In the first draft of my review–forthcoming in Jacobin–of Doug Henwood‘s My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets The Presidency, I had included some lines that did not survive the first editorial take on my submission (I await, with some trepidation, the next editorial lowering of the boom.) Here is how it read:
Hilary is no…Eleanor Roosevelt…she is no feminist hero and should not be….I will not ask my three-year old daughter to look up to Hillary; she will find better feminist heroes elsewhere. Like her mother, who fights for the rights of unionized workers, something which Hillary, in her attacks on teachers unions in Arkansas, has shown herself incapable of in the past.
In my assessment, on this blog (here and here), of Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, I had often wondered whether the symbolic value of her presidency would be great enough to outweigh her political faults. In these ruminations, I could not but help think of my daughter (and others like her.) A mere toddler, sure, but by the time a Clinton presidency’s first term will terminate, she will be seven years old. (If Clinton serves two terms, my daughter will almost be a pre-teen by the time of the second term’s conclusion.) What would it mean to her to see a woman as president? Just for her, and for her sense of what is possible in this world, would it not be better that a woman become president–in preference to yet another old white man, even if he is a kindly Jewish socialist from Vermont?
I don’t think so. My daughter encounters many women who can serve as positive role models. I introduce her, on a regular basis, to my woman friends in my various social groups: professors, journalists, doctors, writers, lawyers, teachers, students, labor organizers, mathematicians, and so on. She sees women–at my gym–perform amazing feats of strength. (She sees her own mother perform some of these.) She is not lacking for inspiration, for the right kinds of images; she hears, as often as I can manage, stories of women’s power and achievement. She will still encounter sexism and patriarchy; that much, I cannot protect her from. But I try, on an ongoing basis, to prepare her for those inevitable encounters. I try to expand her sense of what this world holds for her, and of the kind of room she can make for herself.
Women politicians and leaders are an important component of her world-image but they, like any of the other women I introduce my daughter to, must show, by their commitment to ethical and political ideals that I think my daughter should live by, that they can serve as worthy exemplars for my daughter. This same constraint applies to any of the other women my daughter meets. I doubt a woman who busts unions for a living, or a journalist who serves corporate interests, would evoke approving commentary from me. “Keep your distance from this kind of achievement” is what I think I would say.
I desperately want my daughter want to grow up in a kinder and more just world. I want her to grow up in a world without war, racism, and soul-and-life-crushing economic inequality. I do not think a candidate who has supported mass incarceration, helped throw helpless families off welfare, voted for an illegal war, and payed obeisance to–and aspires to membership in–the most powerful economic class in this nation, will make that kind of world.
A political post is but one station among many that a woman can occupy to serve as a role model for my daughter. And even that one must be occupied by a woman animated by the right kinds of principles. My daughter has many other heroes to look up to; she will be just fine without a Hillary Clinton presidency. And if Hillary Clinton does become president, I will make sure to point out to my daughter that were she to aspire to be president herself, she would hopefully seek out an alternate set of animating political and moral principles.