Monday, July 28, 2008
GUEST POST: The Importance of Being Hillary
I am very excited to be able to start your week off with a guest post from Gloria Feldt, who last week wrote about barriers that still stand in the way of American women's search for equality. This week, Gloria is back with a wonderful post on a woman who's run for the presidency has helped to strip some of those barriers down. --Kristen
The Importance of Being Hillary
by Gloria Feldt
Like Kristen said in her post “Now That the Dust Has (Sort of) Settled," Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president is still fascinating to ponder. I was recently asked to write an article on the topic for the ILF Digest, the journal of a think tank I’ve been a fellow of (I find this terminology amusing, but have never come up with an acceptable alternative—can you?) for some years. It won’t be published for a few weeks but I’d like to share an excerpt here because it takes up where Kristen’s questions were leading:
Despite many problems with sexism in the culture and media that made themselves self-evident during Hillary Clinton’s campaign, there are even more reasons to be optimistic that Clinton’s presidential run will be a net plus in motivating women to enter politics. I predict a sea change in women’s participation in politics up and down the ticket and in non-elective political roles as well, for these reasons:
1. Seeing gives the potential for being. The message chanted at Clinton’s rallies: “Yes she can!” has clearly been delivered to younger generations. All young girls hereafter will grow up knowing it is possible for a woman to be president. And Clinton’s willingness to stay in the race despite all the challenges, despite constant calls for her to bow out, despite what must have been intense exhaustion and disappointment, is exactly what women of all ages with political aspirations need to see. In her speeches, she often mentioned “two groups who move me: women in their 80’s and 90’s who come out in walkers and wheelchairs and say they just want to live long enough to see a woman elected president, and families who bring their children and lean over and whisper in their daughter’s ear, ‘Honey you can be anything you want to be.’” Now they know they can.
2. Women were energized as never before. Rep. Carolyn Maloney said at a recent event sponsored by Lifetime Television, which along with three major women’s magazines has spearheaded a massive multimedia campaign called “Every Woman Counts”, that even though Clinton lost the primary campaign to Obama, “I think she lifted up the self esteem of women across the country, across the world.” Observing that Clinton raised $190 million in the primary race, Maloney said. “I think she helped all of us.” One measure of how much she has helped women become more engaged in politics is that in past races, women’s financial contributions amounted to less than 30% of the total. For the first time, fueled by excitement over Clinton’s candidacy, half of the contributions to a presidential candidate came from women. And, in fact, over 40% of Obama’s contributions came from women as well, demonstrating women’s importance to the Democratic party and women’s understanding about the strategic importance of giving their fair share of the proverbial mother’s milk of politics in order to get their fair share of influence on the public policies they want. As North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Bev Perdue pointed out, “Everybody is involved in politics whether they realize it or not.” Since men have little motivation to change the power structure, women have little choice but to become the change we want to see. Clinton’s willingness to put herself out there will motivate more of us to try.
3. Media sexism has been called out, and that roots it out. Rep. Maloney went on to say at the Lifetime event that there was “a big undercurrent of sexism, misogyny and stereotyping” against Hillary Clinton during her campaign for president. But the point here is Maloney made her claims at a public, mainstream media-sponsored event. That would not have happened in the past. The nonprofit Women’s Media Center mounted a campaign called “Sexism Sells, but We’re not Buying It” in collaboration with several media justice organizations They got the attention and the responses of major media executives and producers, as well as on-air apologies from Chris Matthews, David Schuster, and others. Even Katie Couric—too late, sadly, to make a difference in this year’s primary reporting but with luck influential enough to change the way women candidates are treated in the future—finally had enough and spoke out publicly on the subject. Change will be slow and imperfect, but it will happen.
4. Hillary’s post-primary awakening led her to embrace her leadership role as a woman and on behalf of other women. Throughout the campaign, she downplayed the importance of her gender, saying as she did at her Beacon Theater birthday bash early in the campaign when she was still considered the front runner, “For me it is a great honor and humbling experience to be the first woman president. But I’m not running because I am a woman but because I am the most qualified. “ Since the campaign, she has been much quicker to champion women’s rights. For example, she led the charge to challenge the Bush administration’s proposed new regulations that would redefine many birth control methods as abortion and allow medical providers to refuse to provide them. She seems to have learned a lesson about being her true self; other women will take courage from that.
At Hillary’s birthday event almost a year ago now, Elvis Costello performed to a standing ovation. Then the Wallflowers joined Elvis onstage; the decibel level elevated ten-fold, whipping this audience of aging rockers into frothy enthusiasm.
When comedian Billy Crystal came up to close the evening, little did he know just how prescient he was when he said, “Hillary is making this campaign not so much for the old rockers but for the new ones.”
Cross posted at Gloria's Heartfeldt Politics Blog.