Hillary Clinton’s ascendancy in the race for president has provided an opportunity for the rest of us women to step back and assess our standing in America.
This reflection is worth our time, particularly for those of us who are old enough to remember what it felt like to watch Clinton come so close to the nomination in 2008. This is a memory with many folds, some of them deep and dark and hard to shake out.
I’m not referring to her ’08 defeat. We got over that. Most of us got caught up in the inevitable — in retrospect, the impossible — optimism swirling around the young man who would become our first black president. I will never forget the sight of Barack and Michelle Obama and their beautiful daughters walking out on that Chicago stage on election night. I was standing in front of a television in a hotel room in Columbus, Ohio, holding my sleeping grandchild, Clayton, in my arms. I was so full of emotion I could not speak.
My infant grandson’s first president would be an African-American. How could he not grow up to know a different world?
Most of the bad memories that linger from that campaign season involve the media coverage and all that punditry — particularly from the left — that preceded it.
Rebecca Traister, in her 2010 book “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” took on the “frat boys” at MSNBC, and the misogyny and sexism heaped on Clinton by too many young, white males on social media and in the Obama campaign. I reviewed her book for The Washington Post, and her description of their behavior has stayed with me:
“A pattern was emerging in the liberal, privileged, predominantly white climes in which I worked and lived: young men were starry-eyed about Obama and puffed with outsized antipathy toward Clinton. … I was made uncomfortable by the persistent note of aggression that marked their reactions to Clinton, and puzzled by the increasingly cult-like devotion to Obama, a man whose policy positions were not so different, after all, from those of his opponent. Hating Hillary had for decades been the provenance of Republican blowhards, but now men on the left were spewing vitriol about her voice, her looks, her presumption — and without realizing it were radicalizing me in my support for Clinton more than the candidate herself ever could have.”
Sound familiar? This year, I mean.
Only now, as I daily behold the latest round of anti-Clinton misogyny from — ta da! — mostly young white male lefties, do I realize how much that 2008 campaign season changed me. Like many of my female friends, I no longer gasp or wonder how these boys could be so mean. This time around, I mentally flick them away like gnats. Age has few glory-be benefits, but this immunity to such adolescent hate is definitely one of them. What grown man — what real man — thinks like this? We haven’t the time, my friends.
I am reminded of an exchange I had 14 years ago with my editor, Stuart Warner, soon after I first became a newspaper columnist. I was dumbstruck by the sudden, relentless flood of hate mail from a certain percentage of white, male readers.
“What am I doing to incite this?” I asked.
“Nothing you can change,” he said.
His words emboldened me, and for that I will always be grateful. If they hate you only because you’re a woman, you’ve already won.
Hillary Clinton is the most qualified person running in this election, and she will be the first female president of the United States. I am certain of this, as I am certain that we will never stop hearing from that small percentage on the left who want to cast her as something less than human. It is impossible for a woman to reach her level of success and be anyone’s saint. So be it.
Last weekend, I was standing in our backyard when our 2-year-old granddaughter, Jackie, walked out the door and across the porch to join me. I lifted my camera and captured a memory that will stay with me for all of my cognizant days.
In the photo, she is a little girl with eyes forward, arms swinging, stride unstoppable.
In my heart, she is a little girl who, like so many girls, deserves to see a version of herself in the White House.
Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two books, including “…and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. To find out more about Connie Schultz (email@example.com) and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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Photo: U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks about the results of the Super Tuesday primaries at a campaign rally in Miami, Florida March 1, 2016. REUTERS/Javier Galeano