Erica Jong On Clinton's Loss, And Her Own

I didn’t know it would feel this bad. I didn’t know it would feel this personal. I’m all for a united Democratic party. But losing my last chance to see a woman in the White House feels like shit. [...]

Sexism is hard to see because most of it is so petty we don’t want to mention it. Nutcracker thighs? A novelty like that seems beneath contempt. But it isn’t one small offense that does women in — it’s the steady accretion of many offenses. It’s death by a thousand cuts. Even mentioning the problem seems ungracious. As women, we’re supposed to specialize in graciousness. And there isn’t a gracious way to talk about sexism. Perhaps there is no way to talk about sexism at all — which is the way sexists want it.

I will work my tail off for President Obama. We need a Democratic in the White House more than ever. But I can’t help feeling that we’ve buried a topic that needs unearthing. Please, Mr. Obama, turn your attention to sexism and tell us how you plan to address it. Then we can all be gracious with a good conscience.

I agree with Jong about the death of a thousand cuts, and on how sexism is made “unspeakable.” But I disagree with her on one point: I don’t believe Clinton was our “last chance” to see a woman elected President.

One thing I’ve been certain of my whole life is that no Jew could ever be elected President. The success of Obama and of Clinton (who just barely lost, and who probably would have won if she had opposed the Iraq war, or if she hadn’t listened to Mark Penn) has made me rethink that. I don’t think that racism, or sexism, or for that matter anti-semitism, have ceased to be barriers. But they’re no longer the insurmountable barriers they once were. Clinton was the first viable female candidate for President; but she won’t be the last.

Via Attempts.

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26 Responses to Erica Jong On Clinton's Loss, And Her Own

  1. 1
    bill says:

    Erica Jong was born in 1942; I’d agree with her that this year was (probably) Erica Jong’s last chance to see a woman in the White House.

  2. 2
    Eva says:

    “But losing my last chance to see a woman in the White House feels like shit.”

    I’m no mind reader, but Ms. Jong may be speaking about her own mortality (notice the “my” where you inferred an “our”), not the long term political climate.

    Anyone else read this the way I did?

  3. 3
    Medea says:

    Me!

  4. 4
    Kevin Moore says:

    Yes, I think Jong is speaking from her perspective as a woman in her 60s. If she lives to be 90, that gives roughly 30 years for the political process to produce a viable woman candidate for President. It’s possible, but the odds are long.

  5. 5
    Kevin Moore says:

    Coffee still percolating in the brain, so I just now realize I should specify what I mean by “viable”. It’s an ambiguous term, because so much is left to the national parties, local preferences and the national media to determine. But I was thinking mostly of the low numbers of women in national politics – although those numbers are increasing. It may also take a woman willing to take the risk Obama has – crafting a popular message despite a low level of national political experience (although he has a lot of local experience.)

    I think more women in politics should take the risk, even if most of them will fail. Men in politics do it all the time, and fail in huge numbers (there can be only one nominee, after all.) But if Joe Biden can do it, why not Barbara Boxer? And I would love to see Boxer run. That woman would take no shit.

  6. 6
    MadelineB says:

    Does anyone else think that attributing Hillary Clinton’s loss to sexism alone is selling Barack Obama a bit short? I have no doubt that sexism played a part in this campaign, but whether or not it was the deciding factor in Obama’s victory is not certain to me. I might be more upset by Hillary’s loss if it weren’t for the fact that the race was very close, and Obama was an extremely strong candidate.

  7. 7
    Raznor says:

    I agree with her on the sexism part, but I’m sick of hearing about “the one chance we may ever get for a woman president” when it’s just as true if you replace “woman” with “black”. I remember when Edwards dropped out, and, although I supported him, my thought was “hey, with Democrats being the most likely winner in November this means we’ll have the first black president or the first woman president, that’s awesome!”

    I dunno, the way that excerpt finishes, helping Obama because he’s the default Democrat, no big whoop, when the number of woman Presidents is 10 times that of the number of black Presidents in this nation’s history. (yeah, and vice versa)

    And can I just say, I have no qualms against Hillary Clinton, but I’m glad as hell to keep the likes of Mark Penn, Terry McAuliffe, Harold Ickes and Lanny Davis the fuck away from the White House. (Ok, technically Penn was fired by the campaign, but if Clinton had won after Super Tuesday, he likely never would have been)

  8. 8
    Deborah says:

    I read it very clearly as a reference to Jong’s age. She not saying it’s the one chance we will ever get for a woman president; she’s saying it’s the last chance she will ever have of seeing a woman president. Hopefully she will be wrong about that, but given her age, as Kevin Moore says at (4), the odds are long for her, personally.

  9. 9
    Tanglethis says:

    I also read it as “last chance [within my lifetime]“. But that doesn’t change the fact that her quote still strikes a chord with me, less than thirty years old, who hopefully will see a female U.S. president someday. Those thousand cuts sting, in part, because so many of the wounds went untended; so much sexism went unredressed that it seems likely that the same weapons would be pulled out on another female presidential hopeful..

    I mean, it’d be awesome to be wrong. But it’s not unreasonable to feel pessismistic about that even while being optimistic about a possibly progressive candidate in the White House.

  10. 10
    bean says:

    Who’s the progressive candidate?

  11. 11
    sylphhead says:

    Between Obama and McCain?

  12. 12
    Dianne says:

    Yes, I think Jong is speaking from her perspective as a woman in her 60s. If she lives to be 90, that gives roughly 30 years for the political process to produce a viable woman candidate for President. It’s possible, but the odds are long.

    Not necessarily. Jong is 66 now. The average life expectancy for a woman is nearly 80 years. She has a good 12 more years of possibilities. Clinton 2016 after 8 years as Obama’s VP. Clinton 2012 if, FSM forbid, Obama loses. Peloski 2016. Surely we can get ourselves up to speed with the rest of the world in the next 10-20 years.

  13. 13
    Ampersand says:

    I have to agree with everyone who said I misread Jong’s piece.

    But I also agree with Dianne. I think it’s very possible that Janet Napolitano — who first became famous to feminists as Anita Hill’s attorney, and is now the Governor of Arizona — could run and win in the next three or four cycles. Governor Sebelius is another woman who could run and win. (There are a couple of possibilities on the Republican side, as well, but I assume that Jong, like me, would prefer a Democrat.)

    Frankly, I’ve been hoping that Napolitano and Sebelious would run since long before this election cycle, so I’m not prepared to write them off.

  14. 14
    Lissette says:

    By far I don’t think Clinton will be the last women we’ll see and I firmly believe that we may see a woman in office before the end of my life, and I plan on living a long time.

    I’ll be voting for Obama as well. I’m a Democrat through and through, and I know this isn’t a popularity contest, it’s about the issues that are being addressed, and I know McCain isn’t doing a good job of addressing them.

  15. 15
    Dianne says:

    There are a couple of possibilities on the Republican side, as well, but I assume that Jong, like me, would prefer a Democrat.

    I would also prefer a Democrat, but historically a Republican is actually more likely. Thatcher and Merkel are both members of the conservative parties of their respective countries (though I’m not sure that Merkel’s particularly more conservative than Schröder). Condi Rice would make an interesting candidate for president if she’d be willing to take on the crap that she’d inevitably get. Not that I’d vote for her over, say, John Edwards, but it’d be an interesting campaign.

    Incidentally, I think that Obama’s victory may actually be more groundbreaking than Clinton’s. I can think of a number of women who are or were recently heads of state (Thatcher, Merkel, Chamorro, Arroyo, Ghandi, etc) but I can only think of a few members of oppressed minority groups who have become heads of government in their countries. The president of Equador (I think) is Incan and Peru had a Japanese descended president at one point, but those are the only two examples I can think of immediately. Anyone else?

  16. 16
    Daran says:

    I can only think of a few members of oppressed minority groups who have become heads of government in their countries. The president of Equador (I think) is Incan and Peru had a Japanese descended president at one point, but those are the only two examples I can think of immediately. Anyone else?

    Gordon Brown and Tony Blair are Scots. David LLoyd George was Welsh. How oppressed the Scots are these days is debatable, but I think the Welsh had a good claim during LLoyd George’s term.

  17. 17
    Kevin Moore says:

    Who’s the progressive candidate?

    The one with the most money, of course!

    ;-)

  18. 18
    Lyonside says:

    >Gordon Brown and Tony Blair are Scots. David LLoyd George was Welsh. How oppressed the Scots are these days is debatable, but I think the Welsh had a good claim during LLoyd George’s term.

    I wonder how much visible minority status plays a part for executive positions or even cabinet-level advisors or heads. Not to minimize oppression within any country, visible or not, of any type, but there is likely an extra “oomph” of effort needed for success when the individual is OBVIOUSLY an ethnic minority, by facial feature, skin color, hair texture or color, etc., and that minority has never been voted for/appointed etc. to that position.

    The same goes for gender, which is (usually) obvious, and people, the voters, the party bosses, etc. make automatic assuptions based on that, whether conscious or subconscious.

  19. 19
    Radfem says:

    The most progressive? That’s easy. Cynthia Mckinney and that’s been true the whole time. As for between Obama and McCain, the answer would be do you consider the Democratic Party as it stands now or the Republican Party as it stands now more progressive? And what would you be basing your vote for either two-party candidate upon?

    As for Barbara Boxer running, that would be great as she’s an awesome senator but she’s a bit too much to the left for her own political party as it stands now. A female presidential nominee from either party will be conservative. Democrat or moderate to conservative Republican. I suspect the latter.

  20. 20
    Kevin Moore says:

    The Chronicle of Higher Education has a good article relevant to this discussion: Inspired by Clinton, Undergraduate Women Discuss Jumping Into Politics.

  21. 21
    Daran says:

    …there is likely an extra “oomph” of effort needed for success when the individual is OBVIOUSLY an ethnic minority, by facial feature, skin color, hair texture or color, etc., and that minority has never been voted for/appointed etc. to that position.

    A Welsh accent is pretty obvious to any Brit, though it possibly may not be others.

    On the subject of female potential political leaders, here‘s some interesting speculation:

    Last night in the lobby, some even dared think whether our Jacqui [Smith – British Home Secretary] might be the next leader that Labour is looking for. Who better, goes the theory, than a straight-talking Midlands mum…

  22. 22
    Dianne says:

    Daran: Thanks. I had no idea about Lloyd George. Actually, apart from the North Irish, I wasn’t aware that there was or ever had been a major problem between the different peoples of Britain, although in retrospect it seems fairly obvious that there would be.

    What do you think of Jacqui Smith as a potential leader of the Labor party? Your description of the news as “interesting” could mean anything from you strongly approve to you are absolutely appalled.

  23. 23
    Daran says:

    What do you think of Jacqui Smith as a potential leader of the Labor party?

    I don’t like any of them.

    Why this has come up is that Parliament has just voted to extend the period for which terrorist suspects can be held without charge to 42 days*. This despite the fact that there’s no evidence that such a period is needed or even really wanted by the security services and in any case, the only terrorist threat of any significance facing the country has been created and continues to be created by its involvement in the war on Iraq.

    Policing and home security are her department. “It wasn’t my idea” isn’t a particularly impressive defence, in my opinion.

    I will continue my practice of the past five years of voting in elections based on the one issue that matters more than any other – against the war in Iraq. This of course is the height of slactivism since it involves me voting for parties I would be voting for anyway, which is usually either the Liberal Democrats or the Greens.

  24. 24
    BananaDanna says:

    “I can think of a number of women who are or were recently heads of state (Thatcher, Merkel, Chamorro, Arroyo, Ghandi, etc) but I can only think of a few members of oppressed minority groups who have become heads of government in their countries. The president of Equador (I think) is Incan and Peru had a Japanese descended president at one point, but those are the only two examples I can think of immediately. Anyone else?”

    http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9354267/Kocheril-Raman-Narayanan

    http://www.notablebiographies.com/Jo-Ki/Ju-rez-Benito.html

  25. 25
    Gayle says:

    “But I also agree with Dianne. I think it’s very possible that Janet Napolitano — who first became famous to feminists as Anita Hill’s attorney, and is now the Governor of Arizona — could run and win in the next three or four cycles.”

    I’m going to go ahead and say you’re wrong. Napolitano? No, she won’t win the Presidency. I’m more than twenty years younger then Jong and I think she’s right. Perhaps Clinton could get the nom in 2012, but only if Obama loses in 2008. I’m not holding my breath for a woman Presidential nominee in my lifetime. Considering this past primary, it’s obvious a woman has to be “perfect” to win. Unfortunately, there are no perfect people.

  26. 26
    Ampersand says:

    Clinton wouldn’t have had to be “perfect” to have won this year — she just would have had to be a few percentage points better than she was.

    As I said in the post, if she had just had a better stratigist than Mark Penn running her campaign, she probably would have won — Penn really was awful. Or, if she hadn’t gone against nearly the entire Democratic base on Iraq.

    If either of those things had been the case, she still would have been far from perfect, but she probably would have won the nomination. As it was, she came within a whisker of winning. I really don’t think it makes sense to conclude from Clinton’s campaign that a woman would have to be perfect to win the nomination.