It was a pale pink baseball cap that quashed my last bit of optimism for Hillary Clinton’s chances. A few weeks ago, my husband returned home from a DC work trip bearing what he thought was a just a cute souvenir from the airport—a pastel Hillary Clinton hat embroidered in girly white script. I couldn’t help but think as I took it out of the bag that 1. It would soon become a relic as the race for the Democratic nomination draws to a close and 2. Princess-y pink signifies everything that’s wrong with the way some people will portray this contest when we pass the story on to our daughters.
I’m disappointed for Clinton personally. You’d have to be really callous not to feel something for this woman who put so much of her life, political capital, and personal finances on the line. She’s wanted this deep in her bones for a long time. The candidate displayed a formidable grasp of the nuts and bolts of the problems and policies Americans like myself really care about. I thought her wonk-ishness was admirable. I bristled when I read misogynistic descriptions of her as “shrill” or “playing the victim.” But as I ruminated about this on the eve of the Oregon and Kentucky primaries last month, I feel sure that (pink campaign swag aside), this race did not turn on gender. Now that she has dropped out, I still feel sure. Truth is, Barack Obama is a worthy and charismatic opponent. And he ran a stronger campaign. This is what I will tell my daughter when we talk about it in years to come. My precious Samantha is only two years old today—just learning to express herself (No! Mommy!) and curious about everything around her. I feel sure when we talk about her hopes and dreams, the topic of Hillary will make its way into our conversations.
Watching this roller coaster of a race with a newish mother’s eye, I’ve been thrilled to imagine the possibilities for my toddler and her generation. But before all of the Monday morning quarterbacking starts in a couple of weeks, I believe we mothers (and fathers), need to affirm that we’ll make a concerted effort to build on this chapter in American history to encourage young women to be anything they want to be … and to pursue their aspirations in a way that does not apologize nor exploit their femaleness. We have an opportunity to frame this contest for what it is—not a defeat for women (because I do believe this country is ready for a woman to be Commander in Chief) … but a bold move in the direction of possibility for girls.
As author Susan Faludi wrote on the New York Times Op-Ed page in May, “When a woman does ascend through the glass ceiling into the White House, it will be, in part, because of the race of 2008, when Hillary Clinton broke through the glass floor and got down with the boys.”
When we look back on this time, I’ll tell my daughter that Hillary Clinton didn’t fight like a man. She fought like a tough contender. And like anything in life, you give it your best shot—sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. In this case, the apparent loss is actually a victory for gender equity.
So, now that she’s suspended her campaign and thrown her support behind Senator Obama, I’ll put that Hillary ball cap away and save it for little Samantha. I’ll dig it out when she’s in third or fourth grade memorizing Presidents and state capitals. And we’ll start the conversation that will likely stretch into adulthood. It may be pink, but to me it symbolizes progress and infinite potential.