Do Women Get the Shaft Again?

by Heather Robinson

A few brief thoughts following Hillary Clinton’s speech on the final evening of the Democratic National Convention.

As an analyst, I have felt all along this campaign year that Hillary would probably win in the general. Then again, recently I have felt Trump has a very real shot, and I still think he does – if he can tone down some of his more wildly irresponsible sounding statements.

Donald Trump’s meteoric rise has defied almost all expectations. My personal distaste for some of the man’s behavior/statements aside, I have said and written from the start of his appearance on the scene that I do understand what some of his followers see in him.

He states the truth – As HE sees it, anyway – and that is wildly refreshing to people in a world where most politicians seem focus-grouped and phony, advancing their careers and their glossy lives at the expense of – rather than in service to – the people.

He is also a blatant sexist. How sad for Americans – and American women in particular – that election of neither candidate will honor the dignity of women in the truest sense.

Which brings me to this evening’s convention. The Democrats did a good job putting on a star-studded show, with pop music princess Katy Perry belting out some of her best feminist tunes, and soundtracks of other great spirited girl rock (My favorite of them is Sarah Bareilles’s “Brave”). But underneath the sparkly girl power and rhinestone studded microphones and catchy songs, I couldn’t help but hear the false notes.

After all, the woman being celebrated, whatever else one may say about her, is far from a paragon of moral virtue, or a feminist icon. She is tough as nails, perhaps. She is a resilient careerist.  She may even have some true feeling for women and children.

But she has hardly made it without ethical and personal compromises of the sort that most ordinary people would blanch at.

Tonight Hillary said something about how the position she is in can inspire little girls and young women.

I keep wondering, if Hillary Clinton is elected the first woman President, what will we women tell young girls about how she got there?

Much of the convention has been devoted to discussion of her early professional years as an advocate for children. But how does that distinguish her from thousands of child advocates across this country, including those who do far more dangerous work, entering homes, for instance, to do crisis intervention on behalf of abused children? Or women who have been on the front lines and established organizations to rescue children from prostitution and poverty?

My point is not to diminish her work on behalf of children, including for Marian Wright Edelman’s nonprofit, because it was admirable. But that was the work of her youth, and she was on the job, not creating, not innovating – and not leading.

Regarding her more recent work, the elephant – or should I say donkey? – in the room, about at least part of how Hillary got to the position she is in, is that she ate a lot of you-know-what from a man – her husband – with whom she has shared a humiliating marriage for decades. I know, some will protest, that she helped him/he helped her, that they have some sort of arrangement, and/or that their private life is none of my business.

But, as I’ve written before, when you build your career at least partly on the idea that you stand for women’s rights, and episodes in your personal life stand in glaring contradiction to the highest of those ideals, it is legitimate for others to question the sincerity of those ideals – and to question your dedication to them.

To put it simply: how could a truly self-respecting woman put up with what Hillary Clinton did? How could a woman who cares deeply about women’s rights and personal dignity, and about women’s professional opportunities, stay with a man who not only cheated on her, but did so with a 21-year-old intern who worked for him?

On a personal note, I am a single woman. Part of the reason for that is I have high ethical standards for my own conduct and the character of any man I would consider marrying. I wouldn’t want to be with a man who viewed it as an impossibility or a burden to be a faithful husband to me; much better, I think, to have my self-respect. To me, that is part of the essence of feminism: not to reject men, but to realize that to be whole and complete and successful, a woman doesn’t need a man. Or, to put it another way: while I’m sure a happy marriage is a great blessing, it takes a very solid marriage to a very good man to be better than none at all.

For me, it’s very hard to view Hillary’s decision to stay in a marriage to Bill as consistent with feminism’s highest ideals, especially in light of her reported attempts to discredit some of the women he has philandered with and allegedly even abused. I can understand her not joining in condemning him, and even, initially, standing by him – fine, he is her husband – but for a woman who has built her career partly on women’s rights to discredit her husband’s lovers – including one who worked under him – and to stay with him, decade in and decade out, through his many, many, many affairs? Sorry, while perhaps human, these choices are simply not feminist.

Sad and shoddy, it seems to me, that staying attached to this powerful man who, at best, abused his power to seduce young women and at worst, harassed women, was partly how Hillary secured this prize: the Democratic nomination.

Far from being a proud moment, in my heart I think it actually reflects society’s sexism. Because in order to reach this position, a woman – Hillary – had to endure decades of humiliation and degradation from a man who was incapable of commitment to marriage and who, even in middle age, didn’t have the integrity to simply admit that. Instead, he lied, possibly to her, and certainly to the country. Along the way, he tossed his lover, “that woman, Monica Lewinsky,” under the bus, and all but ruined her life (though she, after decades of humiliation, is doing an admirable job of trying to build a dignified, meaningful life as a single woman).

Add to that Hillary’s hypocrisy, such as paying women less than men who work for her, and the whole thing starts to seems like a big star-studded, sparkly sham.

What message does the ascent of Hillary send to little girls about how to get to the top in America?

Maybe the harsh reality is that, with all the sexism still alive in 2016 America, only someone like Hillary – heavy on ruthless personal ambition, light on ideals and integrity – could get this close to the top.

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