As I’ve spent time last week canvassing, phone-banking and sign-waving, I had a chance to listen in on how others frame their support for Hillary Clinton, and notice that in almost all cases, the fact of her gender is played down, as if there were something embarrassing or ridiculous about being excited about the prospect of electing the first female president.

I wonder if we talked about Obama the same way in 2008, trying to feign color-blindness as if his race were incidental. And yet, without being able to speak for any member of the black community, I can only imagine the sense of vindication and joy that his victory must have brought to many for whom his election represented a symbolic, but profound rupture from America’s hateful legacy of racial injustice.

I admire and support both Bernie Sanders and Hillary as dedicated public servants, and I also appreciate everything that Bernie has brought to our country’s dialogue about what American can and should be. I also believe that America – still, arguably, the most powerful and visible nation in the world — is desperately, embarrassingly overdue in electing a female president, and I can’t help but to embrace this precious, rare chance to do so.

The behaviors and norms expected...

The behaviors and norms we encourage in girls often disqualify them from becoming leaders.

Pixabay

There are so many barriers to women entering leadership, visible even from the time they’re in school. As a teacher, I see every day how obedience, sweetness and conformity are rewarded among girls, and how confidence — whether or not supported by actual intelligence or good sense — is reinforced among boys.

In student elections, at least where I went to school and currently teach, the front runner is often a charismatic boy, deemed “likeable” because he’s easygoing, doesn’t conform to the success model the adults might be selling, and can be counted on to provide a few minutes of light entertainment at each school gathering, to serve as foil to the adult administrators’ predictably staid tone.

Meanwhile, the behaviors we encourage in girl students often disqualify them from becoming leaders. We want and expect them to be obliging and considerate, to follow the rules, to complete each task with a smile, to wear their virtues quietly and unimposingly.

I have a delightful student who presents home-baked goods to her teachers for every holiday and apologizes each time she asks a question. It doesn’t surprise me that while some other girls roll their eyes at this behavior, she is universally adored by the male students. At the same time, girls who strive too openly or aggressively for success are scorned on a broader scale; they pay for their ambition by sacrificing femininity and likeability. They lose their female privileges without gaining any male ones.

Of course, men suffer from expectations inflicted upon them, too. The greater burden on them to externalize their success through power, money, accolades and charisma can crush those who might fail in these respects. These are the men for whom despair turns to violence, or to blind support of demagogues who morph failings into virtues, losers into heroes.

It’s been remarked that some men fear female leadership because they associate female authority with childhood, with being small and inconsequential and dependent on their mothers and schoolteachers. How sad that for some, weakness and doubt cannot be accepted as a necessary part of the spectrum of human experience, that the desperate need to project strength trumps the imperative for goodness and reason.

When female leadership becomes normalized, not just the rare exception, perhaps this burden of masculinity will be somewhat relieved.

Still Second-Class Citizens In Most Of The World

Having a female president will not eliminate gender discrimination any more than having a black president has erased the ugly racial divide in our country. But I believe it’s a necessary step in what promises to be a long road yet in our excruciatingly slow advance toward global gender equality.

I may lead a very comfortable and free life, but I seethe with the knowledge that women are still second-class citizens in most parts of the world, that sex slavery and female genital mutilation are the everyday realities for legions of girls, that so many women I know have been subjected to harassment, and that even in our supposedly enlightened country, men are still pushing to control women by controlling their reproductive rights.

Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

Wikimedia

I openly admit that my support for Hillary’s presidency is not strictly rational and issue-based; it’s also visceral, primal, grown from anger and frustration at this abhorrent, stubborn gender inequality I see in the world. Would I support a Sarah Palin or a Carly Fiorina for the sake of getting a woman in the White House? Obviously not; they would probably do more damage to the cause than good. Nor do I believe that Hillary is the perfect candidate, but she is a damn good one, a strong, smart, seasoned leader who has dedicated her life to public service, and who has primarily been criticized for learning to work a system created by her male predecessors.

I simply don’t believe that she could have come as far as she has without doing those things we admonish her for now: following the rules, playing the system, embracing the ways of the establishment, even being the spouse of the president. No other woman has come nearly as close.

“Would you support Hillary if she were a man?” I find this question incredibly irritating. Embedded in it is the naiveté of imagining we can flip male and female, black and white in any situation to come up with a perfectly rational, race- and gender-blind solution. It suggests that there was something wholesomely gender-neutral about every prior election, whereas the system was simply rigged so that a female candidate (or a non-white one) was never a viable possibility. Would you support Bernie Sanders if he were a woman?

I’m not just talking about policy stances here, because when it comes down to it, both candidates are largely in agreement on the vast majority of issues, and have only emphasized their differences and turned up the mutual scorn lately because that is what our stupid gladiatorial campaign system requires of them.

Their greatest differences have more to do with persona. Would the Bernie thing — the flailing arms, the unkempt hair, the angry, rabble-rousing assertions, the fact of being 74 years old contrasted with the Snapchat-generation campaign aesthetic — be as palatable, as endearing, as fun on a woman? I seriously doubt it. I like Bernie Sanders, I truly do – I married a socialist! And my socialist and I plan to move back to France one day, in no small part because of the education and health care that are considered rights there, not luxuries.

Like most Democrats, I believe it’s imperative that we move in the direction of greater income equality, more accessible education and healthcare and the admission that America has a great deal to learn from other countries. Hillary promises incremental change, while Bernie promises something more dramatic, and of course his is a more appealing, bang-for-your-buck sell. I admire his vision, but have a hard time believing it would be realized, given how excruciating it’s been for Obama to advance even his comparably modest initiatives.

As far as positive change being enacted, it’s probably less important whom we choose as the Democratic nominee (assuming they make it to the White House, staving off a Trumpocalypse), and more important that we retake the House and Senate next year so that some shit actually gets done in the next four years. I have faith that we’ll rally around whoever our nominee ends up being for the greater good, but for now, with head and heart, I’m standing with her.

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