My 8-year-old daughter was working on an art project at our dining room table a few months ago. “Nora,” I began. “Who do we want to win in November?” She didn’t even look up. “The girl one,” she replied
“That’s right,” I said.
This summer Hillary Clinton became the first woman in a major party to win the nomination for President of the United States. Since Clinton announced her candidacy, I’ve wanted to celebrate her successes, particularly with Nora, my oldest of three children, who is aware enough to note the importance of her accomplishments. Of course, there’s beauty, too, in the fact she and her third-grade peers don’t find the situation as meaningful as me.
I’m With Her. As a lifelong Democrat who’s aghast at Trump’s campaign, including his stunts during recent debates and in that Access Hollywood bus 11 years ago, I’m about as decided as they come. I find Clinton’s record of public service and passion for the issues stunningly impressive. But I’m also a political junkie who wants to discuss the candidates honestly. Is she my perfect candidate? No. This is hard to admit. I feel conflicted when I try to square any concerns about Hillary as a politician with the unabashed pride I feel regarding her achievement and what it means.
The first woman president. Which, at this point, looks like a near certainty. How do you criticize the torchbearer without legitimizing the feat? And how can you possibly do anything but roar in defense with Donald’s tangerine visage lurking in the background (quite literally), ready to hurl insults like a Wild West gunslinger? And speaking of weapons, remember that time he hinted that gun owners might play a helpful role in Clinton’s demise?
This is eruptive territory, and I have a hard time discussing it with family and friends who take issue with Clinton as a politician, contemplating valid concerns verses potential sexism; in a hyper-aware world, it’s hard to tell what’s what.
And in the world of the 2016 election, it’s hard to be anything but obviously enraged, and downright supportive. Hillary or bust. I predict these conversations will continue past election day.
I get particularly defensive when talking to men.
My brother and father, both undoubtedly liberal, admired Bernie’s positions and integrity. They, like other intelligent Democrats I’ve talked to, will vote for Hillary, but question her relationship with big banks, her stance on TPP and her trustworthiness in general. These are valid concerns, but as my mother and I listened to their nonstop criticism over a family vacation this year, we couldn’t help but call them out with a readily available explanation. “Sexism!” we cried. “If she were a man, you’d be more forgiving.”
True? I don’t know. When it’s impossible to tell, delivering that particular accusation is difficult to resist, especially with Donald Trump ramping up my feminist impulses on a daily basis.
My brother once casually mentioned that he didn’t like Hillary’s speaking voice. “Sexism!” I responded immediately. I didn’t allow him to argue back.
These feelings trickle seamlessly into my personal life. One afternoon when we were hanging out with my family, my father asked my husband if he’d like a drink, but didn’t ask me. Was it because he didn’t notice me sitting there? Or was it because he assumed I had motherly duties to tend to? The latter seems rather doubtful. My parents both worked full-time and hold progressive views about family life. Views I’m glad they instilled in me.
But still. “Sexism!” I cried. “And I’d like a drink, please!”
We live among tripwires when it comes to gender roles, especially those of us parenting girls. Some mornings I tell Nora she looks pretty. Wait, being pretty doesn’t matter! You are strong! I need more coffee before I navigate this terrain! Many of us struggle to impart the right message and I’ve found this election season no exception in this regard.
As Michelle Obama so passionately made clear in a recent speech, the way we publicly portray ourselves during this election matters to our children. In choosing a leader, we pick a role model for them, and our country’s representative to the rest of the world.
As we hurdle towards Election Day and I continue dissecting public message upon public message, in which particular ways they are damaging to women and my own list of pros and cons when it comes to a Clinton presidency, I’ve found a rapt audience in my children. Sometimes I think about explaining to them that it so exciting, so important, that Hillary’s a woman — but adding that it’s not the entire reason. That basing it on that alone is in some ways the opposite of feminism. That no matter her sex or her various transgressions, I believe she’s prepared for the job.
Then I realize that it’s far too complicated to lecture them on the nuances of sexism and politics. So I don’t. In those moments I can ignore the naysayers and my nagging disquiet, and own my enthusiastic endorsement of our nominee. That feeling’s what I’m after most days, though it comes and goes. And that’s ok. I’m an adult and can handle my sparring opinions.
But for the sake of retaining hope in what’s been a depressing political cycle, I want my kids to get excited about one distilled message: that we could elect the first woman President of the United States.
When she was just a newborn, I took Nora to the voting booth to cast my ballot for Barack Obama. I remember looking down at her, fast asleep and tiny in the baby sling I wore on my chest, noting the significance of that moment.
On November 8, I’ll take her to our precinct again so she can watch me vote for Hillary Clinton. “The girl one.” I’ll look into her eyes and explain that we just made history.