Sunday, August 14, 2016

A rising of the single women

Rebecca Traister, writing at New York Magazine, has been offering commentary from a feminist perspective on Hillary Clinton's campaign odyssey. Even when I cannot be as enthusiastic as she is, I find her writing unequaled in its sensitive, insightful grasp of what it means to be "first woman." For example:

The apparent lack of trust in Clinton reflects that there is perhaps no politician who has suffered more for having been a wife. Yes, by many measures, Clinton’s role as First Lady launched her political career. But could there be any grimmer emblem of the tolls of the traditional marriage than the fact that Hillary is now picking up the tab for a decade of her party’s policies during which she was not an elected official but a spouse?

The 1990s, after all, was the decade in which women began altering marriage patterns dramatically, threateningly. (Remember Dan Quayle berating Murphy Brown?) So much of the compromised legislation enacted in that period was overdetermined by anxieties about changing gender roles, including the odious reform of welfare, which on the one hand treated all women as workers yet failed to provide them with support and sent many of them deeper into poverty. ...

Traister routinely sets her understanding of the strengths and limitations of Clinton's run in the context of her understanding of the history of women in this country.

Her new book, All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation, is a history of a large subset of women, plus a snapshot of the lives of 70 (straight) interviewees on what the solo condition means to them.

This book could not have been written until a critical mass of women living outside of marriage could, more and less well, support themselves (and sometimes children). She points out that, in 2009, for the first time, "the proportion of U.S. women who were married dropped below 50 percent." The history chapters largely struck me as a contemporary rehash of what feminist historians have been unearthing for the several decades.

But the snapshots of single women today are thoughtful and discerning. Traitor strove for some race, some class, and considerable geographical diversity, though she is certain to get dinged for seeming to apprehend best professional class singles between 20-35 in cities -- her own peeps. Still she has done the work to contextualize her own kind and there are many such women. I can recommend this journalist effort, most especially to Traister's age peers.

In the context of the election, single women -- of all races and all classes -- are more than 25 percent of electorate and they largely vote Democratic. They will be key to electing Hillary Clinton. Here's how Traister describes the moment:

This election is a referendum on the existence and civic participation of Americans who are not white men — as voters, as citizens, as workers, as members of the military, as presidents.

... Clinton, like Obama before her, isn’t carrying just her own baggage, but will stand in as the symbolic target for those whose fury at increased female autonomy has been building. In a nation where women who were not permitted to cast votes still live and breathe, her campaign, as Ms. Clinton has herself declared in other contexts, is living history. If she wins, she — and we — will be forced to do battle with this rising, chilling, ever more open threat from those who feel enraged that their country is no longer their own.


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