“I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America.”
— President Barack Obama
With those words, President Barack Obama endorsed the first woman ever to be nominated by a major party to run for President of the United States. While the historic nature of this moment has been commented on ad infinitum, I am struck by the fact that Obama put his finger on an irony so commonplace it has been largely ignored. It seems that when a woman achieves a new level of greatness or power, she not only has to be better than her male peers, she has to be extraordinary to be credible. She has to be the most qualified ever. First lady. Two-term Senator. Secretary of State. It may take a village, but it also takes a heck of a lot of bona fides.
I will admit that until recently, I, like many women, have been somewhat unmoved by the potential of this moment. It’s not that I am not a strong feminist, but it has been many years since I felt the need to be overtly vocal about it. As a member of the first class of women at Amherst College, I was highly vocal in my most formative years. With a handful of other women, we early Amherst pioneers started the Women’s Center. In concert with some forward-looking male classmates, we stood in opposition to the all male fraternity system that dominated campus social life. I threw myself into feminist philosophy classes, worshipping at the altar of Adrienne Rich, Dorothy Dinnerstein, Mary Daly, Nancy Chodorow and Simone de Beauvoir. These pioneering women, and the women only gatherings that were so popular in the Pioneer Valley at the time, were seminal for many of us in the early 80s.
For many years now, I have looked back on those days with a sense of muted nostalgia. It all seems so quaint. The world has moved on and so have I.
I, like many others, tend to take for granted that I can make it in the world. Not in a man’s world, but in the world. I have had a rich and varied career, largely following my interests and passions. I have only occasionally stopped to wonder if I might have gone further or made more money if I was a man. At some point, the question stopped being deeply interesting to me and the feminist lens became absorbed into many other lenses that I use to see the world – class, race, experience, motherhood, family, etc.
Then along comes Hillary in 2016, onstage at the Democratic National Convention in her white pantsuit, harking back to the images of suffragettes marching in their white gowns in the streets of Victorian London.
And I realize that she will be a different kind of president. Not just because she has been in the room where it happens. Not just because of her deep experience. But she will be different because she has lived for 68 years on this planet as a woman. That is an experience, as Rich and Daly and De Beauvoir pointed out so eloquently, that marks her in a particular way.
She will govern as a woman. She has vowed to fill her administration with women. As she said to Rachel Maddow, her cabinet will be 50% women.
I am reminded of that old chestnut many of us drag out at times of frustration with our political systems. “If only women ruled the world, things would be different.” My own mother, who was a pioneering woman in her own right, often said this. I often rolled my eyes.
Now I find myself almost giddy to contemplate it. How will an administration filled with women be different? I hope we have the chance to find out.