“He’s so cute,” the young woman said to me, explaining her support for Bernie Sanders.
Cute? This, about a 74-year-old Jewish socialist from New York, one with floating pie-in-the-sky solutions that serious economists say could have devastating impacts on the U.S. economy if ever enacted (which of course they never would be, because Bernie is not going to be president and the Republican Congress is not going to pave over Wall Street).
Cute? After hundreds of years of struggle, we might be on the cusp of electing American’s first female president, and you’re for Bernie Sanders because he’s cute.
Actually, Sanders hasn’t been the least bit “cute” lately, if you ask me, in attacking Hillary Clinton’s qualifications to be president. Having never made any significant decision about anything, he has nothing to defend except his votes for guns. (Aw. Adorable.)
Here’s the thing: I don’t believe young women should support Clinton because she’s a woman any more than they should support Sanders because of their distorted notions of what counts as cute. But the two candidates are not equal.
Clinton deserves to be president because she is the most qualified candidate. Period. But for young women to pretend her gender is irrelevant is a mark of their inexperience and naivete. It reminds me of the first female Rhodes scholar, who famously told Ellen Goodman of the Boston Globe that of course she wasn’t a feminist because she’d never suffered from discrimination.
Welcome to the world, all you girl-children. I’m very happy it seems such an open and equal place to you that gender doesn’t matter. Maybe you can make it a few more years feeling that way before you come slamming into a glass ceiling or cement wall, with kids or without kids, and if it’s the former, struggling with the increasing impossibility of balancing what are now two 24/7 jobs.
You think it’s no big deal, a woman getting the nomination, much less standing a good chance of winning the presidency. Maybe it’s because you’ve never felt your life limited and delimited and defined by gender, or you think you make it change just by changing yourself, the world be damned. Maybe I’m lucky never to have believed that, even for a minute; lucky to be able to remember like yesterday being forced to take a typing test for a clerical job, summa cum laude notwithstanding; lucky to remember being told the most liberal justice of the United States would not hire me, simply because of my gender (which is how Merrick Garland, and not me, came to be clerking for Justice William Brennan). I’ve always known that to succeed, women have to work like dogs and dress like men. And of course: They must be likeable, approachable and just “regular gals” who can stare down Vladimir Putin. Women have to squeeze into a narrow vise: attractive but not too sexy, ambitious but not too loud, assertive but gracious. And that’s just what’s required for professional success. Try being a female politician. And name me someone better at it than you-know-who.
I remember the day Geraldine Ferraro’s candidacy for vice president was announced. Now the truth is it was neither a surprising nor a contemplative day: I mean, we staffers had to get her shoes and clothes ready, and I was obsessed with getting her to the beauty parlor before they put her on a plane. But the joke was we’d been working toward this for months, we knew it was coming. We sent her off, and then a group of us, women in our 30s or 40s, sat and watched in stunned silence as the announcement was made from the Minnesota Capitol. I’d already read the speech. It didn’t matter. It was one of those moments that, for many of us, changed things — even if we didn’t win, even if we figured we wouldn’t.
I still get shivers when I think of it. And I know I will get shivers watching Clinton accept the nomination. But I don’t know that younger women will, and they should. It will change things.
Susan Estrich is a columnist, commentator and law and political science professor at USC.