ROOM for all
|by Eric Peterson|
|Losing the Pronoun "She"
On the drive home from work last Monday, a newscaster was discussing the economy and the presidential election. He said, "And the new President, whoever he may be, will be confronted with the worst election-year economy we've seen since..."
My brow furrowed. For the last seventeen months, journalists and pundits have been referring to our future President as "whoever he or she may be," in a nod to the first woman ever to be taken seriously as a candidate for the highest office in the land. But no moreHillary Rodham Clinton suspended her campaign on July 7, and the next Presidentwhoever he may bewill be a guy.
Like many others across the country, I watched Clinton suspend her campaign on live television that day, so it wasn't news to me. I had voted for Clinton in the DC primary, but was doing a good job of managing my disappointment in her defeat. Obama is a good candidate; I like him. I watched Hillary's concession speech with a smile on my face; it was a good speech, and she was as enthusiastic about Barack Obama as I knew I needed to be.
I didn't experience that sinking feeling of discontent and something like grief until two days later, when I noticed the omission of the feminine pronoun from the evening newscast.
As a professional diversity practitioner, many of my DC-area friends were surprised that I was supporting Hillary throughout the primary. They assumed, based on my job description, that I'd support Obama, not just because of his race, but also because of his relentless message of changechanging Washington, changing the way we do things, changing the way we look at ourselves and our neighborsthese seemed to be hallmarks of what has become my life's work.
Hillary was "my girl" from the beginning. I admired her aggressive style of campaigning; while it wasn't always fun seeing her wipe the floor with her fellow Democrats, I was relishing the idea of her debating John McCain. Andwhile this wasn't the only reason I wanted to see her inaugurated in JanuaryI'd be dishonest if I wasn't thrilled at the idea of the very first "Madame President."
There was something about electing a woman to the Oval Office that captured my imagination and warmed my heart. For a moment, I wondered why I wasn't similarly charmed by the notion of a black President. The truth is, I probably was. From the outset of the campaign, it seemed certain that we'd be nominating a historic candidate in the general election. Yet, something about the idea of President Hillary thrilled me just a little more. As a diversity practitioner, I advocate for both women and people of color on a regular basis. I'm neither a woman nor a person of color myself, and so from those two standpoints, you'd figure that either way, it'd be a toss-up. So I think it must have something to do with being gay.
Throughout the primary season, the demographics of voters were constantly scrutinized. Obama carried the African-American, the young, and the educated; Clinton usually won her states thanks to women and the white working-class. Never did we hear about the gay vote. I suppose the pollsters found it too invasive to inquire about the sexual orientation of the primary voters, although I always figured if you ask someone how much they make, everything else ought to be fair game. So in my own informal polling (i.e., conversations with gay friends in both DC and Rehoboth), I tracked that the gay people in my life voted for Hillary about three-to-one.
There was really nothing in their policy statements that should have made that big of a difference; both Clinton and Obama support civil unions (but not full marriage rights), both support ending "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," both support employment non-discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and the right of same-sex couples to adopt children. (It's worth noting that John McCain supports none of these things.)
So what is it about Hillary that captured the hearts and minds of the vast majority of my gay friends? I think about us, as a group, and we're a diverse and eclectic bunch. We represent all ages, both genders (and some in between), with a wide variety of backgrounds, incomes, and tastes. What all of us have in common is an experience of being discriminated against because we don't conform to the rigid gender roles we were taught as children. We were all raised to believe that men don't cry or do the dishes, and that women are delicate creatures who shouldn't act too smart or they'll never land a man. We were taught that women should look to men for guidance and counsel, and that men should show a brave face to the world and only seek nurturing in the arms of a woman, preferably in the dark when no one else was around.
We didn't like these rules very much, and we rebelled. And while we had fun doing it, we also caught a bit of flak. Gay men are derided and hated because, in the eyes of a sexist society, we've willingly "lowered ourselves" to the role of woman, which seems pathological to those who've long accepted the myth of male superiority. Lesbians are derided because they've attempted to "raise themselves" to this superior status, where polite women wouldn't dare to tread.
In 2007, a brash, outspoken, gutsy woman came along and announced she was running for President. She claimed to be smarter, tougher, and more competent than any of the men who also wanted the job, and many believe that still to be true. Is it any wonder that I, along with so many of my friends, fell in love a little?
Sadly, a woman will not be President in 2008. I've acknowledged this, and will enthusiastically support Barack Obama's campaign from here until November; I even made my first contribution on Sunday, and it won't be the last. I'll put the bumper sticker on my car and wear the T-shirt with pride. Now that I've seen a woman come oh-so-close, I'll continue to dream of the daymaybe eight years from now, perhaps twelvewhen the first "Madame President" is inaugurated and the newscasters and pundits of the world try to figure out what on earth to call her husband. That'll be a good day, right there.
LETTERS From CAMP Rehoboth, Vol. 18, No. 07 June 13, 2008