What Clinton Can Do Now: Give the Gender Speech

Anna Holmes of Jezebel is spot-on. I have some trouble with the last line — has Clinton really not been making noise her whole life? — and the idea that we construct our own glass ceilings, but it would be nice to see Clinton seize this opportunity to continue to inspire women around the world. And it’s a damn shame that the country simply would not have been receptive to a “gender speech” from a prominent female candidate. But, while it’s too late to make such a speech as a candidate, Clinton can still start that conversation — perhaps more effectively now that the white-hot limelight isn’t bearing down on her.

UPDATE: I agree with Donna in the comments:

I disagree with the part about when and where she should do it. Few will be watching or listening after she concedes and at some college somewhere. It might garner a little sound byte in the evening news. Right before she concedes on the other hand, like last night, or within the next week or so? Everyone would have been/will be listening. I would hope that as part of the speech she would add that for the most part Obama and his campaign have not engaged in sexist or misogynist rhetoric, this does not mean unaffiliated supporters and Obama voters have not, but that it was not in any way to be construed as a conscientious campaign tactic endorsed by Obama. That instead it is entrenched in our American culture. I’d also like to see her say something along the lines of, “There are those who hate women, but there are also those who patronize women, they don’t hate us, but think we are less able, less intelligent, weaker, less than equal. It is this attitude amongst those who call themselves liberal, or progressive, or Democrats, that has infuriated Democratic women all across America during this campaign. We must eradicate these beliefs among our ranks in order to live up to the ideals of the Democratic Party.”

This is exactly what most of us WOC have been saying in so many ways to our white liberal counterparts, that we are being patronized, and that those who call themselves progressives and Democrats do not hate people of color, but they do see us as less than equal.

Read her whole comment here.

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Jill has been blogging for Feministe since 2005.
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32 Responses

  1. Kirsten
    Kirsten June 3, 2008 at 11:21 pm |

    I am sorry, but what else do you guys want? Senator Clinton has given everything to achieve what most consider one of the highest goals in the land–nearly becoming a nomine for president of the United States. She actually recieved more votes than the winner–and yet you think she still has something to prove. She has shown amazing stregth, courage, and fortitude to come out fighting every day against all the shit that would tear most women down in a heartbeat–myself included. She deserves praise, not more “what ifs’ and “if onlys”. She is already a hero to many. The glass ceiling may still exist, but it is not there for her lack of trying to shatter it.

  2. Nicholas
    Nicholas June 3, 2008 at 11:49 pm |

    I think such a speech by Senator Clinton would be quite helpful. In many ways, this nomination process has helped me see a clearer picture of America’s views (and added to my own self-awareness of where I stand) when it comes to racism and sexism as they both reared their ugly heads against one another. And it’s important to note that among progressives, there are feminists who have made terribly careless statements of veiled and not-so-veiled racism, and many others who resorted to making gender related derogatory remarks. Apparently, even among progressives, human nature leads us to the lowest common denominator still. And as I sit here now that this process is (presumably) over, I realize that it’s not a problem of right v. left where bigotry in both its racist and sexist forms exists, it’s within human nature. And I have always been taught that more speech is better, so hopefully Senator Clinton can use her spotlight to start such a conversation, because we’d be better off acknowledging the historical truths of women’s side of the story in an open public forum.

    But I’d be surprised if it happened unless someone showed her a poll in support for such a speech first.

  3. SarahMC
    SarahMC June 3, 2008 at 11:57 pm |

    I’d really rather she not make the gender speech, as it won’t make an ounce of difference. Those of us who recognize and denounce the misogyny that’s been hurled at Clinton already recognize it. Those who don’t, don’t want to, and hearing about it from Clinton herself will only make their hate swell.

  4. Lilly
    Lilly June 4, 2008 at 12:04 am |

    If I were in Sen. Clinton’s heels I’d kick ‘em off, tie up my hair, and go down with fists. Why dot play the gender card? At this point, with the media, as well as the ever-so-hungry U.S. audience, frowning down on her best efforts, why the hell not?!

    In the public sphere, everyone is pretending this election is not about gender or race or the possible climb of the minority faction in the U.S. I say, let’s be blunt and bold and stick it to the conservative right wing. Maybe it is time for Sen. Clinton to stop being nice and to stop being a “lady.” I don’t think Jill is at all in the wrong for suggesting Sen. Clinton go out with a bang. Poet, Mary Oliver wished in her poem “When Death Comes” to be “a bride married to amazement,” wanting more than “to end up simply having visited this world.” Wouldn’t it be great for Sen. Clinton to do just that; to do more than just run for the presidency, but to amaze even herself!

    I say, push, push, push. Feminists already have a bad rep, why not give ‘em what they ask for.

  5. J
    J June 4, 2008 at 12:14 am |

    I really like this op-ed. SarahMC, I think Holmes makes a good point when she says,

    But at this point, keeping track of every tone-deaf criticism matters less than delivering an active, impassioned response.

    Just as Obama’s speech about race wasn’t about “trotting out a laundry list of affrotns,” it’s about speaking openly and honestly about how far she (and we) have come, and how much further we still need to go. I especially like tihs passage:

    Addressing as broad an audience as possible is key, because as much as Senator Clinton serves as a symbol of the quintessential career woman, she has been preaching mainly to a choir of like-minded baby boomers, most of whom have markedly different experiences and interpretations of the world than their younger, poorer or darker-skinned sisters. The gender discrimination experienced by a first lady and the first viable female presidential candidate (or even, say, a corporation’s first female executive) is not the same as the gender discrimination experienced by a single mother in Wichita or a high school student in Watts.

    Hearing a speech like this certainly wouldn’t fill with me hatred, quite to the contrary, I think it would be incredibly inspiring.

  6. urbanartiste
    urbanartiste June 4, 2008 at 12:26 am |

    I think it falls on Barack Obama’s shoulders to make a great speech about gender. Maybe it will garner him some of the so-called bitter women Hillary voters. Her strength to stay in the race and keep winning states did more to empower women than any speech on gender. I am waiting to watch how the media is going to demonize Hillary for not conceding and bring the party together and in the next few months demonize Hillary women voters for not voting for Obama.

  7. Britta
    Britta June 4, 2008 at 2:04 am |

    I would be immensely proud of Hillary if she’d make a “gender speech.”
    I am puzzled though, comments like, “America’s not ready for a gender speech.” America wasn’t ready for a race speech, until Obama gave one. Race and gender are hot-button topics that our country isn’t *ever* ready to take on honestly, until one person stands up, sticks her or his neck out, and makes a go at it. It’s kind of like jumping into the deep end of an icy lake: staring at the water never gets you prepared, you just have to dive in.

    I really liked the op-ed, but I have one minor quibble. I don’t like how she referred to not getting the presidency as not breaking the glass ceiling. To me, the glass ceiling implies a barrier women can’t break through because they’re women, like when a woman is passed over for promotion for a less qualified man solely because of her gender. To compare the presidency–an honor bestowed on a tiny fraction of people–to a job Clinton didn’t get because she was a woman implies she lost out on the nomination solely because of sexism. Hillary lost a close campaign to the most talented politician in a generation. But she *also* beat out multiple white males, including Edwards. To write the results off as due to just sexism (which I don’t think the author was doing, at all), cheapens the race and Obama’s strength as a candidate.

    But that aside, I agree with pretty much everything else, especially the bit on uniting second and third wave feminists. As a third waver from a fairly privileged background, I have been taught that the world is my oyster. No course of study, no interest, no career, has ever been called off limits because I’m a woman. As the big things in life are achievable, I’ve learned not to sweat the small stuff, because I feel empowered. I’ve been called a bitch, a feminazi, and worse, but I’m able to let it roll off my back because those words don’t really have the ability to affect my life. As my generation faces less blatant sexism in daily life, we should be able to be more aware of other isms that often intersect with gender as well: racism, classism, ableism, etc. in a way a lot of 2nd wavers, so focussed on their own oppression, weren’t.

    Yet at the same time, we still face subtle barriers to equality. Just instead of being based explicitly on gender, they’re based on “personal decisions” like “putting family before work.” I think that to make our country more feminist, we need to make it more people friendly: shorter work weeks, universal healthcare, child and elder care, better educational system, etc. Because frankly, we live in a country that is hostile to those who aren’t billionaires, and women, especially poor women, bear the brunt of that hostility. So as a third waver, the way forward is not to fight specifically for “women’s rights” but to try for structural changes that will improve all lives, but especially women’s ones. (Of course, reproductive freedom is one of those structural rights we need to fight for.)

    If Hillary would talk about these issues in her gender speech, I would be the first in line for the Hillary in ’16 campaign. After all, she’ll be younger than McCain is now!

  8. Matthew
    Matthew June 4, 2008 at 2:33 am |

    Very good acceptance speech by nominee Obama. Did you hear it?
    See also:
    http://elizabitch-ez.blogspot.com/

  9. Ben Griffin
    Ben Griffin June 4, 2008 at 3:35 am |

    Has the gulf between them become too wide for her to run as VP?

    It’s hard to tell from Australia, but the general feeling that comes across from far away is that: it would’ve been great, but probably not on the cards anymore.

    I guess the next few days will give us an answer …

  10. Ben Griffin
    Ben Griffin June 4, 2008 at 3:44 am |

    Nancy Pelosi for VP?

  11. RyanRutley
    RyanRutley June 4, 2008 at 5:18 am |

    Once Clinton has cooled off from the race, and unless she ends up in the Obama administration, she might have it in her to do for gender what Gore did for the environment.

  12. D.N. Nation
    D.N. Nation June 4, 2008 at 9:28 am |

    She actually recieved more votes than the winner

    No. Repeating a lie doesn’t make it true.

  13. Kirsten
    Kirsten June 4, 2008 at 11:14 am |

    Popular Vote (w/MI) 17,535,335 47.4% 17,821,967 48.1% Clinton +286,632 +0.8%

    Estimate w/IA, NV, ME, WA* 17,869,419 47.4% 18,045,829 47.9% Clinton +176,410 +0.5%

  14. Donna
    Donna June 4, 2008 at 11:47 am |

    I disagree with the part about when and where she should do it. Few will be watching or listening after she concedes and at some college somewhere. It might garner a little sound byte in the evening news. Right before she concedes on the other hand, like last night, or within the next week or so? Everyone would have been/will be listening. I would hope that as part of the speech she would add that for the most part Obama and his campaign have not engaged in sexist or misogynist rhetoric, this does not mean unaffiliated supporters and Obama voters have not, but that it was not in any way to be construed as a conscientious campaign tactic endorsed by Obama. That instead it is entrenched in our American culture. I’d also like to see her say something along the lines of, “There are those who hate women, but there are also those who patronize women, they don’t hate us, but think we are less able, less intelligent, weaker, less than equal. It is this attitude amongst those who call themselves liberal, or progressive, or Democrats, that has infuriated Democratic women all across America during this campaign. We must eradicate these beliefs among our ranks in order to live up to the ideals of the Democratic Party.”

    This is exactly what most of us WOC have been saying in so many ways to our white liberal counterparts, that we are being patronized, and that those who call themselves progressives and Democrats do not hate people of color, but they do see us as less than equal. That’s why I had to have a bitter laugh over those feminist Clinton supporters online who are angry that the Democratic Party and Obama’s campaign won’t do more to call out the blatant sexism….since it’s exactly what white feminists do to us all the time. White feminists have a tendency to call out racism only when there is something to gain or nothing to lose, but will put on the blinders, shove their hands over their ears, and go, “la la la la la…I can’t hear you!” if the racism is coming from another liberal, especially if it is a friend or someone more powerful who might, heaven forbid, delink. I come here because Feministe isn’t like that, but far too many are cowards but expect others to be courageous for them and their needs.

    My very first post at my blog addresses this and the reason it is called, The Silence of Our Friends.

  15. dr.steveb
    dr.steveb June 4, 2008 at 11:48 am |

    1a. Obama could/should pick a woman, but not Hillary Clinton. Several good choices from swing state senate and governors.

    1b. He must NOT pick a misogynist anti-female male such as Jim Webb, or others who are anti-choice. That will give women excuse to stay home or even vote for McCain, especially if McCain selects a woman (even if that woman is anti-choice).

    2. Very scary for Democrats if McCain picks a woman. That is the only McCain VP choice that makes a difference. It could actually swing some of the supposedly outraged Clintonista white women to McCain, despite his and his party’s immensely anti-female personality and policies (anti-choice, anti-equal pay, misogynist horndog (called wife c*&t, cheated multiple time on fist wife, etc.) militarism, supreme court choices, etc).

    3. Some argue that Clinton believes that Obama cannot win and is positioning herself for 2012. Let us be clear: If Obama loses (with Clinton having already undercut him), there is no way she get the nomination in 2012. There will be new people running, including new women, and Clinton (both of them) will be remembered as having destroyed the Democratic party and the country.

  16. Justin K.
    Justin K. June 4, 2008 at 11:51 am |

    Please, Kirsten, enough with the bullshit claims that Hillary won the popular vote. That’s only true if you exclude caucus states and pretend that the overwhelming majority people who voted “uncommitted” in MI didn’t want Obama. Obama’s strategy was to rack up more delegates, which is what this process is all about under the rules (which the Clinton campaign supported until they became incovenient) and won more of obth those and the popular vote.

    The Clinton campaign’s Calvinball with the rules of the primary and constant insults to voter intelligence have been one of the most wearying things about this contest. Obama won fair and square, and has been making conciliatory gestures to Clinton for weeks now. Hillary needs to start doing her part to unite the party and beat McCain.

    And yes, there has been some ridiculous misogyny thrown around during this campaign but that’s not what lost this race for Hillary. One thing did:

    She voted for the war.

    She, and a great many other Dems, failed the biggest political test of our time. If she had not endorsed the Iraq War, Obama probably wouldn’t have run and she’d be the nominee right now.

  17. D.N. Nation
    D.N. Nation June 4, 2008 at 12:19 pm |

    Popular Vote (w/MI)

    And you don’t see the problem here?

  18. D.N. Nation
    D.N. Nation June 4, 2008 at 12:21 pm |

    He must NOT pick a misogynist anti-female male such as Jim Webb, or others who are anti-choice. That will give women excuse to stay home or even vote for McCain

    And you don’t see the problem here?

  19. Lala
    Lala June 4, 2008 at 1:12 pm |

    Please god, no gender speech.

  20. tenacitus
    tenacitus June 4, 2008 at 2:16 pm |

    I really like the idea of a gender speech. It would be unbelievably presumptuous of Obama to give it.

  21. Kai
    Kai June 4, 2008 at 2:50 pm |

    Hillary Clinton spent 8 years in the White House and only delivered one major speech on feminism — in Beijing.

    I look forward to a momentous speech on sexism and misogyny — and what those words mean in combination with racism — from Michelle Obama. In the Rose Garden.

  22. shah8
    shah8 June 4, 2008 at 2:51 pm |

    Since omg, I’m addicted to commenting here for the moment…

    J, I very much appreciate the blockquote you did from Holmes, because that’s almost all of what I was trying (or intended to) to impart in the whole H. Clinton’s a big girl sentiment I have. Don’t sweat the small, endemic sexism–go after the big stuff, the structural stuff.

    Now, allow me a good faith comment in the following:
    Saying that Clinton should give a gender speech like Obama’s race speech reflects acausual thinking, and is also derivative in a way that would overshadow anything she had to say.

    When one thinks about that race speech, one must remember that Obama’s campaign was *threatened* by a (former) friend’s video clips. These clips showed that friend being angry over injustice and to a certain extent, paranoia. What Obama did was take that person’s speech and place it in the context of American History and American Dreams. Then he offered *himself* as a kind of self-evident place-marker that things will get better and that America will at long last redeem its promise.

    There is a whole past, people, the contested present, and the suggestion of what the future holds in that entire play of events.

    A gender speech all out of disjointed context just isn’t going to have any power. Think about this also…Clinton did not have some angry friend talking about personal losses and historical remembrances of sexism. Clinton does not even have radical feminists aquaintances who does the dworkin. It does make me wonder. Anyways, there isn’t any heat of the battle to give it heightened reward, because she never risked it when it would truly matter, as Obama did.

    The Clinton speech that *would* do her wonders would be the speech that denounces Geraldine Ferraro, and that takes *some* sort of responsibility of her own attempts at *taking advantage of other people’s racism*. I don’t expect that one.

    And incertus, it’s such a great thing that your opinion wouldn’t matter. It would be great if Obama had some sort of self reflective speech about gender and roles. And it does seem like he would generally be open to the idea if he had an awareness of what to say.

  23. Radfem
    Radfem June 4, 2008 at 3:42 pm |

    Considering how dismissive Clinton has been to many women who aren’t voting for her, I’m not sure she’s the best equipped to give a gender speech.

    Borrowing from Donna, here’s a gender speech right here from her excellent comments. But I don’t think Hillary is going to say it. It would be nice though.

    “There are those who hate women, but there are also those who patronize women, they don’t hate us, but think we are less able, less intelligent, weaker, less than equal. It is this attitude amongst those who call themselves liberal, or progressive, or Democrats, that has infuriated Democratic women all across America during this campaign. We must eradicate these beliefs among our ranks in order to live up to the ideals of the Democratic Party.”

  24. Jeff
    Jeff June 4, 2008 at 8:51 pm |

    I love the idea of Michelle Obama giving the “gender speech”. Considering how many WOC talk about how they feel cut off from “feminism”, a WOC addressing that issue, along with the sexism that pervades our society sounds like a win-win to me (but I’m a pasty-ass guy, so I could be mistaken).

    I really don’t see Clinton making the “gender speech”. To many (me included), it would reek of yet more entitlement — the “I only lost because of sexism”I doubt she would give the thoughtful, reflective speech that is the analog of Obama’s.

  25. magistra
    magistra June 5, 2008 at 12:30 pm |

    I think this discussion misses what it was about Obama’s speech that make the impact. That was an attempt to listen to what ordinary white people felt and sympathise with them, and not just explain to them what black people felt. Clinton making a speech about the pervasiveness of sexism wouldn’t be a new gender speech, but the same old gender speech, and it would be taken by many men as men-bashing.

    If Clinton wanted to make a gender speech she should have thrown Gloria Steinem under the bus when she started going on about women being more oppressed than blacks. Clinton should have pointed out that it wasn’t a contest about who had suffered most and that what she wanted was equality for all. And she should also have tried to reach out to the many men whose response when feminists complain about male power is, ‘well I don’t have any power either’. Feminists need to link the oppression of women to the general exploitativeness of the US system in this way if they’re going to build a wider coalition.

    But I don’t think Clinton can get beyond Gloria Steinem’s second-generation feminism, unlike Obama getting beyond Jeremiah Wright’s sixties view of race. I don’t know if there are female US politicians who can.

  26. Persia
    Persia June 5, 2008 at 2:29 pm |

    shah8, until and unless Ferraro shuts up, I think there is an opening for Hillary to make an Obama-esque speech. “I understand my friend’s frustration, and here’s why, and here’s why blaming race is not the answer.” I don’t know if she will do it. One of the reasons, in the end, I couldn’t vote for her was my conviction that she wouldn’t address sexism and the challenges of being a female candidate in a substantial way (as Obama did with race).

  27. tinfoil hattie
    tinfoil hattie June 5, 2008 at 10:11 pm |

    But I don’t think Clinton can get beyond Gloria Steinem’s second-generation feminism, unlike Obama getting beyond Jeremiah Wright’s sixties view of race. I don’t know if there are female US politicians who can

    Oh, please. Spare me.

  28. Jennifer
    Jennifer June 6, 2008 at 5:03 am |

    Dear God, NOOOOOOOO! We have heard about her being a female and the first female president since this whole thing started! Can’t she get off that crutch for one night!?

  29. magistra
    magistra June 6, 2008 at 6:45 am |

    Tinfoil Hattie,

    I asked about US female politicians from a position of interest, but limited knowledge (I’m British). So as a direct question: Who do you (or other readers of this blog) think are the American female politicians who deal with sexism in the same gracious but effective way that Obama has dealt with racism in the campaign? And are there feminist politicians who would be prepared to say to Gloria Steinem that things have changed from the 1960s (thanks to the efforts of activists like her) and that therefore feminist politicis needs a different rhetoric and aims from then (which is basically what Obama was saying about Jeremiah Wright)?

  30. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl June 6, 2008 at 11:43 am |

    Dear God, NOOOOOOOO! We have heard about her being a female and the first female president since this whole thing started! Can’t she get off that crutch for one night!?

    Crutch? And you post this on a feminist site?

    *blink*

  31. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl June 6, 2008 at 11:46 am |

    Who do you (or other readers of this blog) think are the American female politicians who deal with sexism in the same gracious but effective way that Obama has dealt with racism in the campaign?

    Every single woman holding office in the US, for starters. Clinton, especially.

    Clinton doesn’t owe anyone a speech. That’s a ridiculous demand. Obaman, however, does.

  32. Q Grrl
    Q Grrl June 6, 2008 at 11:46 am |

    Who do you (or other readers of this blog) think are the American female politicians who deal with sexism in the same gracious but effective way that Obama has dealt with racism in the campaign?

    Every single woman holding office in the US, for starters. Clinton, especially.

    Clinton doesn’t owe anyone a speech. That’s a ridiculous demand. Obama, however, does.

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