Barring the mass defection of Democratic super delegates and/or Bernie Sanders sweeping the remaining primaries—certainly possible, if not likely—Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee for US president.
As she has a penchant for identity politics, we will finally have the feminist reckoning. “Finally?” a reader might ask. “Haven’t we been discussing feminism for decades?” Yes, we have. But for most of the discussion time the term “feminism” has been clouded by conflicting definitions. That was by design.
“I’m not a feminist, but…” started becoming common in the Seventies. It was about 10 years after the Second Wave of feminism swept women out of the home and into to the office, but all wasn’t well. There were “conflicts, doubts, and fears” among the “young and not so young women, and men, trying to live in terms of first-stage feminism”. (Quotes from Betty Friedan’s 1981 book that fell down the memory hole, The Second Stage.)
All of the advice to put your career first and be completely independent of men seemed to point to a lonely life. Still, some women fell victim to feminism. A few others foresaw the regret and baulked on some issues, usually motherhood. “Feminism” became a word to avoid. We were feminists—Western culture had certainly absorbed the ideals of the Second Wave—but we didn’t care for the term.
As time went by and women’s lives became more hectic, lonely, and frazzled, we largely forgot the origins of the bad advice we were following. Surely, it was the patriarchal conservatives and pig men who caused all of the modern woman’s woe. Everyone knows that bad things come from men and conservatives.
Feminism, the word, became useful again, a banner to rally under. It just needed a friendly definition. Some sold feminism to younger women as “just about equality” and “choosing our choice”. As long as few looked too closely, the definition transplant worked. The term has gotten marginally more popular. More significantly, it has become a threshold test for approval from the pop culture guardians. Every woman in the public eye has to answer whether or not she is a feminist, including Hillary Clinton, who parroted the equality version.
But a Hillary Clinton candidacy will have us look closely. She is the quintessential old guard feminist. She is the type who encourages career first and complete independence and scoffs at “whiny women”, professional and otherwise.
Young women aren’t that gullible. They have seen too much exhaustion, regret, and loneliness in their older sisters to accept uncritically Clinton’s old style feminism. (And that’s before one accounts for Clinton’s untrustworthiness.) The definition trick won’t work now. Millennial women are the women that their feminist grandmothers hoped they would be. They will not fall in line without question and they are not accustomed to being ignored.
We got a preview of what’s to come when Clinton brought out two other grande dames of feminism, Madeline Albright and Gloria Steinem. They used the old tricks, sister solidarity and shame, to get young women to rally to Clinton. It did not go well and they are now being “kept away” from the campaign trail.
Experts expected a gender gap in this election cycle with the first woman candidate for US President. But we aren’t seeing a gender gap. We are seeing a stunning generation gap. (Experts have had a really bad election cycle.)
About a week ago I came across a story that illustrates the personal:
I’ve had this “unlived life” conversation with my mum a few times recently. She’s now 76 and I’m in my mid-forties and so we’re at an interesting stage where we can both discuss old times with a fresh perspective….
The good news for my mum is that I most certainly lived her unlived life. The thing is, though, I’m not entirely happy about it.
My life as a single woman has been exceptional. I’ve hit many career highs, travelled extensively and lived abroad. But it’s also been exceptionally challenging. When the recession hit a few years ago, it would have been lovely to be supported emotionally, spiritually and, yes, maybe financially.
Mum watched me struggle through tough times as my life played out the opposite of hers. Recently, sitting in my kitchen, she admitted, “I didn’t realise what I had. I wouldn’t have your life for anything. It’s just too hard.”
This time, I didn’t flounce off to my bedroom, I just smiled at this 180-degree bombshell revelation. It appears that I’ve lived my mother’s unlived life so well she’s actually become nostalgic for what she had.
So many of the women’s issues debates of the past decades have been among mothers, against men. We kept the mother vs daughter debate personal. Hillary Clinton’s candidacy will bring it into the public forum. And fair warning, there is bitterness all round.