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 3)

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Chicago: Thought you might be interested in this shirt, XX Factor Ladies! An XX shirt! When I found it online I couldn't believe it! Love your columns!

Dahlia Lithwick: Thanks chicago. Buying some for my young sons!

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Chicago: Your article exactly captures what I feel, but also what many women I know, in their late 50's and early 60's have also expressed. How does Hillary honor feminism by attacking Obama using all the old white men tricks? And then for her to blame her problems on sexism? I'd like to know how "real" women feel. The histrionics of a small group of women who have hung on to Hillary have been portrayed as representing the sentiments of all women. Have you seen any research or polls that dig deeper into women's attitudes toward Hillary?

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Meghan O'Rourke: Thanks so much. I'm glad that I did seem to capture something real women are feeling. Your point is a really important one, and what was most moving to me, writing the article, was hearing from women about what they felt. I received so many eloquent, heartfelt, confused, angry, happy, frustrated emails from women. And it made me realize that the reality of how women feel toward Hillary is so complex the media can't accurately capture it. I have seen various polls but nothing that seems to me to give a complete picture about women's feelings—or anything like it.

In fact, I've been thinking Slate ought really to publish an oral history/email history of thoughts from women like you. It would really be a service: we need more than soundbites in articles.

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New Brunswick, N.J.: The premise that Hillary wasn't feminist enough for young women is wrong—young women abandoned her, not the other way around. Perhaps she could have pushed the gender issue more, but Hillary faced the age-old quandary of how to be a strong woman in a man's world. She was damned if she did and damned if she didn't. When she teared up (didn't cry, mind you) on the campaign trail, for example, pundits sneeringly derided her for not being able to handle the presidency and all that it entails. But then to say that she was too much like a man to attract young women's support? I think the truth is closer to the fact that young women collectively don't identify with feminism the way that older women do.

Give Hillary some credit for all that she did do—she got further than any woman ever has. She is one of the thousands of women who have had to deal with outright sexism and misogynistic vitriol on a daily basis and still kept going. Stop blaming her for not fulfilling the expectations of a generation of young women who had it all handed to them and didn't quite realize the sheer enormity of what it would mean to have a woman in the White House.

Emily Bazelon: I agree with you, wholeheartedly, about giving Hillary credit. Also about the problem of damned if you do, damned if you don't. It was very real in this campaign, though of course we'll never know what would have happened if Hillary had run differently, as Meghan suggested.

About younger women and our feminism, though, I wonder if you're being fair. I think a lot of us DO consider ourselves feminists. Maybe our definition is slightly different—certainly that's the case if you define any right-thinking feminist as a Hillary voter. But in the end, on the substance as opposed to the symbolism, I wonder how far apart we really are. And I hope we air those questions as thoroughly as we aired the ones about gender identity in this campaign.

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Beijing: Are we ever going to see Hillary in a dress again? Is there something wrong with her legs? Being tough does not equate to wearing trousers. Her cynicism aside, I just got tired of those suits. A woman aiming for the highest post in the land should have had a better dress sense. Or at list someone to help her. Who says a strong, highly intelligent woman cannot be feminine? What a missed opportunity

Dahlia Lithwick: Beijing, Clinton needs to be credited for feeling her way along in wholly unfamiliar political and public territory. The skirts/pants thing is the tip of the iceberg in terms of the fine line she was forced to walk. She made some very hard choices about how to present herself and while some of them might strike us as cartoonish, she had very, very little room to operate, and she taught us so very much about what the next time will look like.

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Anchorage, Alaska: Good morning (local)—my question to the XXers is this; while most of the mainstream media will be devoted to the surface appearances of reconciliation, forging party unity, etc., what do you expect to be happening behind the scenes? I've seen plenty of "it's Obama's party now," but really, don't you think it would be a daunting task to either expect the old "Clinton" guard to soften and meld into the new generation, or to be rooted out? I read many of the comments from Ickes, Davis, etc., to be as much about preserving their own behind-closed-doors power as about Clinton deserving the nomination.

Melinda Henneberger: Totally right; it's only 51 percent Obama's party now.(Or whatever; the way in which I most identified with Hillary is that I, too, am opposed to math.) But surely the biggest question still on the Democratic table is whether/to what extent she'll work for Obama. (Will she pull out the stops? Or undermine him while seeming to pull out the stops?) I think one reason you saw John Kerry so strongly in Obama's camp is that there were also major questions about how much her heart was ever in the '04 campaign.

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Anonymous: Dear Emily, Melinda, Dahlia and Meghan: I've read about how Obama "gets" Gen X and Gen Y voters. Clearly, he doesn't "get" baby boomer white women in the same way. I'm a stereotypical Clinton backer ... aging baby boomer, white, female, college educated, HR Manager, 4 years to retirement, a lifetime Democrat who's never missed an election. I think Obama's campaign has been mostly flash and very little substance. The flap over his church leads me to believe that he's passive-aggressive. Bottom line, I'm really pissed that my candidate, Hillary Clinton, lost the nomination. What can/should Obama do to convince me to vote for him? Thanks. Jean

Meghan O'Rourke: I think you're right that Obama doesn't get baby boomer white women the same way he gets younger types. And I think Hillary really does, to give her credit. So I totally understand your frustration that your candidate didn't get the nomination. And I think Obama is no messiah: He has his flaws, his arrogance, his weaknesses. But he is a strong Democratic candidate in many ways. He seems to me—and I can only speak for myself—to be trying to put together a platform that will bring America forward. And what I like about him is that he seems to listen to voters.

Finally, though: If you care about women's issues at all, do you really want McCain to be president? He has his appealing qualities. But his support of women, frankly, is not one of them. He recently called his wife a nasty word in front of reporters; he laughed when a supporter called Hillary the "b-word," and he voted against the equal pay bill for women. As a woman interested in furthering the rights of women, I'd really not want this man in the White House.

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Ventnor City, N.J.: I'm a white, fiftysomething, feminist, women's studies professor who has supported Obama, not Clinton. I really agree with the recent post that she based her campaign on valuing masculine trait, and this was a disappointment. I also believe that if she was going to run on her "experience" during the 1990s, then she had to bear some responsibility for draconian welfare reform, DOMA, NAFTA and other unfeminist legacies of her husband's administration. I have been cringing at the way her campaign has driven a wedge between white women and African Americans (similar to the period after passage of the 15th amendment). I think she would be a disaster as a vice presidential candidate (and I can't wait for Bill to leave the stage).

That said, I can live with her "suspended" campaign if her point is to have the historical landmark of being one of the few women to have their names placed in nomination at the convention. I'm surprised that I haven't heard any commentators mention this as a possible goal. It's not power, but it is an important place in history. What do you think?

Meghan O'Rourke: Great point. I hadn't thought of that. If that were her goal, I would support it. I just worry it's not.

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New York: There are persistent rumors McCain is interested in a corporate Republican woman, say Carly Fiorina or Meg Whitman, as vice president. Thoughts?

Melinda Henneberger: Shockingly, he has not asked for MHO, but he'd sure be smart to pick someone like that; Fiorina in particular is awfully impressive, and would appeal to many a Hillary voter.

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Essex Junction, Vt.: There has been a view out there expressed by Clinton supporters, especially among women, that this contest was "stolen" from them—that Hilary, and they by extension, have been "victims". Out of this feeling seems to be bubbling up a desire among some for retribution or even revenge.

My question is, how much do you think these outraged feelings are justified by the way Obama and his campaign behaved during this contest, and how much are they the result of legitimate historical grievances that finally now have an outlet? Are there serious, legitimate complaints to be made about the way Obama and his campaign treated their opponent? Finally, where do you see this anger going from here? Will it have a real effect on the race for the White House?

Meghan O'Rourke: These are profound questions and we're running against the end of our hour here. But I just wanted to say quickly that I wish I knew the answer to the questions you raise, and that I'll think more about it and try to address them on XXFactor.

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Park Ridge, Ill.: I think the very last statement of this essay summed up the whole problem with Hillary's campaign: "After all, feminism need not be joyless." There was no sense of fun about Hillary, shots of Royal Crown aside, just grim determination. I consider myself a Baby Boomer feminist (I'm 49), and to me, a sense of humor is paramount to the psyche. Would any of you care to comment on Hillary's seemingly total lack of joy?

Melinda Henneberger: I dunno; maybe this WAS her joy, and may she find more of it in her next endeavor.

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Hardyston Township, N.J.: In the body of your article, the word "ecstasy" or some variation of it appears at least 4 times. That is the problem I find with many educated women of your generation. they look to the "ecstasy" of a situation rather than what educated women of my generation fought for in the '70's and '80's...true equality in every facet of life. You want all of the perks without any of the struggle. I think you will find very quickly that your abandonment of Senator Clinton was ill-advised.

Meghan O'Rourke: I don't agree: women my age have struggled too. My point isn't that we want cheap joy with none of the hard work. It's that in the midst of all the hard work, we shouldn't forget that joy is possible too. Largely because of the revolutionary work of feminists the generation before us.

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Emily Bazelon: Hey, everyone, thanks so much for the thoughtful and great questions and comments. It's great to hear from so many XX Factor readers! We really enjoyed the chat. On to November!