I understand Hillary. I understand her because I am a woman who has listened to the intimate stories of thousands of women all over the world. I understand her because I am almost fifteen years her senior and have lived through the same social, political and cultural phases of our society with a little more of a perspective on the changes that were occurring during those years of great change for the women of this culture and this planet.
I remember before I entered high school, I met a strong, brilliant woman who had earned a Ph.D. in chemistry in the 1930’s!!! Her advice to me was never to take typing. She said, “If you are a woman, even if you have a Ph.D., when you are applying for a job, the first question you will be asked is ‘Can you type?’ And you will end up typing the rest of your life.”
I believed her and never took typing. In college, either I wrote my papers by hand or my boyfriends typed them. I still write everything, even my books, by hand on yellow tablets and I have a male manager who types them. Writing by hand is much more intimate for me.
I sat and listed as Maggie Kuhn, one of the founders of the Grey Panthers, spoke of her experiences of working in and for the church her whole life. Maggie was amazing. She was small and petite. With her carefully coifed hair pulled back from her face and her long-sleeved, very feminine high-collared dresses, she looked like the carefully carved cameo that she wore at her neck. Always, the soft, gentle words that came out of her mouth were revolutionary.
With tears streaming down her face, I sat and listened as she talked about her many years of working in the church. She said that, early on, she had realized that she had two choices with presenting her ideas. If her ego got in the way and she needed or wanted to get credit for her ideas, she would put them out herself and watch them lay there on the table and shrivel and die.
If she wanted them to be heard and implemented, she would give them to a man (usually without his awareness), he would present them as his own and they would be received with enthusiasm. We all sat, held hands and cried together as women who “understood.”
I remember when the head of the Illinois Department of Mental Health asked me to come to Alton State Mental Hospital and start a Youth Center for treating adolescent youth. I lived in St. Louis at the time. I accepted the offer with enthusiasm. There were two women and a large number of men that comprised the executive staff. The other woman was the head of nursing. She had learned “how to behave” and was passive. I hadn’t.
Soon, I noticed that in that room full of men, I was invisible! When we discussed problems and solutions for the whole hospital, and I offered what was obviously a brilliant possibility, NO ONE HEARD ME! Literally, no one heard me. Then, a few minutes later, one of the male members of the staff put forth the same idea and it was received as a gift-from-heaven brilliant. I began to feel crazy and that there was something wrong with me.
I heard stories like this from thousands of women throughout the world. These experiences were not about me. They were about the system.
Once, in the 1970’s, I said to a black man leader, “Look, we are fighting the same discriminatory/repressive system – why don’t we get together?”
He physically recoiled and stepped back as he incredulously said: “Are you kidding?! I don’t want to be down there with YOU. I want to be up there with HIM!”
I was filled with hurt and sadness.
In my first book, Women’s Reality, I discussed a belief I had observed that was unconscious by both women and men in the culture. I called it, “The Original Sin of Being Born Female.” That belief that we were all “taught” goes like this – Women are born “tainted” (because we are not men) and the only way that they can be “redeemed” is to attach themselves to a male and get male validation and approval.
That myth/belief has held sway for centuries and was buried deep in the unconscious of both women and men. Since it is/was unconscious and so universal, it has been very difficult to break. When there is conflict or disagreement, the first place women have gone inside themselves is “what’s wrong with me? What did I do?”
We second wave feminists processed long and hard about being “the only revolution where the outpost of the enemy is in our own head.” We women have worked for over 35 years to free our daughters, sons, and the culture form these archaic ideas and it has not been an easy struggle.
Just as so many blacks had to purge the cultural beliefs of inferiority that they had incorporated into their beings, women had to purge the original sin of being female. Clearly, there are many in the culture who have not done their work. And, there are those who have.
Hillary and I have lived through these phases and purgings. I know for myself, there were many times when I needed to be surrounded by those women I could trust to help me rid myself of my cultural conditioning and learn to trust myself.
When I was becoming very “popular” and successful in the dominant culture, I could see myself becoming “contaminated” against my will and withdrew from the public eye for almost 20 years in order to cleanse and stabilize myself. Hillary has not had that luxury. She stayed in the fray.
It is difficult to stay clear when surrounded by insanity and much of our culture behaves insanely. I compare it to an active addict, desperately needing recovery.
Given all the above, of course Hillary has had to “protect” herself to keep working on what she believes. She has had to shovel garbage at the dump while trying to maintain her fondest hopes and ideals and, of course, she gets garbage on her. Who wouldn’t?
And it is because of people like the woman Ph.D. in chemistry, Maggie Kuhn, myself, Hillary and all of us, that the “millennials” do not have to shovel as much garbage to KNOW that they are strong women and the young men have learned to respect those strong women, which, in turn, will make them more compassionate. Both need to recognize that the freedoms they have now – of men being able to be stay-at-home dad’s or work part time and be good honorable men, or the women can be CEO’s of major corporations or stay-at-home mom’s are because of all the work that oppressed people have done to demand freedom.
This freedom is why this country was formed. We have bumbled along quite badly, at times, and the important thing is to keep bumbling along.
Hillary is not perfect. She is a product of a woman trying to do important things during a difficult time for women. She needs to be accepted, recognized and applauded for her struggle as a human being and a woman, and those who have benefitted from what all of us have done in the past should turn out in droves to vote for her. If it were not for her and others like her, the millennials would not have the opportunities we have today.
Gratitude for what we have and what we don’t have is always such an appropriate response . . . don’t you think?
2 thoughts on “Understanding Hillary”
I love you and your mind!…and, I love Hillary too. Long have I realized the shoulders of women I have stood upon. Thanks!
Thanks Leslie – We have to stick together. AWS