The Day After Iowa: What We Learned About Race, Gender and Class

Last night was a win for our country. People turned out in unprecedented numbers across the tundra of Iowa to vote for candidates that represent the divisions that have plagued us far beyond our political parties: race, gender and class. History was made when the first viable African-American man topped the democratic field in Iowa, and when the runners up were a boy raised poor in the South and a seasoned woman leader.

As an advocate of women's issues for over thirty years, I am thrilled that we finally have a truly viable female candidate for president. I was one of the "second-stage" women who sat around kitchen tables and helped to create what became the modern women's movements, who held babies and cooked spaghetti while we plotted out legislative strategies, who went out into the public world to support our families always torn with guilt and hungry with ambition and visions for a different world.

It was women my age -- the 65 and over's -- who wanted all of our work to count last night in Iowa, women who don't want to die without seeing a woman president. Our generation could forgive the flaws, admire the competence and vow not to die without seeing the decades of our efforts amount to something historic that could make our changes permanent.

Yet women not only come in all races and classes but also ages -- and the variable of generation was a huge factor in last night's caucus. It was most apparent in young women, who supported Obama over Clinton by a 40% margin.

Young women are at the height of their power, and thanks to the second wave feminists who worked to pave the way -- women over 65 especially -- they have enjoyed a few years of reprieve from some of the issues of gender discrimination. On top of that, they still have the power of youthful beauty and desire. While I am sure that young women are grateful for Clinton's run and admire her, last night's caucus suggested that she doesn't represent the change that young women seek, because they believe, thanks to us, that that type of change has already happened.

Clinton's own cohort -- women 45-59 years old -- has experienced the discrimination, and they know the gender gap still exists. They see Clinton as representing them -- but they want her to represent them perfectly. They are not as willing to cut her slack for a vote they disapprove of or not being "know-able" precisely because they know that the world will hold Clinton, and any women with this kind of power, to standards twice as lofty as any man. Call it "internalized oppression" if you want -- these women know through their own experiences that she will be harshly judged, so they do it first and find her wanting.

Gender matters still, yet we act as if it is done.

Most of us who led the second wave came out of the civil rights movement. We were inspired by it, learned from it, and led where we could. I celebrate last night for a victory that we also feel, where our nation's troubled history with race, class and gender took an inspired turn for the better. That victory belongs to all of us, but as we celebrate we must remember there is still work to be done by and for women, as we are the group who cross "all of us" but still don't own "all of it".

The race isn't over by a long shot, but the issue of women supporting women is something this campaign can get us to cop to and think about.

Party will always trump gender, issues and values will and always should count first. But if we want to be a fully representative democracy, we have to look at the fact that as much as I celebrate and admire Barack Obama, a woman of his age and stage would not have had the opportunity to make this historic mark in Iowa. She would have been counted out long before she stood up.