Hillary Clinton as the battleground in the war between mothers and daughters.

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April 18 2008 7:11 AM

Yo Mamma

Hillary Clinton as the battleground in the war between mothers and daughters.

The next president of the United States will be at the helm of the largest and most powerful military and economy in the world, literally holding the power over life and death, wielding the legislative veto, administering the bureaucracy, and selecting life-tenured federal judges. Here's how young feminist writer Courtney Martin is selecting her candidate: "I have a dirty little political secret. I hate to admit it, because it makes me feel unfeminist and silly and a little bit irrational. But it's true and I have to get it off my chest. I'm not backing Hillary Clinton—and that's at least in part because she reminds me of being scolded by my mother."

Yo mamma.

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In an interview on PBS's NOW with Maria Hinojosa *, Ms. magazine founding editor Letty Cotton Pogrebin and her Obama-supporting author daughter, Abigail, discussed their personal quarrel over the election. The fortysomething daughter of one of the most famous feminists in the country explained to the camera that she had finally been forced to implore her mother to stop trying to convince her to vote for Hillary: "Mom, mom, mommmeeeeeee," the segment ends, as Abigail gets in touch with her inner child.

It's not just their mothers these young women are defying; it's all those women who had the effrontery to start the feminist movement in the 1960s. This week by an amazing coincidence, Slate contributor Amanda Fortini in New York magazine and Salon's Rebecca Traister published courageous, conversation-altering essays about the rabid anti-feminism alienating even Obama's own female supporters. But Traister still began her analysis with the caveat that:

The exhortations from [famed old feminist activist] Robin Morgan have not exactly been lyrical, or tuned to ears of women younger than 50. Assertions from Obama-maniacs that a woman who votes for Hillary must be doing so only because she is a woman may be bad, but it's just as bad for older feminists to instruct women that they have some kind of ovarian, fallopian responsibility to do the same.

One of Traister's sources, Rebecca Wiegand, is quoted saying, "Those editorials by Gloria Steinem and Robin Morgan I was appalled by, and I felt completely alienated from second-wave feminism." Amy Tiemann, * a blogger who calls herself Mojo Mom, recently told readers of Women's eNews * that she and the women of the second wave are indeed engaged in "an overdue 'Mother-Daughter' power struggle that we need to examine. [T]he Mothers have the upper hand. They control the largest established organizations, the purse strings of foundation grants." 

These stereotypes of second-wave feminists as overbearing, selfish mothers resemble nothing so much as WASP avatar and '50s icon Philip Wylie's Generation of Vipers, which coined the term momism. Wylie's book sold 180,000 copies. His mother was "the murderess, the habitual divorcee, the weeper, the weak sister, the rubbery sex experimentist, the quarreler, the woman forever displeased, the nagger, the female miser, and so on and so on and so on, to the outermost lengths of the puerile, rusting, raging creature we know as mom and sis." An entire generation of '50s-era child psychiatrists blamed illnesses we now know to be chemical on the baleful influence of domineering momism.

We old '60s feminists thought that by standing up for women as rational creatures, opening up the public world to them, and ending their dependence on men for their support, we would put to an end this image of the scolding, selfish older woman. After all, one of Wylie's central arguments was that "Satan finds work for idle hands to do. … Never before has a great nation of brave and dreaming men absent-mindedly created a huge class of idle, middle-aged women. Satan himself has been taxed to dig up enterprises enough for them."

Despite our best efforts, yo-mamma feminists contend that even gainfully employed, productive, and liberated women were selfish dominatrices who must be rejected. Not until the Hillary-bashing liberal male establishment went so over the top with their attacks that it could not be ignored did the feminist oldsters start to seem sensible. How self-destructive is this?

And how untruthful. I am hard-pressed to find feminist proponents of Hillary Clinton suggesting a "vagina litmus test"—the original phrase the youngsters used against feminists like Robin Morgan. (By changing vagina to ovaries, Traister robs this crucial locution of its real sexism. Ick, a vagina,"would not want to dip my litmus paper in that!) If you actually read Robin Morgan's manifesto, "Good-Bye to All That No. 2" she says explicitly that we must not resort to any such silly standard: "And goodbye to some feminists so famished for a female president they were even willing to abandon women's rights in backing Elizabeth Dole."