XX Factor bloggers and readers discuss Hillary's feminist dilemma.

Real-time discussions with Slate writers.
June 5 2008 5:01 PM

The Feminine Mistake

XX Factor bloggers join readers in a debate about the dilemmas of Hillary's candidacy.

(Continued from Page 1)

The truth is that this is a major defeat for women, who are going to have to wait a long time, a half-generation or more, before the next serious run. And once again, we're about to have a presidential race with no women on either ticket (we can't even imagine a ticket with two women). Can't we have some sense of tragedy about, that even as we rejoice with and lift up Obama?

Dahlia Lithwick: Hiya, Washington. Thanks so much for reading! I suspect that if you and I had talked three years ago about the possibility of having an African-American president in our lifetimes, we'd have been flailing for names, too. That was more or less my point: We are more ready than we think and we came awfully, breathtakingly, close. Please don't think that I wasn't as thrilled at the prospect of a woman President as yourself. I was. I am. But I was never willing to support any woman just because she was a woman; that is its own form of sexism, dontcha think? Maybe I am too optimistic. But I don't see a clutch of "iron my shirts" cracks and a nutcracker as evidence of a country so gripped by gender bias that they can't see straight.

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McLean, Va.: I am a middle-aged male type-person. I just wanted to say that I really enjoy the XX Factor. It reminds me that although there clearly is no single female voice, there are a lot of brilliant ones—and I thank you for sharing them.

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Meghan O'Rourke: Thank you so much for sharing your support. XXFactor exists (and will continue to) because of readers like you!

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Boston: Do you think that, once Hilary leaves the race, the focus will shift from how "women" as one bloc theoretically would vote to the candidates' actual positions on issues? Especially as we gear up for the big, national election, I'm tired of hearing about how I'm going to vote one way based solely on the fact that I'm a woman.

Emily Bazelon: The intensity of the focus on "the women's vote" may diminish, but it's not going to go away, because McCain and Obama will court women assiduously. (What if McCain picks a woman for V.P.?) Even if it's annoying to be treated as a bloc-member automaton, it's not a bad thing to be courted—it should mean, anyway, that things you (we) care about are getting attention and in theory at least that could have a real result. Universal preschool, anyone? Social security parity? Paid family leave?

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Coos Bay, Ore.: Don't hillary and her millions have to wholeheartedly support Obama? The next president will make two or three Supreme Court nominations; a McCain victory may pack the court with Regent University grads, overturning Roe v. Wade.

Emily Bazelon: Protecting Roe and the right to a legal abortion is a big part of Obama's pitch to women, yes. But voters are often more complicated in their thinking, aren't they? I think it's a little dangerous to assume that the single-issue pitch will bring women flocking to the Democratic ticket—in other words, to take them for granted.

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Austin, Texas: Do any of y'all have reactions to recent suggestions both here in the Washington Post and in Slate that Hillary Clinton should be fast-tracked to a nomination for the Supreme Court in an Obama administration? The fact that this idea was floated not by bloggers but by regular contributors just floored me. I think the appellate bench is (or should be) a highly technical job that Clinton has not demonstrated the skills for. I'll set aside my feelings on whether she exhibits judicial temperament.

Dahlia Lithwick: Hallo, Austin. I thought this was a wacky idea and I still do! A Clinton confirmation hearing would be a living nightmare for this country in that it would smoke out all the ugliest aspects of Clinton hatred and add no substance. My understanding is that Clinton is an incredibly capable lawyer. I don't doubt she is qualified. But I don't think a romp through the Clinton's dumpster would serve the country, the Clintons or the court well at all. Thanks.

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Oella, Md.: To Meghan O'Rourke

This is a question about the limitations of the Web for organizing purposes. You wrote that you e-mailed a group of young women, asking them what they thought of Clinton's campaign and that the responses were mostly young, well-educated, upper-middle-class, and white. Am I correct in assuming, since you made the comment, that you sent the e-mail to a more diverse group and only the smaller, less diverse group responded? This is not to critique your methods, but to try to learn about ways that movements can become more diverse. Thanks.

Meghan O'Rourke: Great question, and I appreciate your asking it. In this case, I was interested in the responses of educated, upper-middle-class women, in part because early on many had argued that these were the women Hillary wasn't winning over. And I wanted to know what women of that milieu felt now, six months after the debates last winter. I wasn't, in this case, seeking out a very diverse set of answers (though I would've been thrilled if I had gotten more diverse answers). But it is the case that when I asked people to forward the email, they probably forwarded it to women of the same class, educational background, etc.

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Los Angeles: Re: Insight Magazine article linked on Slate—how does O'Rourke explain her continued reliance on a notorious and famously discredited accusation against the Clinton campaign?

Meghan O'Rourke: You're right that I probably shouldn't have relied on that detail. It had seemed to me that there was enough confusion around the origins of the rumor that it was fair to link to it. But I probably should have erred on the more conservative side and not used that detail. Thanks for pointing it out.

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Rochester Hills, Mich.: My mother is 93 and has, as she said, waited until women were granted the right to vote in the hopes that someday should could vote for a woman for president. I, her daughter, am 62 and feel as though I too have been waiting forever to cast my vote for a woman—Hillary! My mother feels she will vote for McCain, in the hopes that Hillary will run again in 2012 and she can vote for her then. I found that an interesting idea. While I dearly hope my mother will be alive in 2012 to vote yet again, I was wondering if you believe there are other Hillary supporters who might think this way?

Emily Bazelon: I think there are other Hillary supporters who are thinking this way now, in this initial flush of disappointment. And sure some of them will stick with that idea through November, I suppose. But if you're a Democrat, it's a pretty narrow way to view what you want from your president. Your mother cares more about his or her sex than about what he or she does in office? She disagrees with McCain on most issues, but thinks it's worth four years of him in office to give Hillary the chance to run again? With respect, that doesn't seem like feminism to me. It seems like Hillary worship.

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Indianapolis: First a comment: I think the four of you represent some of the best writing online these days. Thanks. Question: If Hillary really wanted to be vice president, she had to have known that strong-arming her way onto the ticket was not the way to go. What's her angle?

Melinda Henneberger: Thank you! I don't think she wants to be vice president, for one thing because as Maureen Dowd mentioned, she's been there and done that. When Gore had the job, he used to joke about how when anyone asked him what it was like being the second-most powerful person in the world, he'd answer, "I don't know, she seems to like it.'' My fear—unfounded, hopefully—was that what looked like her hard-sell for the No. 2 spot was just the opposite, a tactic that would make it impossible for him to offer it to her, because to do so under pressure would make him look weak. Yet then, if it weren't offered to her, her supporters would be even more unhappy, and more likely to either vote McCain or stay home in the fall. I hope I am dead wrong, and that she is now going to do her utmost to bring her voters into Obama's tent.

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Highland Park, N.J.: Hi all. How do you think Obama should move forward, in terms of courting Hillary's supporters?

Dahlia Lithwick: Hey Highland Park. That's the trillion dollar question, huh? I think Obama needs to address her supporters' doubts about him—about his experience and readiness—head on. I also think he needs to help women understand that women and African Americans are NOT in some kind of footrace. Women do not lose when African Americans win and vice versa. That has been the single most toxic element of this primary season: Our inability to accept that this race would be historic and stunning and enriching, regardless of the specific outcome.

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Turlock, Calif.: You keep framing your view of Clinton against some 35-year-old backdrop, as though it were still the 1970s and Clinton were a hormonally charged 26-year-old. When some ecstasy-promising revolution becomes near-exclusively embraced by the young, it is far more likely than not to be little more than young people following their hormones and self-centered rebellious whims, as young people always have and always will.

Maturity and experience never mollify adversity or injustice, only one's view of what constitutes adversity or injustice in the grand scheme of things that includes the world beyond their own—e.g. a college student may truly feel "oppressed" when the school clamps down on illegal file-sharing, but those views of "oppression" should be transformed sufficiently if not completely by the age of 35. If it isn't, then something went seriously wrong with that person's development or exposure to the world beyond their own nose.

Did it occur to you that Clinton's maturity and experience has mollified the vigor or weight she once threw behind some of her more youthful views? That she grew up and became a less self-centered person who isn't as prone to emotional rhetoric with little substance, and views the world as a delicate balance of often-competing interests—as opposed to the more defining youthful trait of tending to throw far too much weight behind or against this or that because it is tied on some level to their own self-interest?

Meghan O'Rourke: I don't think that young people today are self-centered and rebellious. I think they're searching for real change. It's quite frightening to be young today. It's scary, for example, to contemplate the economy, to contemplate global warming, to imagine bringing children into a world racked by the threat of global terrorism. So I believe that young Americans are galvanized by the idea that there's a candidate who might be able to change things. Sure, maybe Obama won't be able to; but the notion that he *might* be able to is quite powerful.

And as for maturity: You're right that people grow up and grow less self-centered sometimes—that sometimes they're quite immature as 22 year olds. But I don't think Clinton was one. I think sometimes our youthful impulses are worth preserving.

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Kensington, Md.: I consider myself a feminist, but voted for Obama because his campaign focused on bringing out our better angels (listening to each other and working together), while Hillary's hopes were pinned on bringing out our prejudices, resentments and fears. I do hope we soon see a woman running who embodies Obama's orientation, rather than Hillary's. Simple as that.

Emily Bazelon: Yes I think that was Meghan's point in her piece this week, and it's been a frustration for a lot of women. For me this is why it never made sense to view the race as the first black man v. the first white woman, ie which mattered more, race or gender. Sure, it was that. But it was also Barack Obama v. Hillary Clinton, with all their particular strengths and weaknesses. In the end, their individual characteristics amounted to more than the categories they stand for.

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Ontario, Canada: Why did Hillary Clinton not just step down graciously and lady like? This only proves she is for SELF not the PEOPLE she is to represents. She likes the POWER and attention. She is not to be trusted.

Dahlia Lithwick: Hallo there fellow Ontarian!
I can't agree that Clinton stayed in the race because she was selfish. She had 18 million people who believed deeply in her, and she felt that she was doing the right thing by them when she stayed in the race. That said, I do agree that we haven't yet seen the kind of gracious, supportive take-one-for-the-team behavior that she can be modeling or those supporters. I believe we are about to see it soon.

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Pittsburgh: I graduated from the University of Michigan when it was still legal to look a job applicant in the eye and say "oh, we don't hire girls for those positions," and when sexual harassment wasn't a crime, it was a perk—just like the corner office and the expense account. I managed to become the CEO of a small subsidiary of a big bank and deflect the unwanted advances that women encounter in male dominated fields.

Still, I am uncomfortable with the attitude among some of Sen. Clinton's supporters that we as women are "owed," and that we have waited long enough for a woman president. By the same token, I think that for Sen. Obama to repair his relationship with these voters, he is going to have to quit referring to us as "ladies." Call us what we are—women.

Emily Bazelon: I don't like "ladies" either. It always makes me think of the ladies' room. (Though I do think that lots of people men to be polite rather than to offend when they use it.) I agree that Clinton didn't do herself any favors when she projected being owed, because she was a woman, or married to her difficult husband, or had waited in the wings of the White House for eight years. No one is owed the presidency. It's too huge a job for that. (At the same time, to be fair, Clinton gave voters plenty of other reasons to support her.)

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