My close liberal family is now officially divided. My parents, Bert and Letty Cottin Pogrebin, support Hillary Clinton. My brother, David, and I are ardent supporters of Barack Obama. My twin sister, Robin, has yet to declare herself.
Everyone is obviously entitled to his or her opinion. But as the daughter of one of the creators of Ms. magazine, someone who is considered one of the founders of the Women's Movement, I am frustrated by NOW (National Organization for Women)'s contention that not supporting Hillary is a sexist choice. My mother doesn't support NOW's position that Edward Kennedy's endorsement of Obama was a slap in the face of feminism and an indicator of how little progress we've made. But even my mom clearly feels that Hillary has "earned this" nomination, and to take it away from her at this point would be to rob feminists of the history they've been waiting and working for.
Yes, a woman in the White House would represent the ultimate triumph of a hard-fought and crucial battle for equality. Yes, Hillary is obviously smart and accomplished and could no doubt govern effectively. She is, in my estimation, taken as seriously as any man in this race, and I don't hear people judging her negatively or positively because of her gender, but because of who she is and how she would do as president.
What makes me squirm is the notion that somehow a vote for Obama is a vote for the Old Boy's Network; that it will show we've made no progress and ultimately people can't stand the idea of a woman in the Oval office. That simply invalidates the feelings of voters like me, who have embraced Obama for concrete, considered, and emotional reasons. Obama is not just a male candidate, just as he is not simply the first truly viable black presidential candidate. He also happens to have a message, an eloquence, a personal story, and an optimism that many of us haven't ever felt in politics before. That reaction is legitimate. And it only means that the Democrats have two strong choices -- both of whom will make history we can all be proud of.
When NOW chastises Senator Edward Kennedy, as the organization did on Monday, for his enthusiastic endorsement of Obama, writing hyperbolically that "Women have just experienced the ultimate betrayal," that makes me want to shout, "Come on. You don't speak for this feminist." NOW scolds Kennedy because they've done so much for him over the years, and Monday he turned his back: "And now the greatest betrayal! We are repaid with his abandonment! He's picked the new guy over us. He's joined the list of progressive white men who can't or won't handle the prospect of a woman president who is Hillary Clinton (they will of course say they support a woman president, just not "this" one)...This latest move by Kennedy, is so telling about the status of and respect for women's rights, women's voices, women's equality, women's authority and our ability - indeed, our obligation- to promote and earn and deserve and elect, unabashedly, a President that is the first woman after centuries of men who "know what's best for us."
I don't believe that Ted Kennedy's endorsement is, as NOW says, "telling about the status of and respect for women's rights, women's voices, women's equality, women's authority." I believe that Kennedy decided Barack Obama was the better person to heal this country at a critical time. NOW's rebuke is exactly what allows people to write off "feminism" as simply angry, and hopelessly stuck in the us-versus-them paradigm of previous decades. I simply do not accept that Ted Kennedy's endorsement represents a throw-back prejudice that aims to keep women down and can't envision a female commander-in-chief. That is not the experience of my generation. It just isn't. Case in point: Caroline Kennedy's parallel endorsement of Obama that same morning, which NOW conveniently didn't mention. NOW could never credibly accuse Caroline -- an independent, accomplished woman in her own right -- of "betrayal," "abandonment," or opting to preserve the male patriarchy in this country.
If there's anything I learned from my mother, it's that one of the chief goals of the women's movement was to genuinely level the playing field. To reach the day where gender was neither a qualification nor a disqualification. This campaign, to me, represents exactly that. We've arrived at an incredible place: two powerful, plausible candidates are vying for the nomination, both of whom are embraced by women and men, blacks and whites for different reasons. That's what this country - and what feminism in 2008- should consider a triumph.
That doesn't simplify the political tensions in my own family during this primary season.
But that's an essay for another day.