Friday, February 22, 2008

Primary Opinions

Last week when I went to vote in Virginia's primary elections, I could not help but wonder what my mother would have thought of Hillary Clinton's run for the presidency.

While I see it as a historic and momentous time in the history of women, a history that shows how little women matter (even today) simply because of the lack of women in the annals of time, I think my mother would see something else.

My mother was not a "wimmin's libber" and was disdainful of those who fought to progress the status of women. This in spite of the fact that my mother left home every day at 7:15 a.m. and returned around 6 p.m.

She worked for a Salem manufacturing company. She took her first and only job when she was 16.

She was a file clerk.

Mom was one of two women who worked in the company for a long time; the other was an executive secretary. She started out part time. She was working there on the day I was born.

I am not sure when she went full time, but I think it was before I started school. At some point they hired a third woman to work in the office.

Over the years my mother complained bitterly about her job, about the lack of respect that she had from the men in the office, about the lack of respect she had from my father, about her inability to move upward or even out of the place she found herself.

When I was teenager I remember her talking about an opening for a purchaser. She said she could do the job with her eyes shut. I asked her if she had applied for it. "I'm there. They should know to ask me," she snapped.

It was no surprise to me when my mother died at the age of 56, after having been retired for six years, that the information her estate received on an insurance policy still listed her job title as "file clerk." She never once asserted herself in the 34 years she worked there.

But it may be, also, that she couldn't, working as she did in a world where men ruled and women were belittled. I prefer to think she fought hard for promotions, for upward movement, for equality, even though I am pretty sure she didn't.

I tried to remember what my mother may have said when Geraldine Ferraro ran for the office of vice president when Walter Mondale ran against Reagan in 1984. I remember being thrilled by the idea; in my head I hear my mother snarling expletives at the very idea that a woman might aspire to the second-highest office in the land. I might be imagining that, though.

When I was in my early 20s, I did not understand the women's liberation movement. I did not comprehend how bad it is for women, what a glass ceiling was, why it mattered. I had not thought it through.

I am older now. Now I know that woman are routinely discriminated against, routinely put down, routinely belittled and beaten and treated like animals or small children who don't know any better.

The misogyny that has been in the media during Clinton's run for office has been the stuff of horror. It reads like the 1920s, not the year 2008. Hillary sheds a tear and its national news, debated ad nauseum as if crying is some kind of national horror. (Click here to read the February 5 blog entry of my friend Chris on this topic. Also go read AROO for more on the same vein.)

The national horror is the way the media is treating this campaign. The national horror is the lack of debate and the lack of acknowledgement of the true status of women in this country. The national horror is the way women accept, as if it is their due, their second-rate status in a land that is supposed to be leading the way for freedom for all.

My mother, alas, would probably not agree.

3 comments:

  1. Who are you rooting for then?!

    I don't like her - no good reason for it at all.

    Having said this, I'm all for women's lib.

    When does the whole election thing finish?

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  2. Let's face it, blatant misogyny is obviously acceptable in the year 2008. This election has set the cause of women back, perhaps by two generations. So much for change.

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  3. I disagree with "anonymous" ... perhaps I'm too idealistic, but I think Hillary has made women viable options in the minds of more people than ever before thanks to her command of the issues and because now we can imagine it.

    I know the media has behaved poorly, though in many instances I think the media worked Hillary over not so much because she was a woman, but because she was Hillary. Don't you think that her "crying" story was mostly a story because people thought...correctly or not...that she contrived the episode in keeping with the opinion that she calculates every minute of her life? It's something that can be debated forwarded and backward in a space much larger than this comment box...but in the end I do think Hillary 's candidacy has done more good than bad for future women candidates.

    That said, I have often wished Hillary was someone else just to see what the media would say sans the personality conflict...and to see if the people aren't voting for her because she's Hillary or because she's a woman. Of course, it could all be just because Obama fever has just taken over the entire scene. If he wasn't a candidate...if it had just been John Edwards running against her...I think the results would have been different.

    Sorry for getting long winded.

    As for your mother... you tell a powerfully complex story that reflects the contradictions of so many women of her time.

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