Back in the 2008 primary season, I supported Hillary Clinton. That choice wasn’t easy for me, especially as Barack Obama advanced and became ever more compelling as a candidate. I felt spoiled as the year progressed: two great, revolutionary candidates; I’d be happy with either.
And yet, until she conceded defeat, I stuck with Hillary for the simple reason that she is a woman. I did it for my newly dead mother, who would have loved to see the day when a woman became POTUS. My mother, who was 21 years old when Roe v. Wade passed, and to whom the name Gloria Steinem was akin to, like, Beyoncé now. This is how I was raised: to vote for women if viable, rational women were on the ticket. Always.
I get that a lot of people — including many extremely intelligent women — think this is a very dumb way to choose a candidate to support. It is on some level extremely radical to say: “I will vote for her because of her gender.” Anytime you suggest that one thing — gender or race, especially — trumps all else in your voting book, people will be very annoyed. Those who disagree with this strategy often default to worst-case scenarios: “So you’d vote for Sarah Palin simply because she is a woman?” To that I’d say: “Of course not; stop being difficult to make a point.” Of course the candidate needs to share my values. But given two candidates of roughly the same values — one a man and one a woman — I think it is perfectly rational to choose the woman because she is a woman. Always.
But when Hillary conceded to Obama, it was hard to feel bad about her loss, because Obama was a revolutionary candidate — in so many ways a more exciting and even better candidate than she had been. I was, as a woman, disappointed, but only slightly. But I have supported losing primary candidates in the past, and I am a good solid Democrat. You have your moment to sniffle, you pick yourself back up, and you put all your eggs in the winner’s basket. In 2008, that was an easy task: I had never seen a better candidate than Obama in my lifetime.
It’s been almost a decade since Clinton’s primary defeat, two years of which I’ve been a mother. And in that time, I got used to the astonishing reality of Barack Obama’s presidency, and the idea of a female president somehow became for me a case of “of course she’ll get the nomination in 2016! She’s Hillary Clinton!” I forgot how hard that reality would be to bring to fruition, and I forgot that I vote for women. Always. I took for granted some sense of equality. The world has changed so much in the past 15 years, surely Hillary Clinton doesn’t need my vote so much, does she?
I was surprised to see Bernie Sanders emerge not simply as a viable candidate, but a truly exciting one. Bernie, I said to myself, is an unapologetic wealth-redistributor, a socialist, a true radical in many ways, just like me. He is pushing Hillary Clinton further to the left than she ever wanted to be, and in their debates they are actually engaging each other on topics that matter to the people of this country. Sanders was a candidate who seemed made for me. He believed in all of the things I believed in, and he said them bluntly, in a language I understood and liked. I liked him. A lot.
But it was in the last debate that I had my awakening: the moment when I realized — after several months of thinking, Well, I think I’ll probably vote for Bernie Sanders — that I am going to support and vote for Hillary, and that it is important for me to say this aloud to my friends and family. I’m going to vote for Hillary Clinton, because she is a woman. This is even more important to say aloud now, I think, in light of her defeat in New Hampshire, where it is clear that she lost many women’s votes to Sanders.
You see, I watched these debates and I recognized something in Hillary’s eyes. There is something in her face sometimes, just a glimpse or a whisper of a reaction — she’s trained herself, she knows every blink is going to be scrutinized, and she’s had years to practice. Once or twice, watching her stand on that stage, I thought I saw her feel something I have felt many times in my adult life as a woman, and the best way I can describe it is to say that she looked like she was going to laugh maniacally, explode, cry, and throw up all at the same time. It’s possible — maybe even likely — that this is just me reading into her the way that everyone else does, but it’s enough for me to have made up my mind.
In that reading I carry the endless discussions of her appearance, her inability to laugh or remember a joke, her speaking too loudly, even her bathroom trip during a debate that made headlines. And watching these debates, sitting there at night after my 2-year-old daughter went to sleep, I felt like I wanted to throw up, too. I felt for the first time, an incredible, overwhelming empathy for this woman standing onstage. A career politician, one of the most powerful women in the world. I wanted to fold her into my arms and say, “I know.”
I know exactly that feeling, Hillary. I’ve felt the same way, and though I can’t even be sure you are feeling what I think you are, I’m not sure it matters. In that moment, where you blinked very hard as if to stop tears of rage when someone asked a stupid question of you, I saw for the first time the thing we have in common: We are both women. And that was enough, because I have never seen that look in Bernie Sanders eyes, because Bernie Sanders is not a woman.
Sometimes the fact that I’m a woman isn’t the most important thing about me. But sometimes, it is.
In that moment, too, I extrapolated this feeling from myself to my daughter. Entering politics necessarily means you are in for an endless road of nitpicking and scrutiny, your every move dissected and hot-taked. That’s just how it is, and nobody knows that better than Hillary Clinton. But it seems to me that there is a certain tone to the critiques of her that is different. It’s implied, not usually stated outright, but it’s there, and millions of little girls in this country know it when they see it. Children are smart — they don’t need to be told — and girls still begin to learn very young that how they say things often matters more than what they say. It was, in that moment, unbearable to me, to think that my daughter would ever feel that way. It is unacceptable to me, and it has to change. And the only way to change that is to elect women to political office.
I grew up in a world that was life-changingly different from my mother’s: I had access to birth control, and abortion was legal. I was educated to understand what these things were and I cannot imagine my own daughter growing up without them, just as I cannot imagine her growing up in a world where marriage equality does not exist as a legal reality. So I can’t help but think, when I read a tweet about Hillary’s “screech” (and the hundreds of vicious, gleeful responses) in her New Hampshire speech, Voting for Hillary is the bare minimum I can do for women.
I like Bernie Sanders, and a few weeks ago, I would have told you I was going to vote for him. But I’ve had a change of heart, I’ve moved back to where I was almost ten years ago. I think it’s more important than ever for me to say, “I’m voting for Hillary Clinton because she is a woman,” because the kind of equality that feminists have fought for for generations is not a foregone conclusion, and it’s not something I can take for granted for my daughter.
As with many issues that stem from the fact of my motherhood — breast-feeding, co-sleeping — I speak only for myself, and cannot generalize my experience from “I am” to “you should.” I only know in my heart that I simply don’t want my daughter to grow up in a world where a woman has never been president. And if not now, when?
I’m a woman, and a mother, and I’m voting for Hillary Clinton for my daughter, and for her future.