This is my grandma. She was born in 1918, 2 years before women finally earned the right to vote in the United States. My grandma has lived an incredible life. Born in an era when underinvestment in women’s educational opportunities was the norm, my grandma was the first in her family to go to college. That she even went to college was no small miracle. She was a poor kid from New York in a vocational high school when a teacher recognized her potential and encouraged her to go to college. My grandma would have like to go to City College, a.k.a. “The Poor Man’s Harvard.” But, in those days, City College only admitted women to the evening programs, so she went to NYU instead. She paid her tuition by working full time, through scholarships, and through a federal aid program that paid $15 a month. Grandma studied accounting, became a teacher and an administrator, endured no shortage of gender discrimination and disrespect along the way, and raised a family. Oh, and she was the main breadwinner, highly unusual at the time.
This is my mother. My mom was born in 1945. Educational opportunities were more open to her. My grandma helped send her to Barnard over my grandfather’s wishes to send her to a more affordable public college. My mom’s educational path was long and circuitous. She earned herself a PhD in French literature before realizing that the job opportunities were hopeless in academia. So, she went back to school and earned an MBA at Columbia Business School, where, with a lot of hard work, she managed to graduate first in her class. In spite of her considerable academic achievements, success in school is no guarantee of success in the corporate world and her career progress eventually stalled. My mom was also the main breadwinner for our family. She managed to hold down a full time corporate job AND get home by 6 every day to put dinner on the table. This was long before the days of flexible work schedules.
My mother and grandmother came up in very different eras but both of them have been profoundly affected by the accident of their gender. What could my grandma have accomplished had City College welcomed women with open arms? How far would my mom have risen up the corporate ladder had she been born a man? Would her time hitting the books in business school have been better spent socializing at clubs or on the golf course — places that were not necessarily open to her? Probably.
I see a bit of my mom and grandma in Hillary Clinton’s run for President of the United States. Her work ethic, her refusal to sit down and shut up, her bitchiness. In 1992, responding to a question about her career as a fast-rising lawyer and children’s rights activist, Hillary caused a minor furor when she told a reporter, “I suppose I could have stayed home, baked cookies and had teas.” Republicans went nuts. This was only half her comment; the other half was about how her career was all about fighting to give women the choice of whether to work or stay home, but in a modern news media that is completely devoid of nuance, her comments were widely interpreted as disparaging stay at home moms. The funny thing is, I can totally see my mom or grandma making that same comment. As the main breadwinners for their respective families, they had no choice but to have careers, and they were proud of it. Each of them took advantage of the educational opportunities afforded to them and in their own ways, they advanced the role of women in the workforce.
Hillary is up against the most pathological prolific liar in maybe all modern history — 70% of Donald Trump’s statements are rated by Politifact as mostly false, false, or pants on fire false — yet somehow SHE gets branded as being less trustworthy!
I can understand why some people don’t like Hillary. After four decades in the public eye, it’s inevitable to gain some detractors. At times, she has been maddeningly evasive and has made public statements that have later been found to be untrue. What I can’t understand, though, is the visceral reaction that so many people have to her. People dislike her because she changes positions when it becomes politically expedient. So do a lot of politicians. She lies! Again, that’s not unique among her profession. It’s incredible that Hillary is up against the most pathological prolific liar in maybe all modern history — 70% of Donald Trump’s statements are rated by Politifact as mostly false, false, or pants on fire false — yet somehow SHE gets branded as being less trustworthy!
I think there’s something else going on to explain the double-standards and all the Hillary bashing. I think it’s because she’s a woman. What else could it be? I know because I have felt it in myself. I have found that I am much more critical toward Hillary for slight transgressions than I am toward Obama for much greater offenses. This realization has caused me to think deeply on my own biases.
Hillary always seems very careful with how she talks in public. She speaks with the practiced caution of a politician who has been in the game for 40 years. Unfortunately, it makes her seem closed and inauthentic. By contrast, Donald seems to lack a prefrontal cortex and will say anything that pops into his head. Even if it’s an unstrategic, easily disproven lie, it makes no difference to him; he’ll say it. Some people like him because he shoots from the hip, even if it’s all lies and he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. In a strange way, Trump comes across as authentically inauthentic.
One thing that has always impressed me about Hillary from the time that I worked in the Senate was her dedication, professionalism, and careful preparation. I saw this firsthand when her staff on the Environment and Public Works Committee prepped her for hearings. When she showed up, it was obvious that she had done her homework. I contrast her style and substance to the say anything, fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants, woefully unprepared Trump. He doesn’t sweat the details or ever prepare, and why should he? It’s taken him this far.
I think about my mother. I try to imagine what it was like for her back in business school. I imagine her staying up late, studying for a test while her C-suite bound male counterparts were out partying. She may have gotten the grades but they were the big winners. I think about my grandma, the first in her family to go to college, born 2 years before women earned the right to vote. How she sacrificed by teaching night school in addition to her full time day job to send her kids to college. I’m blown away by how much has changed in her lifetime (and by how much has stayed the same). Then I think about the way Hillary carries herself — cautious, precise, sweats the details, and cares a lot — and I’m reminded of my mom and grandma. Thinking about these two women that I love, it’s impossible for me not to put their life experiences in the context of this year’s election. Will we once again reward the spoiled goof offs who talk a good game but never prepare and never seem to learn as they take us from one failure to the next? Or, will we finally reward hard work, careful preparation, and unflashy competence, as only Hillary Clinton is positioned to give us? I sincerely hope so.