, just for the simple pleasure of watching an on air melt down of the entire fox network.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Alice, it's good to hear from you again, and thanks.

In my heart of heart I still want Edwards but being a realist, I'm leaning toward Obama.

But yeah, an on air melt down of Fox would be good :)

spotter said...

Women lawyers know how to control their emotions and maintain composure. And we are not so far from the situation AIAW described (actually, not very far at all), that they can forget that.

Silence Dogood said...

Spotter, I just want to say first off that you've never run for public office. You've never endured five straight days of Chris Matthews gleefully narrating the death of your career. You've never been asked during a debate in front of a few million strangers why people don't like you. You've never had poll numbers come back to showing you more than 10 points down because the man who directed that question at you was right: people really DO dislike you, and you didn't even do anything to them.

Please don't be ignorant enough now to assume that you know how *anyone* handles those extraodrinarily trying circumstances. I've read other things you've written. I know you're better than that.

Okay, now that that's out of the way: hey AiaW! This is Silence Dogood over from RK. I just wanted to respond here to a response you left to me to tell you that I'm in the exact same boat. I never intended to support Hillary, but I'm getting more furious every day to hear the way people talk about her.

What's more, I'm a male.

But I'm a male with a mother, and I have quite a mom. She grew up in a rural community here in Virginia, the oldest of two children, one boy, one girl. My uncle went to the best schools in the Commonwealth on my grandfather's dime, but when my mom wanted to go away to college, my grandfather refused to pay. College is for menfolk. Good Southern women get married and stay home, making babies and cooking dinner.

My mom wasn't down with that, so she put herself through college working nights in the dining hall. And then she put herself through her master's program. And her PhD. When she had me, she was teaching graduate studies at one of the top five schools in her field in the nation.

And we don't always get along nowadays because we don't see eye to eye on a lot of issues. She's not really a "people" person, which happens to create a curious pattern in which she's consistently terrifying to the girls I introduce her to (I suspect it's that they realize they're not going to live up to her standards or achievements). And she frustrates me. She makes me feel angry sometimes.

But if anyone ever said anything HALF as disrespectful about her as people are saying about Hillary Clinton, I seriously cannot imagine a world in which I would not cut that person's balls off.

I'm glad folks like Obama and Edwards. That's wonderful. But it's time for people to cut the sort of disrespectful anti-Hillary rhetoric out. We should feel ashamed of ourselves because we're not only disrepecting her accomplishments--we're disrespecting everything every woman of that generation accomplished by extension.

(incidentally, I think the only person more proud of my mother than I am is my grandfather, the same man who refused to pay for her education all those years ago. It's curious that my 90 year old grandfather understands better than most 30 year old women how remarkable what my mother accomplished is)

spotter said...

You'll just have to take my word for it, Silence. I'm not speaking from ignorance, but from very real experience. In fact, my story is not very different from your mom's. The sexist onslaught Hillary Clinton faces from the pundits is infuriating. But this is not the answer.

There is a weekly spectacle about an hour from us that I would invite AIAW or Vivian to go see for an hour or so. Watch every female lawyer stand up to clear bias and an onslaught of withering comments with dignity and grace. Then tell me, please, whether that's the right answer, or whether tearing up or crying would not simply reinforce these actions.

If I thought for a moment that Hillary's "humanizing moment" was genuine, I would not feel so strongly about this. It wasn't. Through her tears, she attacked Obama, not Bush. Now her campaign has skillfully played that "humanizing moment" to her advantage, also accusing Obama and Edwards of "ganging up" on her in the debate. I really see this as a betrayal of all that Hillary Clinton should stand for, not as an affirmation.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

First, welcome Silence Dogwood. I immediately recognized your name from RK. I'm honored you came here to respond.

Your comments were beautiful. I especially enjoyed the part about how formidable your mother is and how that is perceived as being "not a people person."

Women of her generation were often the Amazon warriors that even I don't have to be because of them. They indeed blazed a trail.

At very least, nobody denied me funds to go to college (even if it was originally only because my parents thought I'd find a more educated husband there).

And Spotter, you are better than that. Those women lawyers may indeed stand up to bias and withering comments every day with grace, dignity and self control; but it's usually after a good night's sleep in their own beds.

I don't believe Hillary's moment of vulnerability was scripted. I believe she was tired and human. And if a man had been treated similarly for showing a moment's human weakness, I'd be defending him the same way.

Having said that, neither of us can prove our assertion so I think it's time to call a truce. Ultimately, I suspect we will both be supporting the same candidate in the general.

tx2vadem said...

First, I have to say, this is once again so insightful. I only recently started reading your site, mainly out of a dearth of sympathy for Hillary on Raising Kaine. But I must say, I am very impressed.

Personally, I am still undecided, and I waver between Hillary and Barak. They both have their strengths and their weaknesses. At the beginning of last year, I was all for Barak; and I was perhaps overly critical of Hillary's electability. But now, I think she has great potential to win. I can only see a general election race where Republicans come across as trying to hold women back. Right now, I think were she to win our nomination that we may see a revisit of the Ann Richards v. Clayton Williams dynamic though on less overt terms.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting diary and interesting comments. Wonder if anyone might tell me why they feel that Obama is a better candidate than Clinton. I'm her age and don't feel that she's part of another generation. Nor do I feel that Obama is much different than her on the issues. Just what specifically does Obama offer that Clinton doesn't offer. I've heard all the unspecifics and seen the polls turned upside down. I'm just seeking an understanding of why Obama is the better candidate as so many are asserting. Can't wait until tonight's debate and hopefully can learn more about all the candidates!

Catzmaw said...

Sorry for jumping in so late. I should be sure to check AIAW more often ;)

Spotter, I don't know what your problem is for a brief moment during which Hillary went a little verklempt for just a second. You're quite judgmental about it. You say that women lawyers are tough and know how to handle their emotions. As a woman lawyer I'll agree, I can come off as pretty hardcore most times. I blithely argue my way through cases involving the vilest human behaviors, oftentimes as the advocate for the person accused of them, and though I am intense and focused I do not cry -- except, that on some brief occasions, I do, or at least I have trouble seizing control of the emotion that wells up when I uncork the bottle and view within the vast human misery of a client or a witness or a victim.

Two weeks ago I was representing a young man on a probation violation. Frustrated with his seeming inability to complete a few hours of community service in exchange for a dismissal of the charges, I castigated him for caring so little about himself that he would incur a felony conviction. Well, the long and the short of it is that upon closer investigation of his file and another conversation with him it hit me that he was deeply depressed because several years ago, while he was a military policeman, a four year old child who had been run over by its mother died in his arms. He'd never gotten over it. He was in fact deeply traumatized and blamed himself for not saving the child and had been trying to hurt himself, believing himself worthless, ever since.

Well, I'll admit it, when I pulled the probation officer out into the hallway to explain the young man's odd behavior I could not speak of the child without crying. The depth of the tragedy was too much. I was able to get a grip and argue the case before the judge without a tear, but only because I'd gotten it out of my system. Am I a weakling, spotter? Did the hardass lawyer do a disservice to her sisters in law by showing some humanity for a brief moment in time? I hope not.

Spotter, I admire that you are tough and want to project strength, but it's not a weakness to show humanity from time to time. It was because of that glimpse into and understanding of the depths of that young man's pain that I successfully argued to the judge that he should be given one more chance. His original lawyer, a man, had never sought insight into why this kid was doing the things he was doing. I like to think that it was the female part of me, the part which like most women is curious about human behavior in a way that most men are not, which was able to succeed in his behalf. Just because we women lawyers inhabit a man's world does not mean we should abandon all that is female or "soft" about us.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

Catzmaw, that was beautiful. Please do come back more often.


spotter said...

Catzmaw, I didn't see Terry McAuliffe or Dee Dee Meyers or any other cogs in the Clinton machine on t.v. selling your "humanizing moment" (McAuliffe's words). I don't question that women can act any way they want, including crying. Heck, Oprah Winfrey does it all the time, and it doesn't bother me a bit, because it's REAL. The difference between us is that I don't think Hillary's little scene was genuine, as evidenced by (1) her words, (2) her attitude,(3)the convenient timing, and (4) the marketing. My point about women lawyers, and this applies at least quadruple to Hillary Clinton, is that it's extremely out of character. I am not judgmental that she went verklempt. It disturbs me greatly, however, that she PRETENDED to do so, and that her ploy unfortunately worked. Just look at the way all the usual sexist suspects have behaved toward her since that time. She has done what they demanded all along, and now they approve of her. It's really a shame, since she could have answered that straightforward question in a completely different manner and still garnered their respect (and mine).