All Fired Up: Women, Feminism, and Misogyny in the Democratic Primaries

All Fired Up: Women, Feminism, and Misogyny in the Democratic Primaries

Think back to a year and a half ago, to spring 2007, when this all began. Despite Hillary Clinton’s advantages in connections and money going into the primaries, those in the know cited a multitude of reasons she would fall flat on her face. Women were one. “Women don’t like her,” the pundits declared with relish. They didn’t like her even more than men didn’t like her. She was too ambitious, a flip-flopper, a trimmer, an opportunist. She didn’t deserve to be where she was. She should have left Bill years ago.

The media turned out to be wrong about a lot of things. As we know now, women liked Hillary Clinton, very much, and they poured work, money, and excitement into her campaign, their enthusiasm mounting as the months passed. And they have continued to like her, even after she conceded, forming a major stumbling block for Barack Obama. White and Hispanic workingwomen were the core of the coalition she built. Gays were a hidden factor; so far as I can see, lesbians supported Clinton heavily (there’s no polling data on the gay vote). Clinton’s solid stance on feminist issues—abortion rights (identical to Obama’s) and universal health care and gay rights (to the left of Obama’s)—did not put off blue-collar whites and Hispanics, male and female, who were supposed to be conservative on social issues.

What was more remarkable, her candidacy, which started out carefully distanced from feminism and gender issues, over time unintentionally brought feminist ideas about fair treatment to the center of the campaign. For the first time in American history, the desire for a fair deal for women—symbolized by this particular woman—migrated out of feminist identity politics into a presidential campaign and won the interest of a huge portion of the electorate. And amazingly, the main body of the feminist intelligentsia—writers and academics—showed no interest in this unprecedented phenomenon. As of this writing, the feminism of the campaign remains unexamined, occluded by charges that it consists of little more than “whining” and special pleading on the part of Clinton’s supporters.

The Women’s Vote

Nothing like this has ever happened with female voters. Going into the primary campaign, everyone knew about the “women’s vote”: it’s been materializing since the 1980s, when women migrated to or stayed with the Democrats, while men moved to support Ronald Reagan. In 1992, women were the margin that pushed Bill Clinton over the top; in 2000, they went for Al Gore over George W. Bush by an eleven-point margin. But their numbers in this year’s primaries were unprecedented, increasing threefold: from under eight million in 2004 to more than twenty-one million in 2008. The surge came in part from the campaign’s length and intensity, but nonetheless it brought in female voters as never before. Overall, they cast 57 percent of the votes. Their preference was marked, an eight-point ...

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