Last weekend brought some much needed R&R from parenting as one of my stepdaughters took over the reigns, bringing down my mental anxiety a notch on a variety of fronts.
As I was pondering why there is still so much coverage of the so-called reluctance of “older” Hillary Clinton supporters to become enthusiastic about Barack Obama, I had one of those light-bulb, Oprah AHA! moments.
When some women look at what Obama has achieved, they see the younger, sometimes not-quite-as-qualified, man in their office who was promoted before them.
The one who got a raise that they should have gotten. The one who got the corner office with the window while they still sat in the cubicle.
They remember how that felt and how, if they wanted to keep their jobs and benefits, they couldn’t really raise a stink about it, even though it was unfair.
There are plenty of us who have been in that work situation. I have.
As a young news reporter just starting out in television in the 1980s, I was told up front that I would not be getting paid as much as some of the guys. There are always plenty of “reasons” — they’re married and have kids to support, you’re married and have a husband who’s contributing, you’re married and have another income and the single guys don’t.
And that was always just the start. I saw men who were younger and less qualified get promoted over me at a large government agency because they knew what I liked to call the “secret handshake” — that intangible ‘guy’ thing that often seems to help push them up the ladder a bit ahead of their female counterparts, even when we were working harder and longer hours (and weren’t working on separate business ventures on government time).
While this is clearly not the perfect analogy for comparing Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and how their supporters feel, I suspect that there is a subliminal lingering sense of resentment of that all-too-common workplace phenomenon that has something to do with the reported numbers of Hillary supporters who claim they will not vote for Obama.
My experiences of not always being treated fairly or equally in the workplace are not going to prevent me from voting for Barack Obama as the Democratic presidential candidate. But I have to wonder whether the persistent sense of experienced women coming up short in the workplace and having to take the helper’s role to the younger man in the office is something that will unconsciously tip more than a few mid-life women into the John McCain or ‘other’ column.
For better or worse, the sum of our life experiences color and inform our election decisions and judgments. If Barack Obama wants to start wooing back some of the women who claim they are leaning toward McCain, he needs to find some empathy about their life experiences. It won’t be enough to send Michelle out to the speaker’s platform to do that.
Barack, you’ll have to find it in yourself to take that one up, as well.