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?)
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.”
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.