Friday, October 7, 2016

Taking Politics Personally

For some time now this campaign has felt like a personal assault.

Ladies, do you enjoy being called a hag and worse? Much worse? You’re a year away from 70, say—sick—and you go to an important event looking, well, definitely not your best. And some younger man calls you a hag. When you’re the virtual double of his mother or grandmother at that age. Others call you the b-word and describe the various painful punishments they’d like to inflict on your disgusting flesh.

Am I the only one who finds it upsetting to see, revealed through the lens of politics, what younger men really think about me? They don’t say it to my face, of course. Most women over 60 don’t have actual faces. We’ve gone invisible under the magic cloak of menopause.

One of us isn’t invisible, though, and she’s running for president.

Is her most unforgiveable offense the fact that she has made the men look at her? Forced them to accept she might become the most powerful person in the world?

Truth is, the biggest threat to the power of white men isn’t brown immigrants, or African Americans, or refugees from Syria.

It’s women.

1972 was the tipping point. Title IX passed. The first issue of Ms. Magazine hit the newsstands with depictions of the Click Moment. Awareness of male entitlements gave birth to a new generation of feminists.

Household duties became contentious. The workplace, the career path, the universities, teemed with competent women. Women who had always done better in school and who would work for 30% less salary, if not by choice.

Suddenly wives didn’t stay at home doing the laundry, planning meals. They took jobs in post offices, stores, banks. White men’s lives came under pressure. Still are.

Why wouldn’t men resent that?

But it doesn’t explain female hostility to Hillary Clinton.

Does her success imply we’ve made the wrong choices? Do we see her as a reproach for what we value in our families, in our lives? Do we think she’s an atheistic threat to the world, this woman who exemplifies Methodist values of service right down to her bones? Who has met for years with a Congressional prayer group in Washington? Raised her daughter successfully despite everything?

She did sneer at baking cookies one time (it was a metaphor, of course, for that life of the 50’s we had left behind). She did stay with her needy husband after his public humiliation. Was it the public part we can’t forgive her for? Jackie stayed with Jack, whose transgressions remained secret for years. So have many other First Ladies stayed with philandering husbands.

Or was it that from the beginning she had let us see her desire for public service, her self-respect, her belief in her own abilities? Her ambition? That she had let us see these things openly because she and her husband thought they were a plus. Whipped cream on the sundae. Lagniappe.

It does look a little naïve, now. And the Clintons may have been naïve, at first. They were embraced by nobody when they came to Washington in 1992. These Arkansas outsiders. These centrist Democrats who appealed to a country that always votes centrist for president. (Up to now, at least. We’ll have to wait to see if that holds.)

Most threatened of all were Republicans. As the party hurtled rightward, consolidating its Southern Strategy base, it risked losing the “moderates” that had kept it a contender for the presidency. Cue the conservative chattering classes, the think tanks, the deep pockets of far right moguls. Bury the bumpkins was the call, and they’ve been trying ever since.

With so much “smoke” around the Clintons there has to be fire, right? Except that no one can find anything real to corroborate any of it. In forty years, a handful of mistakes, a little hubris, a little arrogance of intellect, but nothing illegal. Nothing serious. Nothing to warrant the focused outpouring of hate we’ve been seeing for over a year.

That hatred targets her person, her body, her manner of speaking, her life. The Twitter feeds and Facebook comments urge tortures, imprisonment, ghastly consequences for her daring. They smear this grandmother who’s running for president.

They do it grossly in the alt-right and Limbaugh universe, and cleverly in the so-called “liberal” press—with insinuating adjectives that point up the peculiarity of a woman aspiring to the top position in government, the leadership of our country. A woman as Commander in Chief. Imagine. Who does she think she is?

As I said earlier, I take a lot of this personally. I think many older women do. Or will, once they’re inside the voting booth.


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