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Hillary and Mom

Because of Hillary and because of the struggle of women like my mother, there will one day, sooner rather than later, be a woman president.
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Barack Obama has finally cinched the nomination, and although we both in the end supported him, my mother is feeling none of my euphoria.

My mother discovered Betty Friedan when I was a baby, and by the time I was in grade school in the seventies, she was hosting consciousness-raising groups in our living room. Free to Be You and Me played on a continuous loop in our house, and before I was tall enough to reach the sink to wash a dish, I knew that when there was housework to do, I was to follow Carol Channing's directive and make sure that we did it together.

My mother raised me to believe that I was capable of being whatever I wanted to be, but when it turned out that what I wanted to be, at one point, was a stay-at-home mom, she was horrified. I tried to explain that my decision was not a betrayal of everything she'd worked for, but rather an affirmation of it. It was a choice, and wasn't that what she'd been fighting for? My right to choose?

Now, though, as I watch Hillary Clinton's struggle reach its disappointing end, I understand why my mother took my decision so personally. She had struggled to remake the world, had partially succeeded, and now here I was, refusing to finish the job.

There's a sense of unfinished business in our society, like there is in Hillary's campaign. When I heard Hillary's women supporters proclaim that they will never vote for Barack Obama, despite that fact that his policies on women's issues are identical to Hillary's, I was, at first, aghast. But in thinking about it, I've come to realize that they are expressing the same anger my mother felt when I seemed to be retreating from the struggle she had bequeathed to me, when I refused to understand that my "choice" was informed as much by society's expectations as by my own desires.

Like Hillary, my mother --acknowledged in my family to be smarter than my father, and with a degree from a far more prestigious university -- had no choice but to subsume her professional aspirations to his. She always worked -- they couldn't afford for her not to -- but his work was a career, and hers only a job, and one that she did in addition to all the work of caring for us kids.

To women like my mother, Hillary stood for the idea that finally, after a lifetime of subsumed aspiration, after tolerating so stoically the various indignities of their professional and personal lives, it is their turn. I understand the feeling. I share it.

Because of Hillary and because of the struggle of women like my mother, there will one day, sooner rather than later, be a woman president. They are the generation that made that possible. They are the generation that made my career and my family possible. But they are also the generation that made Barack Obama's candidacy possible, and that's something to be proud of, and grateful for, too.