Political Rupture

woman burning in hell (2)At a rally for Hillary Clinton, Madeleine Albright declared, “There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.” A fierce debate about gender, the generational divide, and feminism in presidential politics ensued. There’s a fundamental psychological dynamic at play as well: the idealization of female solidarity and the corollary difficulties women often experience when differences emerge.

Women are celebrated for their emotional intimacy. Statements like, “We get one another completely”; the sharing of secrets, clothes, and gossip; even jokes about women going en masse to the bathroom make clear how much women prize connection.  This “urge to merge” can be viewed as an aspect of female identity formation and the longed-for return to the blissful state of maternal-infant union. Nothing is quite as delicious.

But it’s also a set up. When women are not supposed to feel, let alone talk, about their differences, there’s no room for conflict, and no vocabulary or practice for resolving it. Difficulties go underground, leaking out in ways that often lead to rupture. Thus differentiation is experienced as betrayal, and standing apart from the group risks social suicide. My daughter discovered this in college when, tired of looking for housing with eight (!) other women, she considered leaving the group. The anger and accusations of disloyalty quickly convinced her otherwise. It turned out that none of the women really wanted to live in such a large household, but no one knew how to say so without hurting anyone’s feelings or being seen as a traitor.

This loyalty/betrayal split is now being played out in presidential politics. Albright’s remarks typify idealized notions of female connection that make no room for difference. She reminds us of the dangers women face if they stray from the fold. (Never mind that the halcyon days of blissful union have never really existed: the very women’s movement Albright exalts was itself torn apart by conflict.)

Predictably, when Albright consigned to hell women who disagree with her, all hell broke loose. As long as those who differ are seen as traitors, with only a narrow range of women’s emotions and choices deemed acceptable, all hell will continue to break loose.

But perhaps there’s hope. As younger women reap the benefits of their foremothers and are able to speak up, speak their minds, and stand apart, strong feelings and disagreements won’t be quite so likely to go underground, then erupt. Instead, polarization might give way to dealing directly and respectfully with the differences that enrich women’s complex and very human experiences.


What have your experiences been with female solidarity and its discontents?



Ready for Hillary?

https://d1qodaktuuv1h7.cloudfront.net/sites/readyforhillary/files/ReadyPoster.jpegMy first thought was, “I guess she’s running,” when I heard about Hillary Clinton’s highly publicized criticism of President Obama’s foreign policy in The Atlantic.

My second thought was of Dick Cheney—not that Hillary’s comments are in the same league as Cheney’s relentless attacks. But there’s the same failure to take responsibility for a mess both helped create in launching war against Iraq. Plus a knee-jerk hawkishness and reliance on the illusion of American exceptionalism. This dismays me about Hillary even more than her dissing of the President.

My third thought was to wonder if Joe Biden is really too old, his candidacy truly unviable.  Or if a bid for the presidency by Elizabeth Warren would make Nixon’s 1972 rout of George McGovern look like a cliffhanger.

I want to be pragmatic, to bank on winnability. That’s why I was not an early supporter of Obama, believing that a black man whose name rhymed with Osama bin Laden could never be elected President. Gradually I saw how this view was less pragmatic than borderline racist and certainly self-defeating, enabling the very views I abhorred. I became a fervent admirer of Barack Obama, and worked hard for his 2008 and 2012 victories. I thought highly not only of his policies, but also of his intelligence, calm demeanor, decency, and capacity for nuanced thinking and self-reflection. Most of all, I loved that Obama appealed to the better angels of our natures.

Now I am not so confident that the better angels of our natures can prevail. It is a futile endeavor, but one I undertake anyway, to wonder if President Hillary Clinton might have succeeded where President Barack Obama has been stymied. Mostly I think not—the economic and foreign policy disasters are too immense, the virulence toward Hillary almost as strong as the virulence toward a black man. Perhaps there would have been no difference.

But the one thing I reluctantly come back to again and again is that Hillary might have done better because she is more hard-nosed. She would not have wasted time and energy trying to make friends with a Republican Party hell-bent on destroying her. She might also have more room to maneuver as a white woman than as a black man in a country that is arguably more racist than sexist.

Pragmatism counts, and Hillary is nothing if not pragmatic. She’s smart, hard-working, dedicated, and, unlike faux feminist candidates like Sarah Palin, a true champion of women’s issues. Some of her personal qualities, however, give me pause as well as hope.

I’m not sure I’m ready for Hillary. But what are the alternatives?


How do you feel about Hillary and the presidential prospects for 2016?