Hillary Clinton and the 4th Wave

Amanda Fortini has a really interesting article in New York magazine called "The Feminist Reawakening: Hillary Clinton and the Fourth Wave." The whole thing is a must-read, but here are a few bits to start with (highlights by me):
Not so long ago, it was possıble for women, particularly young women, to share in the popular illusion that we were living in a postfeminist moment. [...] Then Hillary Clinton declared her candidacy, and the sexism in America, long lying dormant, like some feral, tranquilized animal, yawned and revealed itself. Even those of us who didn’t usually concern ourselves with gender-centric matters began to realize that when it comes to women, we are not post-anything.

[...]

Indeed, it might be said that the postfeminist outlook was a means of avoiding an unpleasant topic. [...] Who wanted to think of gender as a divisive force, as the root of discrimination? Perhaps more relevant, who wanted to view oneself as a victim? Postfeminism was also a form of solipsism: If it’s not happening to me, it’s not happening at all. To those women succeeding in a man’s world, the problems wrought by sexism often seemed to belong to other women. But as our first serious female presidential candidate came under attack, there was a collective revelation: Even if we couldn’t see the proverbial glass ceiling from where we sat, it still existed—and it was not retractable.

[...]

Indelicate as it seems to bring up, the oft-repeated question is, why do overtly sexist remarks slip by almost without comment, while any racially motivated insult would be widely censured? A few women told me that when they raised this issue with men, the discussion broke down, with the men arguing that racism was far more pernicious than sexism. “If you say anything about the specificity of Hillary being a woman, you’re just doing the knee-jerk feminist stuff, that’s the reaction,” said one woman who asked not to be identified in any way. “Thinking about race is a serious issue, whereas sexism is just something for dumb feminists to think about.” The point is not to determine whether it is harder to be a white woman or a black man in America today, nor which candidate would have more symbolic value. At issue is the fact that race is, as it should be, taboo grounds for criticism, but gender remains open territory.

[...]

The post-Hillary shift in awareness, for lack of a better term—movement still seems a gross overstatement—has created an unusual alliance that belies the pre- and post-boomer generational divide propounded by the media. The second-wave feminists are said to have cluck-clucked at a younger generation of women, who, oblivious to past struggles, refused to join their team and vote for Clinton.

[...]

Old-guard feminists, for their part, seem not yet aware—or prepared to believe—that the younger generation is coming around.... Linda Hirshman, author of Get to Work: A Manifesto for Women of the World, said she thinks the feminist movement, even the third wave, may have seen its final days. For another movement to reach critical mass, she said, women in society may need to experience what she calls “an accretion of insult.” But with the inequities highlighted by Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid reminding us of the inequities we experience on a regular basis, the insults may have, well … accreted.

[...]

Clinton is portrayed as a Tracey Flick type, as one of those girls: the ones actually studying in study hall. In real life, that gets you elected class secretary or VP of operations, but never the No. 1 spot. “Leadership” is more effortless, an assumed mantle of authority, confidence that doesn’t need a PowerPoint presentation to back it up. But it’s difficult to imagine this traditionally male archetype—embodied in Obama’s easy manner and unscripted, often overly general approach—working for a woman in the same way it does for a man. “There’s no way you could put his words, his message, in her mouth and get away with it,” said one of the women I spoke with. “If you took his campaign message, his speeches, his everything and you put it on her, she’d be fucked.”

[...]

There has been clamoring for Clinton to make the gender equivalent of Obama’s race speech. In this idealized homily, Clinton would confront the insidiousness of sexism and speak out against the societal ills that affect women; she would renounce the unfair criteria, at once more stringent and more superficial, by which women are judged. She might even address the compromises she is said to have made in her life—this is idealized, remember—and tell us why those compromises, rather than making her an inferior candidate, instead make her a stronger one, as they can be viewed as her imperfect resolutions to the dilemmas faced by many women: Do you stay with a man who has betrayed you, or divorce him? Do you keep your name, or take your husband’s? Do you put your career aside for his—at least for a time?

This speech, of course, is not likely to happen. [...] But the fact that women are even imagining what such a speech would sound like on the national stage is significant.

As the Pennsylvania primary nears, pundits and party members are again, as they did before Ohio and Texas, calling for Clinton to step down. (“The model of female self-sacrifice is deeply embedded in our culture,” notes Bennetts.) And indeed it’s becoming increasingly difficult to see how this political cycle could end with her victorious. It is perhaps cold comfort to say that if she loses the nomination, her candidacy leaves behind a legacy of reawakened feminism—the fourth wave, if you will. But this is in fact what is happening.
I strongly recommend reading the whole thing.

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