Women and Clinton: Damned if they vote, damned if they don't?

We are not "divided." We are diverse. Let's move on.


Lynn Harris
March 4, 2008 11:24PM (UTC)

And so we wait. And blog. And wait. Will today's primary votes make or break the possibility of a second Clinton presidency? And if they break it, whose fault will that be?

Some -- such as Nina Darnton, writing in the Huffington Post -- might suggest that old-guard feminists will blame other women, even some of their best friends, for having swooned over voted for Obama. While having lunch with a friend, Darnton writes, "I confessed, somewhat nervously, that I support Barack Obama. 'I'm so glad,' my friend blurted. 'So do I.'"

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Confessed? Blurted? My goodness! Were these women talking about their votes, or their secret lovers? Well, that's just Darnton's point. The friend explained that her decision "to withdraw support from Hillary Clinton, the first woman with a serious shot at becoming president, had become so contentious that she had to refrain from discussing it with her women friends for fear of destroying relationships."

Aha. "The division between women on this issue, coupled with anger and accusations of betraying feminism, is a serious one, not just for the presidential election, but for the women's movement itself," Darnton writes, decrying old-guard feminists for supporting only the sistren whose "choices" they agree with. It's time to move beyond "gender tribalism" and make "room for more than one point of view" in the women's movement, she writes. "If a man is more compelling than a woman candidate, if he generates excitement and inspires idealism in a way that she doesn't, and if he runs for office with a women's agenda, we are not betraying our feminist credentials by voting for him. In fact, we are affirming them."

I have no problem with feminist men who get feminist votes. Rock on. But the rest of the men in this getting-stale conversation are, if you ask me, the straw kind.

Look, chances are we all know someone who feels it's women's duty to vote for Hillary Clinton, maybe someone insufferable, maybe someone articulate, maybe both. Fine. But to call this some sort of wholesale "division" is a bit like trumping up the so-called Mommy Wars (about which Darnton has also written); we just don't talk about it, or fight about it, the way the faux-flame-fanning media says we do. Among my feminist and progressive friends and peers (just as scientific a sample as Darton's) -- who voted all sorts of ways (even my own house, like many others, was divided) -- what I've seen when it comes to Clinton supporters is not anger at Obama voters for some sort of anti-feminist apostasy. It is, in large part, anger at the real anti-feminism that (in part) got us here on a potentially much less super Tuesday, chewing our nails and railing at the fates.

This election, people, is not about women vs. women, or feminists vs. feminists, of whatever school. (Some NOW chapters endorsed Clinton, some Obama. Steinem and Pollitt split their votes. There you go. Plenty of room.) There are plenty of excellent reasons to vote for either Democratic candidate, few of which need be informed by race or gender in the first place. How refreshing that, as far as the prevailing sense goes, we have choices to be so passionate about (choices to be passionate "for," not "against").

But. If Hillary supporters are pissed off, and maybe even taking it out inappropriately on their Obama friends, I'd say we have reason to be. And this is what Darnton's essay fails to capture. We are frustrated. Not necessarily because we expect or demand that all women (!) must vote a certain way. Not necessarily by the possibility of an Obama win, but by that of a Clinton loss. And not just by that potential loss -- which, I should underscore, is not a done deal, even as the orchestra tunes for the ritual dance-on-grave -- but by (some of) the reasons that may be behind it.

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We are frustrated by Clinton's dumb luck: Obama's advent, in this race of all races, is her "Snakes. It had to be snakes."

We are frustrated by the much-documented and -discussed perception that the media is harder on Hillary, or, as the case may be, sillier. (Witness the "Miss Frigidaire" question from Katie Couric, a woman who should know a little something about having one's "personality" appear to trump one's accomplishments.)

We are frustrated by the feeling that we skipped a step somewhere: How did a progressive female candidate come -- at least by comparison -- to represent The Man?

We are frustrated by the way it became "cool" to vote Obama and uncool to vote otherwise; this is an orthodoxy unto itself.

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We are frustrated that diversity of opinion among women -- as if we're all on one big giant Listserv ("Who are you voting for? And what are you wearing? OK me too bye!") -- is so often reported as "division." (Even in articles about why Clinton supporters are frustrated!)

We are frustrated because it really would be pretty great to have a progressive woman president. Sue us.

And we are, yes, frustrated by people -- enlightened people! -- who say things like, "I agree with all her policies, I just don't ... like her." Or that she’s "cold." Or "calculating." (We all know about "shrill.") (Which to me, for the record, describes John McCain.)

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That, my friends, is sexism the way racism is crossing the street at night when someone black approaches; it's ingrained at this point, reflexive. And that, my friends, is (in part) drinking the misogynist anti-Clinton Kool-Aid the GOP's been stirring up since 1993. I won't call them "terrorists," but it's letting them win.

Articles that overstate or underexamine "division" among women (and blacks, too, in this context) -- even with feminist intentions -- serve only to exacerbate it. Or the perception of it. Which, at some level, is the same.

Now, rant ranted, back to chewing my nails. And waiting for the Wednesday morning quarterbacks to find -- no matter what happens tonight -- a way to blame women for it.

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Lynn Harris

Award-winning journalist Lynn Harris is author of the comic novel "Death by Chick Lit" and co-creator of BreakupGirl.net. She also writes for the New York Times, Glamour, and many others.

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