Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Those Women.

When women who are now in their 70s and 80s were growing up, they could be housewives or career girls, the latter carrying a whiff of disappointment. The women’s movement of the 1970s was largely made up of women of that generation who wanted more and insisted upon it. They changed the world, and in particular they changed the workplace. Sexism and misogyny did not disappear and there are many battles still to fight, but their determination changed things dramatically for the better for working women. Women of that age group forged their identities in relation to that change, that struggle, that relationship between home and work.

I thought everybody knew this history.

My parents were working people but not blue collar. Mom had a secretarial job right out of high school but quit when she got pregnant with my brother. She stayed home to raise her kids but, as soon as my little sister was in first grade, she went back to work and held a series of administrative/clerical jobs first with a university and later with Ball Glass. My mother was a staunch liberal and a proud Democrat, her sympathies mostly formed at the local level.

I remember when the Clintons moved into the White House, and Hillary was criticized for continuing her own career, and she said “I supposed I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to build my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life,” my mother, and millions of women along with her, cheered. Hillary Clinton was and is a hero to those women. Her refusal to define herself in terms of her husband, her unabashed ambition, was a kind of signal that their persistence was paying off. The national drama of a first lady fending off critics of her refusal to settle for the role of hostess and helpmate to her powerful husband echoed their own desire for more and the flak they endured for it. That Hillary was outspoken and often impolitic only added to their admiration.

The dismissal now of these women’s support of Clinton saddens me. The scorn heaped on Gloria Steinem for a glib remark on a comedy show, the relentless suggestions in think piece after think piece that older women are blind, that they are racist, selfish Capitalist pigs for supporting Clinton, who is now transformed in the minds of these scolds into the symbol of everything wrong with the world, is condescending and offensive.

I shouldn't be surprised I guess -- collective memory is short -- that people are surprised to find a cohort of older American women who have a different view of the world, women who were balancing the checkbook and feeding kids and arguing with patronizing bosses at the office instead of crushing on Howard Zinn and Naomi Klein. Women who see themselves in Clinton, and who feel proud.

What I’m not surprised by, not after the last couple months of scolding condescension on my Facebook feed every morning, is that there is a cohort of people whose politics I generally agree with but who have their heads so far up their critique of neoliberalism that they can’t see why some people might make an informed decision based on the circumstances of their own lives, the vicissitudes of their own biographies, the content of their own dreams.

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