First Ladies

So Clinton has won the nomination, as everyone knew she would. If I could vote in US elections I would (of course) vote for her over the horror show that is Trump.

But still, I’m sad that Sanders, the candidate I would’ve supported based on his policies rather than his symbolism, won’t be on the ballot. Particularly as I think he would be the safer guard against Trump, as well as a more progressive President.

I’m one of the people who resents the idea that I ought to be excited by Hillary Clinton, on the basis of the fact she’ll be the first female president (although not the first female presidential candidate). But then I come from the UK, where we have the cautionary tale of Margaret Thatcher to prove that a female politician does not automatically mean a feminist politician.

Actually, I’ve sometimes thought the most radically feminist aspect of Margaret Thatcher’s legacy is that she’s hated and reviled for her despicable politics, not for her gender. True progress, perhaps, is being hated for what you do, not what you are. But the flip side of that is that you also have to be valued for what you do, not what you are.

Certainly if we are comparing Thatcher and Clinton as symbols of progress, the Milk Snatcher‘s path to power is much more impressive, and not just because she blazed the trail several decades earlier. Thatcher came from a decidedly lower-middle class background and was working as a research chemist when she first got into politics. Clinton got into politics via being someone’s wife.

On a certain level it doesn’t really matter how qualified Hillary Clinton might be for the job: she represents the same dynastical approach to politics as the Bush’s. There’s a dose of cynicism involved in going along with the idea that, despite the US having 323,731,638 citizens and counting, we can only find suitable candidates for President among the families of those who already hold power. Whatever way you spin it, it’s not a good look for a democracy.

Thatcher leaves us another note of caution: the UK might have voted in its first female Prime Minister back in 1979, but it hasn’t had another one since. It would be laughable to consider the UK to be a pioneer for women’s rights and equality. One individual managing to break her way through the glass ceiling means very little, if she doesn’t take advantage of her power to dismantle the broader systems of inequality that keep other women (and particularly poor women and women of color) from following her up.

But let’s be optimistic. Let’s hope, if/when she is elected, Clinton will draw on the example of another woman pitted against a right-wing candidate in a country with deeply divided politics and huge gender inequality: Michelle Bachelet, the phenomenally popular president (two times over) of Chile. (And incidentally, a politician who got her job without the help of a spouse of any kind.)

 

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