Michelle Obama, Emma Watson, Lena Dunham, Beyoncé, Mindy Kaling, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Shonda Rhimes, Melinda Gates, Mary Barra, Sheryl Sandberg, Susan Wojcicki, Indra Nooyi, Angela Ahrendts – there is no shortage of powerful women who are advancing the feminist cause in diverse and transformative ways. These women, and so many others, are standing on the shoulder pads of women like Hillary Clinton, and the generations of feminists, Womanists, and Mujeristas, who broke glass ceilings for our generation to be the Lady bosses we are.
But let’s be honest – we love the women on that list. And we all think Hillary Clinton is kind of bitchy. She’s mean and frumpy, right? I know that sounds harsh, but I’m just calling it like I see it. What we cannot forget is that Hillary’s determination, practicality, shoulder pads, and compromise are what allowed her to rise to the position she’s in today.
Let’s Not Forget How We Got Here
Hillary is a classic, and successful, second wave feminist who worked hard and did what she had to do to gain power and influence. As she blazed a trail, she widened the road for women behind her. She now represents a fight we want to think is over, but it’s awful of us to resent her for who the world demanded she be.
Let me explain The History of Feminism (and the politicization of women’s clothing) in one terribly reductive paragraph: First wave feminism, put simply, was about rejecting the restrictive norms (and restrictive undergarments) of the post-war period in America. This movement grew into second wave feminism where women entered the workforce and showed men that they could play their game. We wore shoulder pads and floppy silk ties, they took the menswear uniform and made it our own, still fitting in but fighting for respect.
This movement grew into the Squad Goals and Lady Bosses like Michelle & co. The 21st Century has begun to embrace a third wave of feminism where women feel like not only can we play the men’s game, but now it is our game as well.
We can be leaders, we can make the rules. We can wear lipstick and heels and dresses, if we want to. We can stay home and raise children if we want to. We can be whatever we want now because enough feminists have fought for rich and diverse understandings of womanhood.
We see this generational difference in Michelle and Hillary very clearly.
After Michelle Obama’s amazing speech during the DNC Convention there was a flurry of calls for Michelle Obama to run for President instead of Hilary Clinton.
Only eighteen and a half years apart, these women highlight the historical struggle that women leaders have been through. Both have entered “men’s” fields (law and politics), both are bright and hardworking, both have pushed the glass ceiling for their careers – but Hillary gets called names while Michelle gets praised.
It was Hillary’s generation, and the women before her like Madeleine Albright (ten years older than Hillary), who paved the way for a powerful woman to be able to slay in a fashion forward evening gown.
We see this in so many industries – Oprah Winfrey, Barbara Walters, and Diane Saywer opened the door for women like Shonda Rhimes, Mindy Kaling, Leslie Jones, Tina Fey, and Amy Poehler; Ruth Bader Ginsburg preceeded Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor.
For so many of these women, that kind of combination wasn’t possible – you couldn’t be glamorous AND be taken seriously. It just wasn’t an option. So Hillary and Madeleine and Angela Merkel put on their pantsuits and sensible jewelry and took the world by storm so that we can have the more “feminine” feminists and Lady Bosses we’re seeing now.
We can’t begrudge these women for the roles history has forced them into.
Let’s Not Forget That Being a Politician is about Compromise
Because here’s the other reason you don’t like Hillary – she compromises. And for the life of me, I cannot figure out when that became such a horrible thing. Our capacity for civil conversation has broken down so completely that we refuse to listen to any point of view but our own.
We stand on our opposite ends and SHOUT our ideals to one another, refusing to do the down and dirty work of getting shit done. Your facebook newsfeed algorithm will even help you with this intolerance. Forgive the comparison, but Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are two sides of the same coin: both acting as though they were running for Creator of the Universe, able to spin their sentences into reality, instead of Compromiser in Chief. We all know that presidents campaign like genies – “When elected, I will magically change the world to be like this” – and while the president holds a tremendous amount of power, genies they are not.
Have we become so spoiled, so entitled, so used to throwing a fit and getting our way that we have ALL turned on the parent who won’t give us dessert without eating our vegetables? Hillary is just such a parent. Demanding that we do what we must to have what we want. She may not be the most popular house on the block – I know you’d prefer one that bought beer for you and your underage friends, the one who gave you cigarettes from her purse and let you have the car whenever you wanted. But she’s a damn good parent, making sure that your homework is done and you have a proper curfew and eat more than junk food.
That woman is never going to win a popularity contest, but that’s not what a presidential election is. Or at least, not what it’s meant to be. It’s all of us choosing who will be the best leader, the one who will lead us faithfully and well, the one who will be able to move the world forward and bring diverse leaders and countries together for positive change.
Imagine, if you will, our world now as a bunch of boys standing ankle deep in lighter fluid, each wearing the pin of his country on his lapel. They have fistfuls of matches and are arguing. Are you really going to send a boy in there who promises “fight back – be brutal – be tough”? Now, I don’t know who Hillary is in this metaphor, but I’m fairly confident she’s not going to send it all up in flames because someone picked on her or an angry thought crossed her mind. She might be willing to have a conversation, learn something new, and make a deal to keep it from igniting.
Because this is the other major difference. In our culture, men are socialized to compete, whereas women are socialized to cooperate. Men expect to be heard and women have to fight for it. Consider this: in 2013, the Stitcher podcast service found that of it’s Top 100 podcasts, 71% were hosted by men. Only 11% were hosted by women. (The remaining 18% were split – 9% hosted by a man and a women, 9% hosted by a national radio service like NPR or the BBC with a rotating staff of journalists and reporters.) The statistics from iTunes were similar.
Hillary wasn’t raised expecting an audience. She wasn’t raised with powerful female leaders to look up to. (She was forty nine years old before there was a female secretary of state, and twelve years later the job was hers!) She had to push her way forward, compromising, building consensus, doing whatever it took to move forward.
She walked in, shoulders squared, and got the job done. It was the only way to the top.
Hillary, first and foremost, is not cool. She isn’t stylish. She isn’t easy-going.
Hillary is pragmatic. Hillary is effective. Hillary has decades of experience she fought hard to get.
Should our president be cool, stylish, and easy-going? Or pragmatic, effective, and experienced?
Don’t hate the second-wave feminists. We needed them, and we need them. We wouldn’t have Michelle Obama & Co (and countless other women) or, apparently, a future for our country, without them.