“Hillary, can you excite us?” The unresolved mommy problem of feminist politics, plus the return of the Whiggies!


Copyright Anne Taintor

Jill Abramson, the former executive editor of the New York Times and a woman who has has her own struggles straddling the line between “revolutionary” and “the establishment,” has an interesting article in The Guardian about Hillary Rodham Clinton’s troubles “exciting” young women.  “The ‘I’m a woman and it’s OK to vote with your uterus’ message is tired,” according to a Harvard students quoted in Abramson’s article.

So tired!  Yes, that’s right:  it’s so much more revolutionary to elect an older man president.  Hillary Clinton has already run for president, like twice, so we’re SO over it.  It’s almost like she actually got elected, or something.  Can we just move on, already?   (And has anyone in history ever accused American men of voting with their d!cks because they have elected a man for president 44 times in a row since 1788?)


The Whig of Illusory Progress goes to. . .young feminists, always.

Ah, well:  it’s the same old feminist story we’ve seen for the past 200 years, isn’t it?  As I have argued here before repeatedly, feminism is always the hapless frump of social justice movements.   I used to have a semi-regular feature here awarding people with flawed understandings of how history works the Whig of Illusory Progress.  Let’s just give young feminists of every generation a lifetime achievement award, shall we?

We love to blame feminists for everything they have done, and for everything they haven’t yet accomplished, and younger feminists are always eager to diss and dismiss their elders in the fight.  This was Carrie Chapman Catt’s move against Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton; it was Alice Paul’s move against Catt a century ago; it was what the flapper generation did to both Catt and Paul after suffrage was achieved; it was what the so-called “Second Wave” did to the 1920s generation; it was what my generation in the 1980s and 90s did to the Second Wavers (with sometimes a literal attack on mothers and their politics and achievements, as in Katie versus Anne Roiphe; Rebecca versus Alice Walker), and now, it’s what the millennials and younger women are doing to my generation of feminists and to Second Wave feminists like Clinton.

Somehow, the Civil Rights movement is able to encompass intellectual differences (Booker T. Washington versus W.E.B. Dubois versus Marcus Garvey; Martin Luther King, Jr.,  versus Malcolm X) without feeling the need to pull down and trash their forbears.  If feminists are eager to tear down feminist history, who is going to defend the history of feminism?  No one, that’s who!  (We are idiots!)

This is not just about our own internalized sexism, but also about ageism as well.  I have to think that a lot of resistance to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s candidacy among young women is motivated by their–by our–disgust and fear of older women.  As prominent millennial and Clinton supporter Lena Dunham says in the article by Abramson:

“I am so frustrated with the dialogue around Hillary among my peers,” Dunham told me in an email. “It feels so gendered, even from women, so harshly sexist. We never throw claims of too establishment or too stiff or even too selfish at male politicians. It’s unfair in the deepest sense.”


Copyright Anne Taintor

Payback’s a bitch, my friends, and time is the great avenger.  If you’re lucky, before you turn around you’ll be in your 40s, 50s, and 60s too.  You’ll soon have younger women complaining about your brand of feminism, and everything it did to f^(k up their lives, and everything it didn’t do to make their lives perfect.  Unresolved mommy issues are probably the most enduring fact of feminist politics.

24 thoughts on ““Hillary, can you excite us?” The unresolved mommy problem of feminist politics, plus the return of the Whiggies!

  1. Can I shower you with flowers and glitter? Kind of messy but, yes. So very much in agreement with you on this.

    I’m going to be so pissed if Bernie Sanders wins the nomination solely because he’s the cool flavour of the month while these folks can’t even be bothered to know who’s running as a Dem for the HoR, Senate and/or governor in their districts let alone get out the vote for them.


    • HAhaha. Yes! I’ll take the glitter and flower shower, for sure.

      The party-building aspect of HRC vs. Sanders is something I’ve thought a lot about. What is he going to do for a party he has only recently joined? Is he going to be an energetic and willing campaigner for down-ballot candidates? One thing about the Clintons: they’re Dems through and through. Elect HRC, and Bill & she will work hard to get a Dem majority Congress.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. So glad you are still in the saddle of political commentary, cowgirl. Sometimes I miss carrying the water for Hillary in the blogosphere. Then I remember how ugly and painful it all got and I happily go back to gnashing my teeth in silence. Did you see that Obama has expressed regret for the way his supporters and staff treated Clinton back in ’08? I’d call that a long overdue acknowledgment, but it’s still good to see. It’s in Politico: http://www.politico.com/story/2016/01/obama-iowa-2016-sanders-off-message-218166.


    • Saw it. I read it as a de facto endorsement of Clinton as his heir. I hope they’re both right in their political judgment to hug each other as they hurl themselves into the abyss–a la Thelma and Louise!

      As for the ugliness and pain of 2008: a lot of it was fun! And I’m too old to give a darn any longer. As a commenter of mine said here recently: if it’s not revolutionary to elect a woman president, then why hasn’t it happened yet? (Blame feminism again for that failure, I guess.)


  3. I’m not sure this is a fair criticism. Young women being unhappy with Clinton doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with tearing down a feminist and more with tearing down a neoliberal. Maybe it’s effective to “caricature Clinton as an establishmentarian worshipping at the altar of Goldman Sachs” because she’s an establishmentarian taking millions of dollars from Wall Street? I don’t think people are frustrated with Clinton’s brand of feminism except to the extent that it’s part of her being a candidate of Wall Street and more wars.

    Voting for a woman in and of itself only does limited things for women or the left. I mean, if the choice was Sarah Palin vs. Bernie Sanders, we know that Sanders would be, in the long run, better for women, despite missing the opportunity for a first female president. I think lots of young people don’t assume Clinton gets the benefit of the doubt as a woman, the same way, say, Ben Carson doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt as being considered naturally better for African Americans than a Sanders or Clinton presidency would be.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Elliotte–thanks for your comment. My comments here aren’t a call to hush any criticism of Clinton; they’re meant only to put some of the critiques of Clinton in the broader context of the history of feminism and how younger feminists have traditionally treated older generations of feminists–that is, as embarrassments rather than revered pioneers.

      On the neoliberal candidate vs. the “revolutionary” candidate in the Democratic primary, you might want to review the 2008 election. Which president was it who appointed Timmy Geithner Secretary of the Treasury? Hmmmnn. IOW, the U.S. Presidency is the ultimate establishment/insider position there is. The few “outsiders” elected president who were not also embraced by the insider class haven’t had very effective presidencies.


    • Depend upon it: Feminism is the social justice movement whose work has always already been done, no thanks to those stupid feminists of the past. Either that, or blame those stupid previous generations of feminists for not getting everything done already.


  4. Pingback: Invisible Hands Holding Up the Glass Ceiling | From Pine View Farm

  5. I’m not a milennial (closer to 40 than 30,) but I’m in generational limbo, and I will say two things:
    1) You’re right about the way feminists have a tendency to tear down their forbears. I will never forget a movie review I once read about “A League of Their Own” calling them the “generation that went back to the kitchen.” Women are really good at tearing each other down, hence the mommy wars are still going on as they were 40 years ago.
    2) It goes both ways. Baby Boomer women are not kind to younger women at all. Just below the surface of the debate surrounding family leave is the attitude, “Well, I worked and raised my kids without that, so can you.” You don’t have to look hard to find articles about Boomers criticizing milennials in the workplace, about their parenting, their education, everything. I don’t know why Boomers don’t recognize this. I seem to remember from history that it’s happened before…
    I can’t tell you how many times in the last 12 years (because yeah, that’s how long she’s been running,) that in a conversation about Clinton an older woman has dismissively told me, “Well, you don’t understand how long some of us have been waiting for her.” As though I could never understand. As though I somehow want advancement of women less than them.
    I personally wish we had better candidates in both parties, and I don’t think I’m the only one, but as for Sanders could it be that he captures their attention because he is the only one talking about student loan debt and family leave and other issues important to their generation? Okay, maybe a lot of milennials have a lack of information on the political candidates and parties, but they hardly have a monopoly on that. But maybe we’re not giving them enough credit. Wouldn’t be the first time.


    • Thanks for your thoughts here, noextrawords. I think you make a good point about elders also contributing to intergenerational warfare among feminists. And you are totally spot-on that boomers have spilled a lot of ink and pixels complaining about the entitlement and poor work ethics of their millennial colleagues. I am just as against the olds stereotyping the youngs as I am of the youngs dismissing the olds.

      I think the reasons many Dems support Sanders are various. He’s not the only advocate for reforming college costs, student debt, or family leave policies. (Clinton supporters would point to her clear and continuous support for women’s and children’s rights globally as well as domestically. Who was it who went to Bejing 20 years ago and announced that “women’s rights are human rights?” Bernie Sanders? No–he was mayor of Burlington, VT back then, or maybe just moving into the U.S. House.)

      It’s the habit of dismissing women as revolutionary leaders that captivates me. Women are in a bind–they can’t waltz from the state senate to the U.S. Senate to the Presidency in less than a decade. It takes time to earn the kind and length of experience that will lead Americans to take a woman seriously. So, they put in the time–and then are dismissed for being old, out of it, last cycle’s news, etc.

      So, I am skeptical of those who would say–as they said in 2008–“I’d vote for a woman–just not that one.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. God, yes. So much this. The business about not “being excited” about Clinton is the last straw.

    She’s a creature of Wall Street? That didn’t seem to make Obama dull, even though he got most of his money from Big Finance, Big Medicine, and Big Energy (the nuke, and clean coal?, company Exelon). All politicians who are contenders in the last few decades are bankrolled by some industry. But it’s only Clinton who’s hopelessly dull because of it.

    She’s a warmonger? Um, this is all based on one vote to authorize the Shrub’s idiocy when the country was in the throes of post-9/11 war mania. There’s not a dime’s worth of difference between her and any mainstream politician on that, but she’s the one who is boring because of it. And if she was a pacificist, for some reason I see people complaining about how women can’t be Commander in Chief.

    Secretaries of State don’t have to do anything except diplomacy. She has worked very hard to help the worst off as part of her duties. (Surprise. A lot of them are women and girls.) She didn’t have to do that. She didn’t just talk about it. She gets no credit for it, for some reason. Taking care of people is just what women do, right?

    And the number of obviously intelligent people who point out that they like what Sanders says, and that’s why they are excited about him. Hello? That’s what politicians are golden at: talk. I once heard David Boren, a tubby little oil Senator from Oklahoma, give a speech on the occasion of staff appreciation day at some podunk place or other. Honestly, while he was talking, even to cynical old me, it sounded like the janitors and cafeteria workers carried the whole place on their capable shoulders. It wasn’t even boring! Reagan, Obama, all the top notch ones, can flimflam you with words so you’ll forget your own name. There’s something nuts about giving them credit for what they say, and giving none to Clinton for what she does.

    The common thread in all this? Internalized sexism, plain and simple. I mean, sure. I’m not “excited” by Clinton either. Women, to be exciting, have to be more like Beyonce, not like a competent politician with a genius-level grasp of policy minutiae. We’ve all had years of training in being bored by women. The next time you feel that knot of oh-jeez-let’s-have-someone-else-puhleeeze you can measure just how well the lessons have sunk in.

    (Um, sorry for the endless comment. It’s become a bit of a hot button for me.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • quixote, thank you for excellent points that could be an essay of their own. Those who imagine some not-Hillary woman, Warren or whomever, wouldn’t suffer the same treatment are kidding themselves.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree completely. Clinton’s strength is that we’ve heard it all before about her, and people still think highly of her knowledge and competence. Her ability to beat back the smears and keep on popping up alive is pretty awesome. Warren, or another progressive woman, would be exciting only until the right-wing smear machine ginned up, and who knows what they would distort to undermine public confidence in her?

        Also: why progressives think “Harvard Professor” could be an effective majority candidate of any kind, let alone amidst a populist uprising, is beyond me. That’s not a knock on Warren–I like her. In fact, I respect her political smarts and calculation all the more, considering what an uphill slog this year would have been for her as a national candidate.


    • Excellent reply, Quixote! I’ve heard it said that women destroy each other because they are rivals to win men’s attention, but that’s certainly not the case with older and younger generations of feminists. Is ti something like Harold Bloom’s “anxiety of influence” at work here? I have to denigrate the older generation in order to feel legitimate myself. But that doesn’t explain the why.


      • What’s that old cliche? Democrats fall in love, Republicans fall in line. This year may be an exception on one side or the other, or perhaps both.

        Because we’re feminists we don’t like to admit that we have mommy issues, but I think we do.


  7. quixote says it right, paragraph after paragraph. Anybody who fought their way from Brooklyn to Burlington to Brattleboro over a generation can make the right checklist of policy points sound like original script, even if they really believe them, and I have no doubt that Sanders, to his credit, does. But if elected, the next primary will be persuading whoever is chosen to populate the two legislative houses (perhaps by going around them to the political nation at large, but more likely by fear and deal-making), and that’s an audience that will instinctively and by training see through town hall eloquence and passion. They do that for a living too. I’d fear that an administration like that would be like “Occupy White House,” with all of the requisite thrills, and subsequent lack of results.

    I *am* kind of revving on the new-age *Colonel* Sanders, on skateboard, though, messing with the minds of the bewildered college students on the sun-lit campus, but that’s just scripted advertainment, leading to the same old bucket of grease. The country needs a genuine free-range bird.


    • I just learned today that Sanders is 75. 75! Bob dole was a boyish 72 when he ran for president 20 years ago, and remember all the hay the Dems (and many rival Republicans) made of that???

      Neither Sanders nor Trump have received the kind of media scrutiny that serious candidates receive. And yet, they’re clearly serious candidates, but no more serious vetting yet.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Dear heavens! More baby boomer bashing!

    For the record — not all of us spend our lives saying “hey, you kids, get off my lawn!” I can’t help it if those stereotypes tend to get the media microphone.

    Clinton has an established record of actually helping people — something Obama lacked. And I noticed that the meme of “It’s time we elect a black president” was interestingly lacking when Carol Mosely Braun ran 4 years before.

    Clinton’s campaign can be a bit annoying — I really don’t need 3 emails a day, and whoever designed her logo should be slapped, if not shot — but she has solid connections with many world leaders — especially those discounted women leaders. The biggest complication to her presidency I foresee is the rabid pushback against her — and that’s just among her fellow Dems.

    I’d love to think that the Republican clown show ensures a Clinton win, but I’ve seen too much to assume that. But if her party gives her a smidgeon of the support that her loyalty to it merits, she could give us a transformative presidency.


  9. Pingback: Link Love | Grumpy Rumblings (of the formerly untenured)

  10. Bernie is really productive at legislating for progressive causes: http://www.alternet.org/election-2016/bernie-gets-it-done-sanders-record-pushing-through-major-reforms-will-surprise-you

    Hillary has lots and lots and lots of skeletons. Not female skeletons, dead stinking and some very hard to explain skeletons. If Bernie had one, let’s hear it. If their sexes were reversed, you might see why Bernie is just a better person and a more effective candidate.

    My real worry with Hillary. Trump will tear her apart. Low blows, high blows, blows that sting because most of them will be partly true. Hillary will sit there with her secretive wooden nature and get roasted alive. All Trump can do against Bernie is a billionaire’s attack against concern for the middle class and poor … I can’t wait to see it. Can’t say low energy, can’t say corrupt, can’t get him off the issues.

    That said, if the nomination goes to Hillary, then Hillary gets my all out support and donations.


  11. Pingback: Trust, gender queerness, and Hillary Clinton | Historiann

Let me have it!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.