Hillary Clinton’s nomination as the presidential candidate of the Democratic Party made history. Whether you love her or loathe her, you would be hard pressed to deny that. She broke through a barrier that lasted for nearly 200 years in this country.
I’ll confess to shedding more than one tear as she took to the stage Thursday night. She is only a couple years older than me. Our faces share similar concessions to the years we’ve spent on this earth. She’s stood up and taken punch after punch, not on behalf of women per se but mostly because she is a woman devoted to her career and her causes. Though I can’t say I’ve had the same experience, there have been times when the fact that I was a woman hindered my achievement of a goal or support of a cause. Hillary was my standard-bearer, and for many years I’ve been lock-step behind her. In my heart of hearts, it was difficult for me to understand how women of my age couldn’t see what her steadfast determination was doing for all of us. I wanted to call them out. Don’t you get it? She made it. She did it. This is a step our gender can’t untake. No one will ever be able to force us backward. And I wanted women younger than me to recognize her accomplishments and appreciate what it would do for them and their daughters and granddaughters.
But no one made me queen for a day, and so women held fast to their own opinions about not only the nomination but also the nominee.
As I fumed, mostly silently, I began to notice a trend, and as I listened to more and more women of varying ages, I started to understand that how a woman views the Hillary Clinton nomination is in part a factor of her own age.
I first discovered this when talking with my step-daughter. We were actually discussing the possibility of a Clinton/Warren ticket. I said — somewhat accusingly, I think — “Don’t you want a woman president?” “Oh, of course, and we’ll get one, but I just don’t think the country is ready for a two-woman ticket this go around,” she replied.
And I heard what she didn’t say. As long as nothing tragic happens, she has many more presidential elections ahead of her for a woman to top the ticket. My stepdaughter and her generation have been the beneficiaries of hard-fought battles by the women who came before her and before me. The result has been that where she expects a woman to be president in her lifetime, I had only fiercely hoped for it. With that expectation embedded in the DNA of their political posture, I wondered what these women of my stepdaughter’s age were communicating by word and deed to their children, children my grandchildren’s age. Had the expectations of their mothers and the hopes of their grandmothers transmuted even further into the generation of women and men just approaching voting age?
Armed with this nugget of understanding, I conducted another of my soon-to-be legendary and completely unscientific surveys. I began to talk to family members and any stranger with whom I could strike up a conversation. In one shape or another, I posed the question, “What do you think about a woman for president?” My findings were eerily informative.
True, there were some of all ages who said, “A woman, yes. Hillary, no way.”
But more often, the thrill that I experienced in seeing a woman break this particular glass ceiling was most deeply shared by women my own age or older. Even if they didn’t like her politics, they were compelled to step back momentarily and acknowledge the historical importance of the fact.
Younger men and women, the Gen Xers, recognized the significance of a woman nominee, if only because my generational sisters and I had kept it before them. Perhaps not. I think they are still old enough, if not to have experienced the ceilings then at least to have observed the noxious effects inflicted on those who have crashed against them time and time again. The Gen Xers embraced the concept, however, with their own spin of inevitability. Their attitude was pretty accurately summed up by my stepdaughter. “A woman? Of course.”
I asked a few younger women, and if they were politically active, most spoke of their disappointment that Bernie had not been successful. If I pressed further about a woman in the White House, their responses were markedly not responsive to the gender of the Oval Office occupant. They spoke of debt, jobs, and the environment.
I came away wondering, in the course of my lifetime has this issue come and gone? Have those young ones been so inculcated with the incremental changes made by each woman putting a crack in the glass ceiling that they no longer see it up there? When it shattered, as in the video that was shown at the DNC of glass breaking and Hillary emerging, did the shards of glass vaporize, at least for Generation Z?
I hope not. I hope we will never forget the fight. We will never forget to remind our children, grandchildren, and generations beyond them that it wasn’t always like this. George Santayana, a Spanish philosopher, coined the phrase nearly a half-century before Winston Churchill said it: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” We must remember and remind. To do less is to let down those who came before and those who come after.
Finally, I quizzed my 96-year-old mother-in-law about a woman in the White House. Pauline straightened a little in her wheelchair, eyed me to see if I were joking and said, “Well, well, well. My land.” And she smiled.
My land, indeed.