I go back and forth about what there is to say. Does one simply move on and post per usual? At my most maudlin, my mind hears the refrain of W.H. Auden’s Funeral Blues, forever linked now with Four Weddings and a Funeral…
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, / Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone. / Silence the pianos and with muffled drum / Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come. […]
Oh, right. Grief. That’s what this is.
I’m shocked, and the magnitude of what has happened is still sinking in. I want to feel emboldened to go forth, as Obama said, “with a presumption of good faith in our fellow citizens.” I want to feel emboldened to go forth, as Clinton asked, “believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it.”
I think I’ll get there.
But here’s one thing on my mind…
On Tuesday morning, after emerging jubilant from the polling station with Aron, hugging our children with tears in both of our eyes at the magnitude of what we assumed was to happen, I went home to look through the archives of prominent news sources for quotes worthy of a such a historic occasion—anticipating a triumphant celebration.
One, from an article in 2008 about the prospect of a female president, caught my attention:
‘Who would dare to run?’ said Karen O’Connor, the director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University. ‘The media is set up against you, and if you have the money problem to begin with, why would anyone put their families through this, why would anyone put themselves through this?’
For this reason, she said, she doesn’t expect a serious [female] contender anytime soon. ‘I think it’s going to be generations.’
Others say Mrs. Clinton had such an unusual combination of experience and name recognition that she might actually raise the bar for women. In fact, the biggest point of agreement seemed to be that there is no Hillary waiting in the wings.
Except, of course, Hillary.
Except of course, Hillary, who said as she conceded:
“[T]o all of the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams”
Personally, I feel indebted to her, and will long be sad that we never got to see what she would do in the Oval Office, but I also want to understand better how we deal with the gender politics of the election. I don’t mean in some superficial way, like ‘I voted for her because she is a woman’ or ‘I couldn’t vote for her because she is a woman.’ Things are rarely so clear—and accusations reek of overgeneralization. I mean the gender politics that have been at work to define this woman for years, at work such that we must couch all praise with the caveat “she’s a flawed candidate.” (As opposed to a boy scout, it is implied.) I think of the wonderful profile Rebecca Traister wrote last year, in which she said
it would be impossible, and dishonest, to not recognize gender as a central, defining, complicated, and often invisible force in this election. It is one of the factors that shaped Hillary Clinton, and it is one of the factors that shapes how we respond to her. Whatever your feelings about Clinton herself, this election raises important questions about how we define leadership in this country, how we feel about women who try to claim it, flawed though they may be.
Samantha Bee brought this up in a more raucous manner as she shares old clips of the public’s reception to a politician’s wife who kept her maiden name. (Hint: Not good. We know who lost that fight.)
And yet even the bitter New Yorker article that I read for commiserating comfort this morning, “An American Tragedy,” failed to once mention gender as playing any role in our perception of Clinton.
How do we get this to figure more prominently in the conversation?
Over the summer, a reader wrote that she hoped “we women do not elect Hillary only because she is a woman.”
It struck me that this is a caution frequently directed to women and minorities, while rarely to men.
The conversation about gender is too often preempted the minute we call ourselves feminist or reference one’s sex—or gender—when in fact we are capable of appreciating triumphs in the realm of identity politics at the same time as weighing other, more nuanced issues.
So while we rightly celebrate the women who made history this election, including Hillary Clinton, let’s also have the conversation.
Finally, there are surely many of you who disagree with me about the election, and others for whom the other stakes of this outcome weigh far more heavily. I hope we can all move forward together.
I know I’ll get there.
P.S. Women who lead.