Let’s do this thing.

I adore Barack Obama, since the moment I saw him at the Democratic Convention in 2004. I liked him because he was a tall skinny thing in a field of fleshed out swollen-faced old men. I liked him because when he smiled you could see his teeth, and it wasn’t a phony smile, it was an expression of delight, like I could recognize it from anyone else momentarily in his or her element. Then he opened his mouth. And my excitement grew. Finally – here was a guy who was articulate and believable. More than articulate – this kid could speak, he could make pictures with his words like any good storyteller, and when he said them, I believed him. I am interested in politics because Aaron Sorkin once wrote a gorgeous – if sometimes cheesy – television show about politics. I’m in it for the words. I find words, and how they’re used, compelling.

So he’s got my vote. Full stop. I don’t know what he’d have to do between now and the convention, between now and November, to lose my vote. It would have to be bad. He’s not perfect; he has a far from perfect bit on gay marriage. The Logo…forum…shall we say…was interesting in that it was all gay all the time, but not in the least revealing: Obama’s answer was, paraphrased, “Let the word ‘marriage’ go and we can get the actual rights, which is more important anyway.” Sure, yeah, and then we’ll set up separate – but, y’know, equal – wedding chapels, perhaps homo days and het days down at the county courthouse, and we’ll definitely have to define which streets are appropriate to drive our tin-can-trailing “Just Married” vehicles. We wouldn’t want a straight couple somehow ending up in the Castro. So many rainbow flags. It just wouldn’t be right.

Birdwalking, I apologize. Point being I like the guy, I’m voting for him, end of story.

So let’s talk about Hillary Clinton for a minute. And let’s start by calling her Hillary. Since she and I have never actually met, at least for formal purposes, I’m calling her Clinton. Because that’s who she is to me. Because that’s how I refer to people I don’t actually know, will never actually meet, who are public figures at least attempting to run my country. This is a good place to start because no one’s wholly responsible for the fact that as I read, as I watch the news shows, as I listen to folks in my daily life discuss these things, she is most commonly referred to as “Hillary.” I think that some of America’s comfort in calling her by her given name goes back to a certain ownership over women that’s so culturally entrenched I feel no need to prove my point. Until a hundred and fifty years or so ago women couldn’t even own property; indeed they were considered property, their decisions were made by fathers, then husbands. And we’ve made progress, but progress doesn’t happen at warp speed. Female athletes are called “girls” far more frequently than their male counterparts are called “boys.” In fact, you can find “girls” just about anywhere: they’re in the office, in the bar, in the hospital and jail and fire house. Some of those “girls” are still so symbolically important that it’s easy to justify letting the term go, just for now. There are a couple of “girls” working down at the police station, and I hate that it is so easy to dismiss them, but I honor what they’re doing, and the many worse things they hear every day.

Of course, words are how I got into this. And differently-treated will never be equal.

So Hillary Clinton is “Hillary” to the masses, probably on the advice of a panel of thinkers, the Rodham flip-floppers, if you will. John McCain may very well be “John” to his fans, may have even heard that it made him more knowable, more likable, more everyman, but that feels like a different flavor of marketing to me. When some back room round table decided that Clinton should drop her maiden name – a term I sample with the foulest distaste – and that she should encourage the huddled and unwashed to call her “Hillary” (take a look at those campaign signs), I think they were playing on a different fear. John McCain can be both the likable “John” and “President McCain” – nothing about his campaign excludes that duality. But Hillary can only be Hillary. Because if she doesn’t appeal as a woman-running-for-president, she’s dead in the water.

The Clintons have baggage, the kind of baggage that gets you fansites, stalkers and hate mail. Extremists of every persuasion. And yet, though the actions of Bill Clinton – the very real, very factual untruths of Bill Clinton – earn him demerits in all the usual places, it seems to me that Hillary Clinton’s the one who ended up with all the real visceral loathing. When you speak to someone who hates “Hillary Clinton” – really hates her – they’re practically spitting as they speak. Their hatred is the hatred of the kid shoved into the garbage can by the school bully, the helpless rage of the unjustly convicted. It’s almost as though you’re speaking to a victim of “Hillary Clinton,” as though she is a comic book villain, and you’re interviewing those she’s wronged. You expect the next words out of Person X’s mouth to be, “If she’s elected I’ll never get a good night’s sleep again. I’ll leave the country, I’ll turn in my passport, I’ll join one of those weird militia groups out in the woods, with the canned beans and the rifles…”

There are plenty of good reasons not to vote Clinton in 2008. I’ve been over all of them, and I’ve made my decision. California went to Clinton, but my vote was represented by the 107 delegates going to Obama. I have no feminist guilt over this: I’m not voting for Obama because of peer pressure, or because I don’t think a woman can get elected, and perhaps most importantly I’m not voting for Clinton simply because she is a woman. That’s not feminism, folks, that’s sexism. But I’m also not going to eat baked beans and tree bark for the next four to eight years if she’s elected. In fact, I doubt I’ll lose a single night of sleep. I just don’t see how Hillary Clinton is evil. Her eyes don’t glitter like the little kid in The Omen, her head isn’t spinning around on her neck, she doesn’t have a funny little mustache and a big inferiority complex. I just don’t get what exactly makes people hate her so bloody much.

Except…I think I do get it. Just a little. I think maybe I understand a tiny little bit about what makes normal, decent, intelligent, hard-working people shake in their boots when the unholy image of Hillary Clinton appears on the screen. Instinctively, intuitively, I know what’s going on here. I couldn’t prove it in a court of law, I probably couldn’t even get a very good essay out of it for a polysci class, but I believe in my bones that what ails the cause of Clinton is the same old story: Americans – male and female – are afraid of women in power. Period.

Feminists have been known to justify a great many questionable means to achieve their noble ends. Suffragists did an abrupt about-face in the nineteenth century, from intense anti-slavery work to incredibly racist propagandizing when it looked like Reconstruction was going to grant black men the vote before (white) women. (Indeed it did, but don’t worry, rich white ladies, a hundred years of Jim Crow blink by in blood and tears, and most of you end up voting with the closest penis, anyway.) Feminism would also embrace, for a time, the private sphere as women’s domain – because power was power, and if calling on that power because of divine-granted maternal instincts worked to get the boys out of the bars, well hey, who loses? We still hear that one all the time, those glorious postfeminist thinkers, those smarmy anti-intellectuals who sneak into the Women’s Studies section at your local bookstore, those women who make “feminist” a dirty word, and equate it with man-hating, child-eating, hairy-legged lesbos. Mmm. Yummy children.

The private sphere, the home and hearth, are still where we are most comfortable with our women, with the half of the population with a double-x instead of a y. And when I say “we”, I mean it: I am still in the process of overcoming my inveterate cultural misogyny, and I do it every day. The idea of women who don’t want to have children, who don’t want to marry, is only just becoming something that can be mentioned on primetime, and it still carries with it a warning label. Lesbian characters on television are constantly normalized by their desire for both of those things, and I’m torn about where this leads us: I want lesbians who do want that old so-called American dream to get every bit of it that appeals to them, but I don’t want everyone else to be shoved back to the old marginalization ghetto to make that a reality.

So we do what we do to tv characters, and take it wider. We take our women in power, and we make them into wives and mothers. We’ll accept you, but only if you sit down and chat with us like we’re in your living room, and the coffee’s on, and Oprah’s on the telly, and the kids are in the backyard playing. But don’t raise your voice to us, don’t remind us that you’re a woman of influence, a woman of power in more than just her own little husband-bought universe. Don’t force us to face the fact that you are powerful enough to represent us in the world, because we don’t know how to feel about that, yet. We don’t know why it makes us so gosh darn uncomfortable, but we do know this: if you stay quiet just a little while longer, if you smile and wave and cry a little, then maybe, just maybe, we’ll give you a little more space, we’ll expand your sphere just a little bit.

I’m voting for Obama. I believe he is the best candidate running. It’s a gut-level response I have, and it’s backed up with information I’ve gathered, books I’ve read, speeches I’ve watched. I also believe that the only thing that backs up the violent hatred of his female opponent is base misogyny: a hatred, dislike, or mistrust of women. Simply for being women.

[This was inspired by, though veered wildly away from, a rocking good piece by Rebecca Traister over at Salon.]

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