Family Law Unraveled

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Hillz: letter to my millennial daughters on the occasion of the morning after

Friday, July 29, 2016

I know you liked Bernie. I know you like Hillary, too, and that you’ll happily vote for her in November. And I know you understand, at an intellectual level, the historical significance of the events of last night. But I am quite sure you did not experience, as you watched her accept the nomination for President of the United States, the same primal, emotional explosion that your mother did. As I and my box of tissues sat on the couch, watching that stage, seeing her in that spotlight at the center of those thousands of cheering people – including men, powerful men – all of whom want her to be their leader, to be the President, my heart burst.

And I’m not alone. It’s the culmination of a slow burn that has simmered for decades in women now in their fifties and beyond, women from the first generation to have the opportunity to join the man’s world, and who had to work so very hard to succeed in it. We had no workplace accommodations for having children, we were penalized for the demands of pregnancy, for the need to take maternity leave, for the unpredictability of sick children. We hid breast pumps in briefcases and pumped in toilet stalls. We saw man after man roar up through the ranks and get promoted ahead of the women who had trained them, women whose voices were too high or smiles too frequent to be seen as having leadership qualities. We saw women passed over, again and again.

And here is Hillary. She’s been with us every step of the way. She’s not young and sexy. She has gravitas. She’s unbelievably smart, she’s worked incredibly hard, and she’s just plain powerful. She’s comfortable with being powerful. I know that she’s farther to the right on some issues than I am and yet, curiously, I find I don’t really care, because I am just so proud of her. In 2008, I poll-watched in a mostly African American neighborhood and saw young black men parade through all evening, many of whom had never voted before, vibrating with pride and excitement in being able to vote for an extraordinary, brilliant black man for President. I vibrate with those same feelings when I watch Cecile Richards face down the Senate witch hunters or listen to Ruth Bader Ginsburg grill an attorney at oral argument. Or watch Michelle Obama do or say just about anything. Mature, accomplished, powerful women fill me with pride. Women who are not in the back room taking care of all the details so that men can run things; women who are running the things themselves.

I’m pretty sure neither of you feel quite that same tribal sense of loyalty, that you don’t have such a visceral reaction to women in positions of power and authority, a reaction that comes straight from the heart and the gut, not the head. I believe that the medical student one of you would tell me I’m talking about the autonomic nervous system, and I think that’s correct: it’s not conscious. It’s not an intellectual response. It is pure identity politics.

And while both of you are ardent feminists, the world has been a different place for you to grow up in than it was for me and my sisters. Sexism and discrimination live on for sure, but they have been muted and changed; to some degree, they have been pushed underground. Which is, of course, a good thing. It is progress. And I recognize that a world in which race or gender is not the reason you would vote for someone will be a better, fairer place. That is the long path we’re on as a country; it is the essence of the American journey. But we are not there yet, by any means. So I cried last night. Maybe you teared up. And maybe your future daughters will stand dry-eyed, seeing in their candidates solely the policies they promote, not the legacy of their oppression.

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