I was raised a feminist.
My literary role models were smart and strong-willed: Jo March, Anne of Green Gables, Elizabeth Bennet. I subscribed to New Moon, which pointed out all sorts of cultural sexism, like the fact that ships are referred to as women and the exclusivity of the word “mankind.” The magazine instilled in me a sense of indignation. It got me scanning for sexist examples to submit.
I attended the Convent of the Visitation School, the state’s only all-girls school, where I witnessed firsthand the intelligence and leadership skills women naturally embody. Every single classmate of mine advanced to college, where we raised our hands in class without reserve.
Now I am applying those New Moon skills to Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign, noticing the double standards she battles as a woman candidate. How we refer to McCain, Obama — and Hillary. How reporters consistently note her clothing. How that hint of cleavage on the Senate floor last July eclipsed her discussion of the burdensome cost of higher education.
And yet, I am not supporting Hillary.
I feel strongly about my opposition, but I am bothered by occasional twinges of guilt as a feminist who does not support Hillary. I call it Guiltary.
Martha Stewart recently demonstrated a burst of Guiltary when asked about her dream guest on the show. “Right now I’d like to have Obama,” she said, roughly (I couldn’t find the transcript). “Of course, it’d be great to have Hillary, too,” she added. It was a guilt-ridden afterthought.
Oprah probably overcame a twinge of Guiltary before going public with her Barack endorsement. Last May, Larry King asked her, “Is there a side of you, the woman side, that would lean toward a Hillary?”
“I have great respect for Hillary Clinton,” she answered. “Because I am for Barack does not mean that I am against Hillary…I have not one negative thing to say about Hillary Clinton.”
My cousins are experiencing Guiltary, too. Maria, who at 25 holds a master’s degree, and Sarah, 22, who is earning her master’s, are intelligent, independent young women who do not support Hillary.
On Sunday, between steaming forkfuls of noodles at Sawatdee on Washington Avenue, we confessed to pangs of remorse afflicting our feminist consciences.
“She’s just acting like a politician, yet she’s getting more grief for it because she’s a woman,” pointed out Maria, who caucused for Barack.
“I’d love to support a woman candidate,” I chimed in. “And I’m trying to appreciate what Hillary is doing.”
There was a palpable sense of discontent, wistfulness and blunted feminism as sticky as our cream cheese wontons.
A candidate and a role model
When Hillary announced her candidacy, I admired her authoritative language. “I’m in it to win it,” she asserted in her web video. Immediately, I recognized that bold proclamation as a positive example for the countless women who discount and disclaim ourselves.
I’ve appreciated Hillary’s female presence at debates — not on the fringes, but in the center, as an articulate, intelligent front-runner.
But I’m afraid my appreciation of Hillary’s historic campaign is being shortchanged by some petty beefs with her campaigning. How she griped about always being asked to be the first person to answer a debate question. How she accused Barack of plagiarism (“change you can Xerox”) in the same debate she ended with an answer borrowed from her husband.
Her New Hampshire tears didn’t even move me.
This puts me in a camp of young feminists who do not support Hillary. Our poster child is Scarlett Johansson. Our hunger for 180-degree change and our weakness for charisma are pulling us in another direction, toward a new name. We show up in the polls for Barack, while our grandmas go for Hillary.
Tonight, members of our camp will vote for Barack. I heard a few of their voices on NPR Sunday. A segment featured a group of young professional Texas women. All but one said they are voting for Barack. (The lone dissenter is for Hillary.)
Several of the Texas women made general comments in support of Hillary’s efforts, yet there was always a “but” that brought them around to Barack.
There was also a “but” for Michelle Johnson, a 17-year-old Visitation senior who caucused for Barack. “The idea of the first female president would be really exciting,” she told me, “but you have to look beyond that and really see what they’re about.”
Some older women supporting Hillary say we do not appreciate the historic significance of her campaign, and they may be right.
But they should know that, every now and then, we do feel a little bad.