Hillary and Michelle: Feminism and Post-Feminism

In the last two days, we have had the opportunity to hear two remarkable speeches from two remarkable women.  And despite the fact that these women probably agree on a lot of issues, despite the fact that they are both members of the same political party, both grew up in Illinois, both went to prestigious schools on the East Coast, both got high-powered law degrees, both married up-and-coming young lawyers on the road to incredible political careers, they are so different.  One of these women is the Senator from New York and the wife of our 42nd President, Hillary Rodham Clinton.  The other is the wife of the Senator from Illinois and candidate to become our 44th President, Michelle Robinson Obama.

Wait — that sounds funny, doesn’t it?  Michelle doesn’t need to remind people about the family of her birth.  Michelle doesn’t need to hyphenate. The fact is that the feminism of women born in the 60s and 70s is very different from the feminism of women born in the 40s and 50s. While some of the issues remain the same, the context is changed and our reaction is different.  Brilliant Jill tells us a little about that old school feminism:

I remember early feminism. I remember the feminism of the affluent suburbs during the early 1970’s, when women whose husbands had high-powered jobs or had inherited money, who in the stately colonials of Westfield, New Jersey, held consciousness-raising groups about how oppressed they were. Early-stage feminism had little common cause with the women slinging eggs over easy at the diner, or cleaning the bedpans in the hospitals and nursing homes, or the ones teaching their children. It was about restrictive country clubs and examining their own vaginas. You could almost understand this in the early stages of a movement. Those who need it the most are too busy trying to keep a roof over their heads and don’t have time for activism.

When Hillary was in college, the Supreme Court had to make birth control pills legal;  it would be years until Roe v. Wade made abortion legal. Michelle has always lived in a world where women could control when (and if) they wanted to have children.

As Hillary herself pointed out, NASA wouldn’t even talk to her about being an astronaut because she was a girl. Today women may still only make $0.77 for every $1 earned by a man, but women at least have the opportunity to enter almost any profession.

Hillary wears pantsuits to show us all she is just as good as any man.  Chelsea wore a suit with a skirt, and looked as if she needed no man’s approval to begin the board meeting. Much has already been made of Michelle’s fashion choices.  She doesn’t need to dress like a man to show her authority in the office, the courtroom, or the home.

Hillary’s generation worked hard to achieve, to make it known that a woman could achieve. Michelle can do whatever she wants:  stay at home mom; career at a top law firm; charitable work in our communities.  She can do this because we already take it as fact that women can.

It was appropriate to mark yesterday as the 88th anniversary of women getting to vote. My grandmother was not quite born yet.  Hillary’s grandmother very likely remembered the day and cherished her first Election Day as a voter.

Hillary noted the start of the women’s rights movement going back to 1848 in a place called Seneca Falls. I prefer to take it back to Abigail Adams entreating John Adams to remember the ladies and “Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of the husbands” as Mr. Adams helped write the Declaration of Independence.  Don’t forget that Abigail was wife to one President and mother to another.

The torch is being passed from our feminist predecessors to a new, “third wave” or “post-feminist” generation.  We hope to take it gracefully and without being burned. The unique issues facing women today are different than the ones our mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers faced. And if we greet those challenges on higher ground, it is because we are lifted on the shoulders of those mothers and grandmothers.  And if those mothers and grandmothers do not understand that we don’t have to wear pants or don’t like the way we choose to balance our careers and families, so be it.  We will still thank them for having been there.

In closing:  Learning styles are bunk; if “Idle hands are the Devil’s workshop”, then it’s important that almost half of Iraqi adults are unemployed (gee, maybe people with jobs don’t have time to make IEDs, eh?); Business Week on the Enron Legacy; the Winners of the Bad Boss Contest have been announced; problems at a controversial prison?  Just move all the staff and prisoners to a nice clean new prison!  What could possibly go wrong?; business travelers switching to chartered jets has revealed a little deregulation problem; 30 years of Lego mini-figures; Carrie on immigrant round-ups (funny how they didn’t arrest any of the bosses who hired those thousand illegal immigrants); Unbossed on arbitration agreements; you go, Dennis!; and finally, Blue Bees.

By the way, there have been some updates in the Links. You might want to check out the new stuff.

2 thoughts on “Hillary and Michelle: Feminism and Post-Feminism”

  1. Thanks for the linky-link. But I think it’s a mistake to assume that the kind of old-school feminism that we saw in the 1970’s and that obsesses about sexism in language while ignoring the very real problems of working-class and low-income women, is only seen in “women of a certain age.”

    I’ve been baffled by this notion that the PUMAs and other women who are willing to cut off their noses to spite their faces are all over the age of 50. I’m 53, and while I’m very well aware of the sexism that’s been shown by people like Chris Matthews, I think we obsess about “people saying mean things” at our peril. Of course misogyny has its roots in a culture in which pundits can make jokes about Hillary being a knife-wielding, castrating harridan. But misogyny, like racism and homophobia, is a disease that has to be combatted at its most outward symptoms. Because the bigotries of misogyny, racism, and homophobia are the bigotries of fear and ignorance. Women won’t be tough enough. The blacks will get back at us for slavery. Homosexuals will recruit our kids.

    I was a kid who grew up in the white suburbs. I remember when seeing a mixed-race couple was something shocking. Today, the product of a mixed-race couple is the Democratic nominee for the presidency. I remember finding myself walking through a gay pride parade in the late 1970’s and feeling surprise at the unfamiliar site of two guys kissing. Two years ago I went to the most moving, beautiful wedding I’ve ever attended. It was that of my dear friend ModFab and Mr. ModFab. The image of these two guys “jumping the broom” and walking back down the aisle to the tune of Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” in a sea of soap bubbles will stay with me forever.

    It grieves me when I see young feminist bloggers walking around in a constant state of rage, obsessing about television ads and small slights of language. Beer commercials are sexist. Chris Matthews is a sexist asshole. Hillary Clinton is always going to be greeted with fear and loathing by these people. Bitching about trivia is not going to change how people think. Hillary Clinton didn’t lose because of sexism. She lost because she assumed she had this thing wrapped up and surrounded herself with Washington consultants and she listened to them instead of to her heart. But she’s like those kissing men at that gay pride parade. She put out there the notion that a woman can credibly run for president. That sight is now a familiar one. The fear of the unknown of a woman president is lessened today because of her. It’s no longer something to fear. When Barack Obama is elected and the world doesn’t come to an end and we don’t have mass lynchings of white people by black people, the fear of black Americans sharing in this country’s bounty will lessen too.

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