A Moment in History

Last night, Secretary Hillary Clinton made history by becoming the first female to be the presumptive presidential nominee of a major U.S. political party.

Republican commentator Ana Navarro commented on Twitter, “Confession: Thought woman thing wouldn’t mean much to me, but yes, feel something I can’t quite articulate seeing 1st woman nominee #History”

Among my own circles, I saw mothers and fathers alike thrilled to be able to share the moment with their daughters. Who watched with pride and hope as Secretary Clinton declared “tonight’s victory is not about one person. It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible.”

It’s a historic moment for women in this country, and I’m glad that many are finding it so moving and powerful.

But, for me…it feels oddly flat.

Ezra Klein posits that many have met this moment uninspired because Secretary Clinton is “winning a process that evolved to showcase stereotypically male traits using a stereotypically female strategy.” Or, more generally, “there is something about us that makes it hard to appreciate the magnitude of her achievement.”

In Klein’s view, the strength of a candidate is traditionally measured by how rousing their speeches are; how fiery their rhetoric. But those aren’t Secretary Clinton’s strengths. Not only is she “not a natural politician,” but – as a woman – she would be socially penalized for being too loud; too outspoken.

Instead, Secretary Clinton’s strength is that she’s a relentless coalition builder; “arguably better at that than anyone in American politics today.” This relationship-building is a critical political skill, but it’s also what makes her seem so establishment. She seemingly had the primary locked up before it even began – establishment, perhaps, but the result of decades of painstaking relationship building.

Klein argues then that if Secretary Clinton’s victory feels hollow it is because of the norms we’ve imposed – because we undervalue the traditional feminine skill of relationship building while overvaluing traditionally masculine oratory.

This argument is intriguing, but still somewhat misses the mark. I’m skeptical of Klein’s gendering of rhetoric and relationship building – do those really break down as a masculine/feminine dynamic?

Of course, this in part is what makes patriarchy so intrenchant – the nuances of sexism and double standards are so subtle as to be commonly overlooked entirely. The biases are so pervasive that I honestly couldn’t tell you how these misguided norms warp my own view.

Yet, as I reflect on my own dispassion for Secretary Clinton’s victory, I like to think that it’s neither personally nor politically motivated. Indeed, I have a great deal of respect for Secretary Clinton.

Instead, as we mark this historic moment, as Americans declare their pride at finally selecting a female nominee, I’m reminded of the many, many, many women who have served as heads of governments and heads of state around the world.

Despite what several articles have written, Secretary Clinton is not the first woman to be nominated by a major political party – rather she is the first in the U.S.

Not to downplay the significance of that achievement, but I suppose I’m having a hard time feeling the thrill of a liberal victory when the fact that we’re just now getting to this moment highlights just how painfully un-progressive our country can be.

As Steven Colbert cleverly quipped, electing a female candidate “is something you could only see in a sci-fi novel…or any other country in the world.”

So while I suppose that later is better than never – this momentary breath of parity seems like little to preen ourselves over.

And while there may be important symbolism in this moment, I can’t help feel that symbolism does me little good if nothing really changes.

Just last week a white man was given a light six month sentence for the violent rape of a woman while the perpetrator’s father complained that even that minimal sentence ruined his son’s life for “20 minutes of action.” You can read the woman’s own powerful statement here.

And this story is just one of far too many incidents of rape and sexual assault which occur regularly across this nation. RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) estimates that 1 in 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime. And nearly 2 out of 3 rapes go unreported.

So forgive me if I find myself unmoved by symbolism; if I want more from my country.

Following the election of President Barack Obama, there was much hope that entering an era where a black man could indeed become president meant we had entered an era where we could truly confront and dismantle our country’s deep racism.

Unfortunately, over the last eight years the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddy Gray, Eric Garner, and far, far too many other people of color show just how little progress we have truly made. There is so much work to be done.

I am satisfied with the nomination of Secretary Clinton, and I am optimistic that come January we will finally have a woman in the white house. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking this moment means as much as we would like it to mean.

This is a historic moment, perhaps, but one that is scandalously far past due. And with the deep, entrenched and often violent misogyny unrelentingly still faced by women in our country today, it is a moment which highlights not how far we have come – but how shockingly further we still have to go.


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