Last week, I stumbled upon Rebecca Traister’s excellent piece for Elle magazine “I’m A Hot Mess For Hillary.” Like nearly 12,000 others, I immediately shared it – and then watched many of my female friends in turn share it on their own social media. The article is compellingly grounded by Rebecca’s unique view as a reporter (and generally fantastic feminist author and blogger), and if you haven’t read it yet, you should. But it got me to thinking and wondering at why it felt like the first thing I’d seen written about Hillary in a long time that wasn’t intensely critical or dismissive.
For some parts of the American public, that might not be that strange. But it is strange in light of my own circle. I’m a feminist lawyer who has helped build a (part woman-owned!) firm that litigates on behalf of women in the workplace. I have an incredible circle of feminist friends who are tearing it up in careers that deal with reproductive rights at the National Partnership for Women and Families, access to healthier options for women in the developing world at the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves, effective and equitable non-profit management that is inherently supportive of women at The Management Center, etc. They are Partners, Directors – BOSSES. I regularly read feministy things, and those I don’t find myself are reliably found and shared by all my feministy friends. So why hadn’t I been seeing more about Hillary?
I ran searches for “Clinton” on my usual haunts on the internet and learned some sobering things with the biggest takeaway simply being that women at these blogs and news aggregation cites haven’t been writing about her. Now, I’m the first to admit I’m no millennial, and I certainly am not a Lisbeth Salander master of technology. But I don’t think I’m missing whole reams of content. The reality is that there is an astounding, a deafening, silence regarding Hillary coming from feminists.
And I’m not measuring this on a binary of praise versus no praise. I mean there is an absence of discussion. The most recent things I could find from the feminist interwebs that engage in a discussion of Hillary or the HRC campaign beyond the tedious-email-eyeroll-blah or SNL-omg-skit-sigh (those are technical terms) was the aforementioned Elle article from two weeks ago. Beyond that, all I could find was a write-up of the amusing HRC ad about the Kevin McCarthy twitter mixup on Jezebel, a brief entry on XXfactor about Hillary and China from the week before, two pieces on Feministing (one from a month ago and one from five months ago), and something from March 2015 on a cite called Solidarity that is deeply critical of Hillary through a critical, intersectional analysis (that I think is really important). Oh, and something else Rebecca Traister wrote back in May. That’s it.
Whether we are supportive or skeptical, we need to be engaging, and engaging in real ways about real issues (in contrast to tedious-email-eyeroll-blah). If there are things she needs to do better on, positions she needs to reconsider, she should be hearing that from us. If there are things she’s getting right, things we want her to emphasize, to keep doing, she should be hearing that from us too. And the world should be hearing that from us. Otherwise, we have people like my relatives back home whose thoughts on Hillary so far are a vague sense that they maybe probably don’t like her and that they worry they should be worried about whatever it is going on with “that email situation” (aka the tedious-email-eyeroll-blah). If we aren’t the ones talking about and to Hillary, then we’re ceding the conversation to those who don’t take her or her campaign seriously.
I recognize that some of this may be due to the fact that the first Democratic debate wasn’t until this week. Things like Hillary’s epic response to the tedious-email-eyeroll-blah nonsense:
Because, at the end of the day, it’s time to get our heads in this game. As easy as it is to laugh off the antics of the Right as ridiculous, that’s a mistake. As cliché as this may sound, we may need to collectively dust off our copies of A Handmaid’s Tale. I don’t mean to suggest that we are two steps away from Atwood’s dystopia, but history tells us how quickly political and civic reality can change in massive, almost unthinkable ways that have particular implications for the rights and experiences of women (see, e.g., the Iranian revolution). While many things define the rapidly shifting influences within the Republican Party, there is an undisguised distrust of and disregard for women that is a strong component – and one that is often framed as being driven, at least in part, by religion.
The upcoming elections will play a major role in defining how we as a country think about, talk about, and ultimately respond to serious issues of inequality and identity. And while it would be foolish to think that identity politics (i.e. the idea that “we should vote for Hillary just because she’s a woman”) should drive how we engage with the election, it would also be foolish to pretend that she’s a woman and “feminist” doesn’t matter either.