By Ellen Goodman
BOSTON—So is the glass half full or half empty? Or to pick a better metaphor, is the “highest, hardest” glass ceiling now half shattered by the 18 million cracks or does it look as impermeable as ever after this unsuccessful battering?
This has not been an easy week for ardent Hillary supporters, who are being told to move on and move over to the Obama camp. The woman who looked improbably energetic and strong as she bowed out last Saturday reinforced both the respect and disappointment of her core supporters.
Mourning is not too strong a word to describe what I’ve been hearing in the last few days. No sooner had the speech ended than a Hillary fundraiser received an e-mail from the Democratic National Committee asking her to raise money for Obama. She said, tersely, they didn’t even wait for the body to cool. The next day, with Hillary waving goodbye on The New York Times’ Page 1, there was an article on Michelle Obama’s clothes in the Styles section. Back to the first lady beat, sighed a reader.
“Women have had the idea of her being president in their heads for a decade or more. So the level of disappointment, anger, discouragement is that much stronger,” said Marie Wilson of the White House Project. As Dianne Feinstein said, “the nerve endings have to be healed.”
Well, fair enough. But in the early stage of the mourning process, those supporters who have been dismissively pegged as Angry White Women should take another adage from politics: Don’t Get Mad, Get Even.
This is not a revenge fantasy, especially not against Obama. I cannot imagine the core of Hillary’s female supporters turning to McCain, a man who voted against equal pay, let alone abortion rights. So I’m not talking about payback; I’m talking about pay-it-forward. I mean “get even” in a very different sense: Even the playing field, even the odds.
Get Even in the Media. Every Hillary supporter I talk to heatedly brings up the media. Women who have never let the word “misogyny” slip from their lips now pair it alliteratively with media. I will spare you the reprise of Great Sexist Hits of 2008. If you have five minutes, go to the Web site of the Women’s Media Center and be aware that this is just a Whitman’s Sampler.
It wasn’t just the ugly stuff coming out from under the rocks: “Life’s a B——, Don’t Elect One.” Nor was it just the sleazy shout-outs of the new boys’ blogosphere. What shocked even the slur-hardened feminists was that, as Ellen Malcolm of Emily’s List said, “it seemed to be so acceptable. And it was shameful.” Where was the DNC’s voice of protest? Where were the big feet and CEOs of the media? Why do sexist slurs get a laugh while racist slurs end careers? Getting even is, finally, shaming the media messengers.
Get Even in Politics. First lady Hillary Clinton made the water safe for “uppity” wives like Elizabeth Edwards and Michelle Obama. She may well make it easier for the next woman running for the West Wing.
But how different would this race have been if there were three women in the mix? Women of varied opinions and backgrounds? Women are still lagging behind in the profession of politics, and are reticent to run. For all those mourners who fear there won’t be a woman in the White House in their lifetime, getting even is building—sports metaphors be damned—the farm team.
Get Even as Voters. Until now, Democrats have taken our votes for granted. Where else would progressive women go? Democratic leaders have often seen these women as a one-issue, pro-choice group. It’s not enough.
I’m not saying that Hillary’s world will be appeased by offering her the vice presidency. To some this would be a proper reward, but others would see it as only a consolation prize. More important, Obama needs to talk directly to women in this fragile, slip-sliding, backsliding economy. Getting even requires winning respect.
“It would break my heart,” said Hillary Clinton, “if, in falling short of my goal, I in any way discouraged any of you from pursuing yours.” Well, I’ll hold the half-full cup lightly in my hand. But let’s remember how good women are supposed to be at multi-tasking. It’s not so hard to root for Obama and work on leveling the field for the next women.
Getting “even” is the best revenge.
Ellen Goodman’s e-mail address is ellengoodman(at)globe.com.
© 2008, Washington Post Writers Group