How’s this for women’s history month? For the first time in the long history of the republic, members of a major American political party voted decisively to nominate a woman as their presidential candidate, and no one noticed because all we want to talk about is the baloney-faced misogybag DONALD DRUMPF!
It’s true! Even articles online this morning purportedly about Hillary Clinton’s amazing wins in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, and Illinois are really all about her potential opponents Drumpf and (mysteriously, fantastically) Ted Cruz. I guess we really don’t want to admit that Clinton–with all of her older, darker, uncool, non-hipster voters–was able to win last night, and win big in both the south and the industrial midwest.
Deborah Tannen explains exactly why this is revolutionary–and importantly why we don’t want to admit it–in a succinct new article, “The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Disliking Hillary Clinton.” She analyzes not just Clinton’s long history in the public eye, but specifically draws a comparison to her current opponent for the Democratic nomination (and FINALLY brings up something I don’t see at all in public conversations about the candidates):
All public figures are subject to criticism and attack, but Clinton has been subject to more, and Sanders to less, than most. For one thing, she is widely expected to be the Democratic nominee, so why bother wasting effort scrutinizing him? That Sanders has a son whose mother he never married has received so little attention that most people don’t even know about it. This is as it should be. But what are the chances that a woman would be given a pass under similar circumstances?
Especially a woman of Clinton’s generation, who came of age in the 1960s? There are a lot of women who had children out of wedlock then–but we don’t know their names, do we, because many of them put their children up for adoption and lived with their secret for decades, or–like Sanders’s son’s obscure mother–it never occured to them that they could run for president, unlike Sanders himself.
Tannen also shows how Sanders’s supposed “authenticity” is completely unavailable to any woman candidate:
Sanders is appealing when he comes across as tough by railing against Wall Street and corporations, and as comfortingly homey and authentic with his rumpled clothes and hair and down-home Brooklyn accent.When Clinton is tough, a characteristic many see as unfeminine, it doesn’t feel right, so she must not be authentic. And a disheveled appearance would pretty much rule her out as an acceptable woman. As Robin Lakoff, the linguist who first wrote about the double bind confronting women, put it, male candidates can have it both ways but Clinton can have it no ways.
Eight years ago, Democrats (and even some Republicans!) were very excited about the history-making candidacy and potential presidency of Barack Obama. A nation that devoted itself to enslaving African people for 350 years elected a man of African descent to be its leader–and we did it TWICE!
By contrast, this year I don’t hear any discussions–outside of the voices in my head, and a few conversations with fellow women’s historians–about the history-making nature of Clinton’s run. All I hear (again, outside my own head and some private conversations) is “oh, God, I just don’t like her. She’s so corporate/corrupt/conservative/.” Or from the right, “She’s so socialist/corrupt/leftist/anti-family!”
In the long run, it’s probably just fine with Clinton if people prefer to talk about the baloney-faced misogybag all year long, so long as people do what they did yesterday and vote for her. Maybe it’s better that we don’t go on and on about how revolutionary her candidacy is–that might upset people even more, and the contrast with Drumpf is pretty good for her.
You don’t need to like her or believe she represents a political revolution. She doesn’t need our love and friendship. She just needs our votes.