Saturday, June 07, 2008

An Open Letter to Women of My Generation

I'm 52, white and female.
I get it.
I winced every time I heard someone make fun of Hillary's cackle, as though all women of a certain age should be prohibited from laughing. It felt like a daggar when a young male of my acquaintance told me he couldn't stand to hear Hillary talk, because she reminded him of every teacher that ever reprimanded him. I argued with myself plenty, when I would catch myself silently berating her pantsuit because of its unflattering lines, as though a woman who is capable of running the free world has to care mostly about how her bottom looks on TV.
It's plain that one of the things America doesn't know how to talk about is the common belief that women who are no longer capable of reproducing, ought to know their place. Which is, out of sight, out of hearing and out of mind. The deal is, we'll offer you a seat on the bus and a corsage on Mother's Day if otherwise you will not be visible. Get some cats. Plant some flowers. Don't expect to be taken seriously.
Of course it's not always that way. But it is that way more than we want to think, and some of the vitriol thrown at Hillary Clinton comes from that. (Yes, I know she is otherwise a divisive character, that there are substantive reasons for people not to support her. But this does not take anything away from this real aversion a lot of people have to a Middle-Aged Woman not knowing her place.)
That's why her truest, bluest supporters are so angry. Without articulating it, they feel like they have lost perhaps the one opportunity in the rest of their lives to be taken they were just relegated to the cats-and-flowers insignificance they were fighting to overcome.
And that's why, I fear, many of us are yelling "McCain in '08" - he may not get the sexism of it all, but he can relate to the age-ism of it. And Obama's self-assuredness cuts like a knife; to the women who feel like they will never be heard again, it feels like arrogance. Lots of people who've been marginalized are about to get their due - but not older white women. They - we! - feel like the last group it's OK to dismiss.
I get that. Really, I do.
But...if we all go vote for McCain, what are the consequences? Are there things we care about more than how slighted we feel?
When the war drags on and on, and our kids, and our friends' kids, are sent for their fourth and fifth tours in a country that does not want us there, will we say, "Well, too bad - we had to show those Obama voters we matter"?
When, God forbid, our nation under McCain promotes the idea that Iran must be the source of all evil and therefore must also be attacked in the name of liberty and freedom, and even more of our children are sent into a war that can't be won, rocking our economy and creating even more enemies with even more generational hatred toward our country, will we say, "See -- if Hillary had been elected, that wouldn't have happened," as though our votes for McCain are not a real contribution toward that event?
When the "answer" to our health care crisis is to give us tax credits of $5000 a year to pay for insurance that costs more than $1000 a month, or to set up "health care savings accounts" so we quit "wasting" so much of our nation's health care resources (!), as though we are all running to the doctor for every hangnail and THAT'S what's making health care out of reach -- is that when we will say, "I'm sorry about that, but we had to make sure that those Obama kids knew we counted"?
It's my hope that the women of our generation, who certainly know what it means to be responsible even if their heroics are usually unsung, will gird themselves up one more time and make a vote that will be significant: a vote for the Democratic candidate. And then, let's NOT go away like they all think we should. Let's cackle until that's normal; let's lift our older-lady voices until no one makes fun anymore, and no matter what we wear, let's work hard for what really matters for everyone in this country. I'm all for demanding respect, but let's do it in a way that pays off for the people we care about and ourselves.