Thursday, June 05, 2008

“Her problem wasn’t that she was a feminist. Her problem was that she wasn’t feminist enough.” Discuss.

(I have several things to say about this, but less time than I’d like to say it—so please bear with my drive-by analysis.)

I am mostly on board with the observations of Meghan O’Rourke in her Slate post, “Death of a Saleswoman”. . . mostly.

In the coming days, as Hillary Clinton moves to the sidelines and Barack Obama takes the stage alone, many people will suggest that America just wasn't ready for a female president. This may be true. But we'll never entirely know, because Clinton did not invite us to spend much time contemplating the momentous fact that she was the first female presidential candidate with any chance of occupying that position. Her problem wasn't that she was a feminist. Her problem was that she wasn't feminist enough.

Shorter me: It wasn’t just that what HRC did to inoculate herself against the sexism inherent in the system made her seem more like a man—it made her seem more like a Republican.

I will also add: Unlike O’Rourke, I am going to wait until after November (perhaps long after) before I give Barack Obama a grade on how “transformative” he and his campaign turned out to be.

And: I think that the issue of age deserves more analysis—or more weight in the analysis—than O’Rourke has given it. (Though, to her credit, MO’R does acknowledge her Gen X POV, and also concludes that some of Clinton’s troubles had opened the author’s younger cohort’s eyes to the pernicious persistence of sexism.) Second wave feminists probably see HRC’s signals through a different lens than their daughters. And, for the candidate, it is not just a tough nut to gauge how to position one’s self as a woman, it is perhaps (perhaps) tougher as a woman of a certain age.

In conclusion, to my eyes, while it seems like a plausible argument to say that Hillary Clinton failed to cast her campaign as a sufficiently transformative endeavor, and though it might have been harder for Clinton to seize the day than her male competitor, HRC could have avoided many of the pitfalls of identity politics if she had not spent her time in the Senate and on the campaign trail trying to split the mythical difference between core liberal Democratic positions and what she thought were the ones that made her more electable.

(cross-posted on guy2k, Daily Kos, and The Seminal)

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