Friday, April 4, 2008

Not hot for hillary

i've defended hillary rodham clinton pretty vociferously through this whole campaign (and longer), but i think i have to let her go.

oh, it's not her. it's me. and, yes, there is another woman -- two of them, actually. one is my generous friend malinda, who always makes me think. the other is alice walker, whose open letter is making the rounds.

as with any break-up, there's sadness, regret, and lots of unfulfilled dreams. i wanted her to get the presidency because she's worked hard for it. moreover, she's put up with a lot of sexist crap: the 1992 chocolate chip cookie challenge, larry king, the "monster" characterizations. i want her to have some payoff for staying with bill through the lewinsky affair. even now it's painful to talk about that period -- i so desperately wanted her to leave bill for us. i want the country that defeated the ERA to have to wake up each and every day to the fact that there's a woman in charge. i want hillary to have had better timing.

and by "hillary," i mean us. and by "us" i mean ... well, i want to mean all women, but i have to admit that there's a powerful identification between hillary rodham clinton and second-wave white feminists, an identification to which i am not immune. i want there to be a woman in charge of the USA so that it is conceivable in this country -- canada, for those or you reading from beyond -- that a woman could land an endowed professorship, become a premier, run major national corporations, and so on. i think this identification is the reason i've supported her for so long, excused her growing conservatism and her recourse to white femininity (as in her use of "hillary" and "clinton"). to support hillary has been to support the feminist choice.

but the thing is, and i still choke a little here, my fingers pause over the keys as i wonder anew about what i'm going to write: hillary doesn't represent my feminism. the fact that she's represented me (white, middle-aged, professional) has perhaps blinded me to the fact that her feminism is not my feminism. the feminism i espouse isn't just about making the world better for white, middle-aged, professional women and the halliburtons of the world, while supporting the war in iraq. it's about working from below, working to understand the vicious connections between transphobia and misogyny, working to ensure that homeless women and men, women of colour, immigrants, the disabled and the uninsured (to choose just a few thorny examples) have better lives. it's a feminism that's about working for the people who come after you and not the folks upstairs. to put this in analytical terms, it's a feminism that works not from gender as a foundational category, but at the interstices of gender -- genders, i should say -- and race, class, nation, sexuality, and so on. it's the hardest work, and the most exhausting.

virtually everyone agrees that hillary clinton has grown more conservative over the years. at what point have you changed so much that you're not recognizable? is senator clinton the same person as HRC at the beijing conference? is this the same person who championed real health care reform in the US in 1992, and who was so punished for it? hillary, i wanted us to grow together, but i'm afraid we've grown apart. i hardly recognize you these days.

and here come the really hard questions, the ones i don't know how to think my way out of. if hillary rodham clinton's conservatism is a function of her experience, a consequence of the constant, necessary compromise that characterizes public life, then why should she take the fall for the circumstances she did not invent but has to navigate? my psyche is littered with horrifying examples of women who have let me down this way: hillary rodham clinton, anne mclellan (who supported rendition), shirley neuman (nicknamed 'shotgun shirley' when she got to u-toronto). what price success? who are the counter-models? and what assurances are there that i won't go the same way? i am already far less radical than i was a decade ago -- more efficient, more effective, and even more courageous, but less bold, less imaginative, and less patient. what yardstick can you use to measure "progress" within the moving field of a human lifetime?

i don't know how to answer these questions, but i'm pretty sure they can't be answered through figure-heading. the US election won't solve them. i feel like a Bad Feminist saying this -- or is this just my own growing conservatism coming out? -- but this US presidential election is too important to be framed as a gender-versus-race issue. and incidentally, that framing is something that robin morgan's revised goodbye to all that does. the first part of that missive shamefully pretends that racism is over while sexism is alive and well. cheap shots, robin. the beginning of alice walker's epistle is similarly manipulative, but i'm with her on the importance of "alliances based not on race, ethnicity, color, nationality, sexual preference or gender, but on Truth" -- whatever that means.

what the framing of the US election as gender vs race shows to me is that we still have a long way to go in figuring out how to address sticky old-fashioned questions like role models, essentialism (barack obama is black, and that means something, hillary rodham clinton is a woman, and that means something), solidarity, and the inter-imbrication of race and gender with other social justice issues.

sticking with hillary is not the way to get there.


Anthony said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anthony said...

I think that Hilary is v. good at politics, and that her commitment is to seeking wealth and power. She started as a Goldwater Girl, moved to an academic, tepid radicalism in the 60s and 70s, married an ambitious man and allowed him to control her, gave up in the 90s doing any real policy when it became difficult, and became v. hawkish in the 00s, though for the last 20 years she has been a hawk.

About the growing conservative, i think of my mother,a generation older then you Heather. She was radical, she knew the black panthers, helped dodgers and resisters, staffed the rape crisis center, was one of the first subscribers to Ms, etc etc.

She got disappointed. She told stories about the Panthers expecting women to serve coffee but not speak, or the lack of funding for the crisis center, or the war never really ending. She had kids, married my dad, tried to get rent under control, started teaching, first in prisons, and institutions, and with new immigrants, and then in high schools when they cut salaries and jobs.

So she sends a cheque every quarter to the womens shelter, and writes to her MP, and votes for the NDP, and reads the paper every morning, and yells at the television. She is still angry, but it feels diffused.

People my age, have seen two attempts at permanent change, the radicalism of the 60s and 80s, fail miserably. We think the best we can do is small things, well. We have become people with ambition, anger, devotion, and a desire to change, but also a deep fear of failure. We know what failure looks like.

I want Obama to win, because he knows real politik, he knows that the comprises he has to make in order to get the decent things done. But I also know what Real Politik does. I want solutions to individual problems, and not any over arching ideology. I have set my expectations for revolution very low, and my optimism lower, because i know what happens when either of them are too high.