Hillary Clinton has lost her chance to have a go at the U.S. Presidential stakes this time around. Yet, she remains a presence. However much those who hated Hillary might have wished that she would fade away, neither the Democrats nor the Republicans will allow her do so. By choosing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, Republican Presidential nominee John McCain has clearly shown that he will go all out to woo Hillary supporters. Some have already joined his campaign. And Barack Obama and the Democrats also know that the 18 million voters who supported Hillary, many of them women, will have to be persuaded to remain with the Democrats.
To us in this country, this might seem peculiar as there is still no defined “women’s vote”. In the U.S., however, the women’s vote has become a factor in elections and in the forthcoming Presidential election, it will be particularly important. Yet, why would women, who supported Hillary not just because she was a woman but also because of her position on a number of issues affecting women such as abortion, now contemplate voting for a man and woman who are against women’s abortion rights and for the war in Iraq?Generational shift
The explanation perhaps lies in the generational shift in the U.S. amongst women that is not so perceptible in this country. The women’s movement in the U.S. has fought hard for many rights for women. The daughters of those who fought for these rights are now entering the work force, women with the confidence to know that they do not need to apologise for being women.
As a result, their take on women’s rights is different from that of their mothers’ generation. It is mediated by a different reality in which they must survive. It tends to be less strident and perhaps more pragmatic. It is not anti-men. On the other hand, the older women who supported Hillary feel affronted that their candidate was treated badly, that she was derided because she was a woman, and that in the end, there was no place for her. They see this as a reflection of the bitter battles they have fought for decades.
An article by Hannah Seligson, a freelance journalist and author of New Girl on the Job: Advice from the Trenches in The New York Times (August 31, 2008) spells out some of the challenges that women in their twenties face in the U.S. And her conclusions possibly explain the difference between the women who support Obama, or have decided to give him their full support even though Hillary lost, and those who remain unreconciled. Young women in this country, particularly the educated urban woman, would find a resonance in what she writes.
Seligson describes how, while growing up and in college, she did not experience any institutional gender bias. It was a time of “girl power”. Women students excelled in academics. They also helped each other and there was a feeling of solidarity.
Then these women entered the work force and realised that they were unprepared. First, the solidarity amongst women that they had taken for granted in college did not exist in the highly competitive space at work. Career mattered first, peer support could wait.
They also had to contend with men of another generation, untouched by “girl power” and the women’s rights movement. They still expected women employees, irrespective of their job description, to serve the coffee and do the photocopying — become “assistant-ised” as she puts it.
But instead of reacting bitterly to this unchanged reality, women like Seligson realised that they needed to build “a new arsenal of skills to mitigate some of our more ‘feminine’ tendencies. Having lived in a cocoon of equality in college, we may have neglected these vital, real-world skills.”Survival skills
And what are these so-called “skills”? According to Seligson they include developing a thick skin, feeling comfortable promoting oneself, learning how to negotiate, creating a professional network and giving up on being a perfectionist.
Sensitivity, she suggests, a “feminine” trait that is appreciated, does not always work in professional circumstances. “I have spent too much time being rattled by terse email from editors, agents who have told me that I’d never get a book deal, and bosses who have berated me as not being ‘detail-oriented’. I think in order to break through any kind of glass ceiling, or simply to get through the day, you have to become impervious to the daily gruffness that’s a part of any job.”
The other interesting “skill” that Seligson says she has acquired is the art of bragging. “I’ve indoctrinated myself with the idea that my job is a two-part process. One part is actually doing the work and the second part is talking about it, preferably in bottom-line terms”, she writes.
And finally the issue of what you “deserve” in terms of a salary when you take up a job, something that even older women will understand. She writes that many women genuinely believe that they will be paid what they “deserve”. As a result, they end up getting paid less than their male counterparts who have no qualms about asking for far more than they deserve. Also when it comes to getting a raise, while women hesitate to ask, men ask and keep on asking. She says she finally understood why women earn less than men when Myra Hart, a retired professor from the Harvard Business School told her, “By and large women believe that the workplace is a meritocracy, and it isn’t.”
Hillary Clinton is a woman who actually knows this truth. As a result, she negotiated and compromised her way through politics to get to the top, or almost to the top. She lost the support of younger women, who expected her to be what they themselves know they cannot. Yet today they will have to acknowledge that Hillary Clinton’s fight has opened up the space for them in the toughest workplace, the world of politics in the U.S.
7 months ago