Our Daughters are Paying Attention

Wed, March 5, 2008

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Stern. Witchy. The ‘b’ word that rhymes with witchy. Shrill. Scolding.

I suspect that few of us would allow our husbands to use those words to describe us (even if they are thinking them on occasion) when they are in front of our children, especially not in the presence of our daughters.

Yet, innumerable journalists, especially men, have found it perfectly OK to describe Hillary Clinton in those words as she runs for president, plus many others that get used to describe powerful and assertive women. Hateful and prejudicial phrases that convey an underlying meanness and insecurity about females who challenge traditional stereotypes about women in our society.

If these men, many of whom undoubtedly have daughters, paid the tiniest bit of attention to what their children are focused on, they might rethink the vocabulary they are using to pillory Hillary.

Because believe it or not, our kids are paying attention. Even our youngest children.

Exhibit A? I volunteered for lunch table duty at my daughter’s school last week and I was shocked that the conversation topic of choice at two tables full of first- and second-graders was the presidential election.

Kids were polling each other about whether they wanted to vote for Barack or Hillary (sorry, I did not hear any child say they were for John McCain, but I think that’s just the neighborhood we live in!). I didn’t catch the reason that the boys wanted Obama to be president but the girls were clear — Hillary should be be president because it’s time for a girl to have a turn.

Eight-year-old logic at its finest.

But if seven-and eight-year-olds are choosing to talk about this on their own — really, I swear, I did NOT plant that seed at the lunch table! — then you know they’re also paying attention to what words we and news commentators use to describe the candidates.

In a recent article, Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Connie Schultz wrote, “We bruise our daughters when we bash Hillary Clinton.”

She was generally talking about girls a bit older than the ones I sat with last week who were scarfing down chicken nuggets and jelly sandwiches, but the point is the same — our daughters are focused and invested in this presidential race because “a girl” — someone like them — wants to be in charge and make decisions.

Girl power is a very big thing for elementary school girls.

Since that’s the case, we all need to be careful how we describe Hillary because you can be sure that whatever we call Senator Clinton, our daughters are going to find a way to internalize that.

My second-grade daughter, like so many, thinks she can make good decisions and could possibly be president one day. But if we allow journalists, men or women, to continue to bash Hillary and her historic effort, we may as well tell our girls there’s no point to having that dream, or any dream, because they’ll only be mocked and ridiculed just the way Hillary Clinton has been.

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4 Responses to “Our Daughters are Paying Attention”

  1. Karoli Says:

    So..I have a different perspective and a 14-year old daughter. I’m appalled by some of what Hillary Clinton says and does and so is she. We talk about it. I don’t call Hillary names (and BTW, the b* is the new black didn’t come from the opposition…).

    I am not going to put an instant blessing on Hillary Clinton’s behavior because she’s a woman. She has behaved badly sometimes, and sets a bad example. The whining at the debate about the first question is an example. My daughter’s response to that was “What is she complaining about? Why is she complaining? Do Presidents complain?”

    My answer to her was this: If you’re going to expect an even playing field, behave like it. Suck it up and don’t complain.

    Which, by the way, is the same answer I give my daughter when she faces tough competition at the top of her level in dance competitions. Suck it up, do your best, know your stuff and don’t complain about the floor or the judging or the music. Just do it.

    I don’t see any of that dialogue as being damaging to my daughter. I think it’s part of teaching her to navigate a world where women can function as the equals of men without any extra consideration.

  2. Julie Pippert Says:

    I’m not sure how to say this without sounding undiplomatic and polarizing, but let’s give it a shot…

    What I can’t manage, get around is that people have taken this concept of “equality” into their own minds and hearts so deeply that they think it is applicable to all, including them, as if it is a get out of jail free card we all get when we turn 18.

    In other words, an outright misogynist I can deal with. That is clear prejudice, something concrete to debate, openly and honestly.

    It is much, much harder to address the insidious under the covers prejudice against women coming from people who are sure they are assessing women accurately and fairly, not with any bias.

    And that case is the one I think we have to deal with more than any, these days.

    Especially in the news.

    Great post.

  3. Chicky Chicky Baby Says:

    If a man is forceful, another man (or woman) will call him a tough bastard with a smile on their face.

    If a woman is the same she’s a shrill bitch. No smile.

    To answer a previous commenter, yes I do want an even playing field. I wonder when that will happen?

  4. Karoli Says:

    Chicky Chicky Baby,

    Even playing fields happen when barriers are overcome without complaining about them. The biggest beneficiaries of civil rights legislation are white women. Hillary Clinton, Nancy Pelosi, and many others on both sides are examples of that.

    I don’t believe that joking about being a b**** and then complaining about it works any better than hearing similar epithets tossed at themselves by blacks and Latinos.

    Self-respect doesn’t come from being rewarded by complaining. And self-respect brings outside respect.

    Make no mistake, I do not like Hillary Clinton’s tactics and I especially don’t care for her choice of advisors. But I had respect for her when she stood and took a ton of criticism for not dumping her husband when he humiliated her and not complaining about it, even in her books.

    I lost respect when she started whining about press coverage and the like, because the fact is that while her whining got her what she wanted, it made her appear manipulative and weak.

    I have been beaten by men and I have overcome it. And I mean to use the term ‘beaten’ in the literal sense. That doesn’t entitle me to special consideration. I don’t believe that it should entitle anyone to special consideration, which is why I’m about to criticize Samantha Power on my blog for her use of the word “monster” with regard to Hillary Clinton, also uncalled for.


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