Friday, January 11, 2008

It's OK to be a Girl?

Two very different takes on the meta-meaning of Hillary's teary-eyedness worth discussing. First of all, Judith Warner, blogger for NYT, argues that Hillary's melt down and the support it garnered among women is a bad omen for women in general. She writes:

I don’t for a moment begrudge Hillary her victory on Tuesday. But if victory came for the reasons we’ve been led to believe – because women voters ultimately saw in her, exhausted and near defeat, a countenance that mirrored their own – then I hate what that victory says about the state of their lives and the nature of the emotions they carry forward into this race. I hate the thought that women feel beaten down, backed into a corner, overwhelmed and near to breaking point, as Hillary appeared to be in the debate Saturday night. And I hate even more that they’ve got to see a strong, smart and savvy woman cut down to size before they can embrace her as one of their own. (my emphasis)
The overarching point of Warner's post seems to be that "feeling without thinking"--a no no that even the young Hillary Rodham decried--is a horrible basis upon which to vote for a candidate, whether that be HRC or others. I am partially sympathetic to this view, due to my philosophical training. Warner wants to say--I think--that women voting for HRC because they are beaten down by entrenched sexist institutions and attitudes and want to know that she is beaten down too is--well--ressentiment. The worst instincts among women lead to her win; only when she was down in the mud, enfeebled, weakened, and exhausted did she win them over.

I am not sure I like Warner's read of the situation. Since I am clearly someone who was warmed by Hillary's emotionality, I want to disagree that it was my need to see a savvy woman break down that made me a fan. I felt warmth from her. I saw her passion, her kindness and gratefulness in the face of what she took as concern (even if Warner shows us that it wasn't). If I may be so bold, it wasn't just her humanity that warmed me. It was her femininity. The softer, feminine emotions that she displayed made me hopeful that one day it may be OK for women to be able to display a range of emotions--even girlfriend bonding type stuff--and still be respected as competent. I want to say hurrah! It is OK for women to shed the armour, to drop their guard, and just be women. Do we really have to always act like men to be taken seriously. And, even if we are taken seriously, do we have to also be called a bitch on top of it?

I much prefer Mary Schmich's--of wear sunscreen fame-column. (H/T Specialk). I like her no nonsense advice and her take that Hillary needs to be careful not to lose the real message from the rallying support after her emotional display:

May we offer our thoughts?

*Get some sleep. We believe that sleep deprivation -- not political calculation or self-pity or weakness -- caused your mini-melt in New Hampshire on Monday. We can relate. We've all had those days, when the mind or the body crumples from fatigue.

As luck would have it, exhaustion served you well this week. That little crack in your voice apparently opened new vistas to voters. They saw a passionate, compassionate aspect of you often described by people who have met you but too seldom seen by those who know you only on a page or screen.

Even better, the mini-melt stirred a sexist overreaction ("Look! The wimpy girl is crying!") that ignited a counterreaction among women, especially middle-aged and older, who are tired of seeing you mocked for the way you dress, laugh or almost cry.

In general, however, lack of sleep causes errors. You can't afford one now.

*No need to tell us again that in New Hampshire you found your voice. Avoid the temptation to turn a natural moment into a stilted new script. Just use your new, true voice.

Be more conversational in your speeches.

You're never going to be a Baptist preacher, you're never going to be black, and you're never going to be a man, so don't try to impersonate them. When you do, you sound strained. When you sound strained, it makes us tense, or worse.

*Relax. If you could relax a little more, so could we. Have you tried meditation? Deep breathing? How about more exercise?

*Keep pointing out that you have had a wider range of political and policy experience than Barack Obama. Point out inconsistencies in what he says and does. But don't insult him. Never be snide.

Even people who don't support Obama tend to like him. Some of the same ones who rallied to you when they felt you were under sexist siege will rally to him if he's attacked.

*Find new ways to reach younger women.

Women over 45 -- who voted for you in Iowa and New Hampshire -- know that a woman born in 1947 has had to bust through brick walls with her head to achieve public power. Women close to your age have bumped into similar barriers, so they know how extraordinary your success is.

Younger women may understand, kind of. From history class. Or their mother's lectures. But they're unlikely to feel in their gut how amazing your journey has been and how much opportunity the trailblazing of women your age has opened to them. So the public toughness you've cultivated strikes many of them as rigid, bellicose, haughty, old, weird.

Let them see more of you at their age -- the personable college student who fought for civil rights; the law student who worked to protect abused children; the new mother with a job.

Show them that you were once a young woman like them -- one who wanted to change the world.

*More Chelsea in your campaign, less Bill.

*Really, less Bill. Everybody knows he's your husband. Everybody knows he was the president. No further reminder needed. Now you need to prove that you can fly alone.

*Be yourself. You're a wonk. Go for it.

By many reports, you're also down-to-earth and funny. Go for that, too.

*Resist fighting cynicism with cynicism, snark with snark. Among media pundits, snark and cynicism are the paving stones on the road to glory. Not so for politicians.

Your tone was perfect in the recent debate after the moderator asked what you'd say to voters who don't find you likable.

We liked how you answered wryly, but not sarcastically, "Well, that hurts my feelings."

*One final tip: Don't always obey your advisers.

I think Schmich is right to stress that she needs to stop obeying her advisers who apparently tell her to hide her warmth, likability, and humor (see kos). I also like her advice that she find ways to connect with young women voters who aren't as likely to know what a feat her success is.