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History in the Making

Voting in this year’s primary was thrilling. As always, Josie accompanied me into the booth. She’s clueful about how it works now, after reading a number of books about the democratic process. Our favorite is the delightful picture book “Vote!” by Eileen Christelow (Clarion, 2003), which uses a pretend mayoral election to explain debates, fundraising, campaigning, and the history of universal suffrage (bonus: narrated by cute dogs!). As we got ready to flip the levers for our candidate, Josie said, “Isn’t it amazing that 150 years ago, neither of these guys could even vote?”

It is! How can I not be moved that my little girls are seeing history in the making? As a Democrat, I’m thrilled to have two presidential contenders I could vote for without holding my nose. (It was three, for a while: I loved John Edwards’s stands on education and poverty.)

Josie’s school is a polling place, so there’s a bake sale by the booths every year to raise money for the PTA. Both girls helped make cinnamon-blueberry-cherry muffins. We almost called them “Obamaberry muffins” before realizing that the monitor wouldn’t allow them within 100 feet of the entrance. (We called them “primary-cherry-berry muffins” instead.)

My mom is voting for Hillary Clinton, along with most of her fellow women’s college alums. A number of my friends are too. And that’s fine by me. Hillary’s been a good senator. If my friends’ kids are wearing “Mommy and Me for Hillary!” onesies rather than “My mama’s for Obama!” hoodies, I got no truck with that. The two candidates are very similar in their policy positions. But a number of my sister feminists, it seems, have major problems with my voting for the black guy. (They’d object to that characterization. They’d say they’re sorry I’m not voting for the woman… while simultaneously saying they’re not voting for Hillary just because she’s a woman.)

Gloria Steinem wrote in an op-ed: “Some women, especially younger ones, hope to deny or escape the sexual caste system.” She said that women who’ve voted for Hillary tend to be older, proving that “women are the one group that grows more radical with age.” Dude, since when is Hillary a radical candidate? She may be female, but she’s the establishment. There’s a reason she started this race with more commitments from superdelegates than Obama had. (This election, interestingly, has involved voters on both sides breaking with orthodoxy. McCain, the breakaway Republican contender, wasn’t his establishment’s candidate of choice either.)

Robin Morgan, the former editor-in-chief of Ms. Magazine, wrote a screed, widely reprinted on feminist blogs, taking a machine-gun approach to anyone who opposes Hillary in any way. She slammed commentators snarking at Hillary’s “thick ankles,” sexist T-shirts and right-wing talk show hosts, Obama-supporting Kennedys (“Me, I still recall Marilyn Monroe’s suicide, and a dead girl named Mary Jo Kopechne in Chappaquiddick,” she wrote, in a blow at least as low as anything coming from a Hillary detractor). And finally, she slammed young female Obama supporters. “Goodbye to some young women eager to win male approval by showing they’re not feminists (at least not the kind who actually threaten the status quo),” she wrote, “who can’t identify with a woman candidate because she is unafraid of eeueweeeu yucky power, who fear their boyfriends might look at them funny if they say something good about her.”

Uh, what? I don’t even know where to begin with that. I’m a feminist. I find women’s power yummy, not yucky. I’ve written for Ms. And I’m supporting Obama because he inspires me, and because I think he has a better chance of winning. He’s a better speaker than his opponent. He doesn’t come off as programmed and rigid the way Hillary does. For example, I know Hillary, like Obama, is supportive of gay rights. So why didn’t she knock it out of the park last year when she was asked whether she thinks homosexuality is immoral? This was right after Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Peter Pace made his loathsome comments saying just that. “Well, I’m going to leave that to others to conclude,” she said. Lady, gimme a break. (Later, Hillary issued a statement saying she disagreed with Pace’s statement.) Hillary’s too cautious, coming off as someone who doesn’t want to alienate anyone. Just as Al Gore did back in the day, incidentally: Al Gore, who is a male man with a penis. I hope that like Gore, Hillary may come into her own and truly “find her voice” after all this is over.

Don’t get me wrong; I have a ton of sympathy for how challenging Hillary’s position is. She has to seem strong but not butch, tough but not tense, brainy but not wonky. She needs to capitalize on her husband’s popularity without making it look as if he’s fighting her battles for her. She unfairly gets sexist adjectives like “shrill” leveled at her — if you don’t have ovaries, you don’t get called “shrill.” But ultimately, given how similar Hillary’s and Obama’s positions on the issues are, I’m voting based on who I think can win. Obama’s speeches have given me chills; Hillary’s haven’t. Obama did not support the Iraq war; Hillary hasn’t fully owned her initial support for it. (Again, I get that as a female, she can’t look too apologetic, lest she be called weak.) And given that Hillary’s running on experience and toughness, how can she beat John McCain, who has more experience and more toughness than anyone except possibly GI Joe?

It’s just galling that at a recent Grand Army Plaza rally in Brooklyn, older Hillary supporters yelled “gender traitor” at young female Obama supporters. Robin Morgan took a slap at Obama-supporting Oprah, who’d said, “The truth is I’m a free woman, and being free is that you get to think for yourself and you get to decide for yourself what to do. So I say I am not a traitor. I’m just following my own truth.” Morgan wrote, “Maybe it’s post-feminism and whoooosh we’re already free. Let a statement by the magnificent Harriet Tubman stand as reply. When asked how she managed to save hundreds of enslaved African Americans via the Underground Railroad during the Civil War, she replied bitterly, ‘I could have saved thousands — if only I’d been able to convince them they were slaves.’” Ouch. And yet Oprah and I are not, in fact, wearing shackles. And I don’t, in fact, identify as post-feminist.

In the spirit of Harriet Tubman, let me invoke another history-making woman, Susan B. Anthony: “Our democratic, republican government is based on the idea that every person shall have a voice and a vote in making the laws and putting them to work. It is we, the people — all the people — not just white men or men only, who formed this nation. We formed it to get liberty not just for half of us — not just for half of our children — but for all, for women as well as men.” And for Obama supporters as well as Hillary supporters.

One way or another, history will be made this year. Let’s celebrate that. Let’s serve as good examples for all our little daughters, and avoid name-calling.

Write to Marjorie at [email protected].

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