Rebecca Traister is onto something powerful when it comes to the difference between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders.
…in failing to present an upbeat take on her disagreement with Sanders, Clinton had sounded like a scold, the disciplinarian, the mean mommy, the pragmatic downer — all versions of a feminized role that she and many, many women have long found it incredibly difficult to escape…
From her entrance into the campaign, Clinton has been tagged as unlikable, as the practical buzzkill, the boring one with the wonky facts and figures and experience who’s going to show up and tell you that your big plans are impossible, but that she’s thought of some smaller and more doable fixes. Meanwhile, Sanders, who entered the race shouting righteously and correctly about a system that’s broken, has, as his campaign has strengthened, become the unlikely vehicle of idealistic hopes and dreams for America — Free college! Free health care! A $15 minimum wage! The breakup of the big banks!
What Traister has identified goes beyond what we usually focus on as sexist attacks/assumptions and tapped into the way that women like Hillary Clinton (and myself) have learned to maneuver in this “man’s world.”
…it falls into a very old, very well-worn gendered pattern, in which women — understanding that making promises they cannot back up will not get them taken seriously and that they must prove themselves extra-competent in order to be understood as basically competent — become the nose-to-the-grindstone wonks, easily compared to know-it-all bores like Tracy Flick and Hermione Granger. They’re the wet blankets, the ones all too acquainted with the limitations imposed by the world, and all too eager to explain their various ideas for working around them.
If you have any doubts that this is the path that is most often the one available to women, think about this:
This is a paradigm; it’s why Mom is the disciplinarian and Dad is the fun guy, why women remain the brains and organizational workhorses behind social movements while men get to be the gut-ripping orators, why so many women still manage campaigns and so many men are still candidates.
This is a paradigm I’ve seen both in myself as well as most of the women I’ve known in my professional career. It’s how we’ve handled the dictum of “you have to be twice as good as a man to get half the recognition.” We put our nose to the grindstone, worked hard and produced results. We watched as men with big dreams and lofty rhetoric often failed to actually get things done, but garnered much of the limelight. We learned that – away from that limelight is where the slow steady process of change actually happens. And yes, secretly we always hoped that someone would finally notice that.
A lot of people have commented about how President Obama would have never made it to the White House as the “angry black man.” Perhaps as a result of genetics, culture and pragmatism, he learned to be cool, calm and rational. In the same way, women like Hillary Clinton know that they can’t rely on lofty rhetoric to get where they want to go. It actually requires the wonky work of developing solutions. That may be a liability in a political campaign. But it’s probably the best (only?) path towards electing our country’s first woman president.