Hillary and women of a certain age
(image taken from the candidate's official website).
This was my column yesterday, July 2.
Like many others, I followed the goings-on in the bitterly contested nomination process for Presidential candidates, particularly between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton which offered valuable insights on how elections are truly won. Many among us presume that because America is supposed to be the showcase of democracy in the world, the American people are more discerning in their choices of candidates, that electoral contests in that country are won purely on the basis of merit and qualification, and that candidates are spared from prejudice and discrimination.
Clinton was supposed to be invincible in the beginning. She had all the right pedigree. But in the end it all boiled down to a personality contest. Obama was just so much more charismatic, inspiring, and hopeful; his message of change overwhelmed Clinton’s message of stability. Hope is truly often more powerful than reason.
I am a Bill Clinton fan and I guess, by extension, I secretly rooted for Hillary. I think it is sad that she lost the nomination mainly because of misperceptions about her character—first as a politician, as a politician’s wife, and as a woman.
Most people today have grown cynical toward politicians. This is understandable given the declining quality of politicians overall. Politics is no longer seen as a dignified professional career that one prepares and aspires for; it’s now more often seen as an alternative, fall back pastime for those with the resources and the grit and gumption for dirt and sleaze. This is bad news for people who see politics as a science and vocation, people like Hillary Clinton who are inherently political animals.
Although both camps tried hard not to bring in race and gender as issues in the campaign so as not to alienate core supporters, everyone knew Obama’s color and Clinton’s gender were issues that occupied center stage. In this particular contest, I think Clinton’s campaign suffered the most harm from institutionalized prejudice against women, particularly toward women of a certain age and level of success.
I am a feminist at heart, but I believe only a woman can articulate the pains and the frustrations that many women feel in the aftermath of the Clinton defeat. Fortunately, my good friend Grace Abella-Zata had written her thoughts on the matter in a five-page e-mail entitled “A Filipina’s Take on Hillary or Why Her Loss Could Be Our Gain” which she sent out to her friends. What follows are parts of her e-mail that are relevant to what we are discussing and I’d like to share her thoughts with you:
“Many American women over 40 are taking Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the US Democratic primary personally. Well, so am I, even if I am Filipina. I am 51 years old, after all. After Hillary’s concession speech, my dear poor husband got it from me: ‘From now on, you are washing your own dishes!’
“The Hillary-haters have caricatured Hillary as an ambitious, ruthless woman who would do anything to get what she wanted: She had wanted to be President from the very beginning, she and Bill had been in the White House for eight years and still that was not enough for her, what a greedy, power-hungry monster!
“After Hillary’s defeat, pundits relished the opportunity to point out what she had done wrong. Very few saw how well she had in fact done. Could any other politician-male or female—have succeeded in capturing 18 million hearts and minds, versus the brilliant, idealistic, politically astute Obama, he with the hip, made- for—tv rock star persona that the media just adores and has made larger than life?
“They never analyzed why Hillary kept winning important states and why so many Americans turned out to vote for her even as the numbers showed it was impossible, under the rules of the game for her to recover and win. The media failed to acknowledge the significance of the fact that Hillary had moved out of Bill’s shadow and had come into her own. Except Joe Klein who apparently had covered Hillary from her first lady days and saw the genuineness of her political passions. He wrote: ‘The Clinton campaign has been a revelation… The greatest revelation was Hillary Clinton herself—a fabulously skilled candidate and a compelling human being, one of the very rare politicians who found her soul during a campaign, rather than losing it.’
“Hillary found her footing when she realized that she just had to be true to herself, that the way to position herself as a candidate was from the place of her deepest passions—a fighter for the disadvantaged and marginalized. She had always been a fighter for causes she believed in. I suspected she chose to highlight her experience over her passion because the latter might be perceived as too emotional, and as a woman she could not risk that label. But voters—men as well as women respond to what is authentic and her near-win in spite of costly strategic mistakes—the huge Obama war chest, a mostly biased press, and the weight of political baggage from the past—was solid proof that people acknowledged she is indeed presidential material and had every right to seek the most powerful position in the world.
“As she bloomed, found her voice and gave those exhilarating victory speeches, I cheered her on. ‘Go Hillary. Fight and win for us—for the school girls who were voted secretary and took notes even when they were actually presidential material, for the wives who wisely or unwisely, sacrificed their careers so as not to eclipse their underachieving husbands, for all the women who were told not to appear too intelligent lest the men get turned off (not true!). Go, Hillary and fight! For all of us, men as well as women—straight and gay— who struggle to find our true joys in life, or whose passions smoulder from within under the weight of societal and familial expectations or who simply have not found the personal courage to follow our bliss.’
“Critics pilloried her for her refusal to concede immediately and for talking at great length about the achievements of her campaign during the concession speech. A definite sign of her tanker—size ego, they said! They did not see what Hillary understood all too well—she was the surrogate of what has been profiled in this campaign as the ‘invisible, ignored, neglected women of a certain age.’
“After child-bearing age, at 50 and definitely at 60 onwards, women—it is said become ‘invisible.’ Women have no role models of mature women who are attractive not because they manage to keep their looks, either through natural or artificial means but because they glow with their passions and their successes. There are actually many women achievers who younger women could look up to as models of beauty and power, but sadly they are not interesting enough for the media and perhaps the public. I can think of only one such personality, my own idol Winnie Monsod.
“So as the radiantly beautiful, albeit defeated 60-year-old candidate basked in the love and admiration of her supporters and fans—probably for the last time, I felt I wanted this moment to last a little bit longer. Go and glow for us, Hillary—for those of us who feel fully depreciated, ignored and invisible, for the women—young and mature, who feel that they have to be lipoed, botoxed, gluthathioned, Belo-ed, Facial-cared etc. etc. to be beautiful and worthy of love and admiration.”