DALLAS – Darlene Ewing is a Democratic activist, longtime feminist and very frustrated Hillary Clinton supporter.
Like many who have dreamed of seeing a woman in the Oval Office, Ewing doesn’t understand why women are drifting in ever-greater numbers toward Barack Obama. This trend, which has imperiled the candidacy of a qualified, competent woman once considered a shoo-in for her party’s nomination, infuriates the frank-talking Texan.
“They’re running to the rock star, to the momentum, to the excitement,” said Ewing, a family law attorney who is chairwoman of the Dallas County Democratic Party. “And I am worried that if Hillary doesn’t get elected, I am never going to see a woman president in my lifetime. I do think her chances are slipping away.”
As Clinton’s shot at the nomination boils down to two contests Tuesday – in the delegate-rich states of Texas and Ohio, where she is running neck and neck with Obama – many women who support the New York senator are angry and saddened by their sisters’ desertion.
Old-school feminists have lined up against each other. Some chapters of the National Organization for Women are supporting Clinton; others are for Obama. There have been unseemly arguments about which candidate is more pro-choice. Some women experience the rise of Obama as they might the ripping open of a persistent wound: An older, more experienced woman is pushed aside to make way for a younger male colleague.
One of the most passionate “cris de coeur” came from the feminist poet and novelist Robin Morgan, 67, in an essay that became something of a cyberspace sensation after she posted it Feb. 5 on the Women’s Media Center Web site (and it was forwarded by many people, including Chelsea Clinton). Morgan decried the casual acceptance of sexism on the campaign trail this season – from the two young men who shouted “Iron my shirt!” at Clinton to the Hillary-themed nutcrackers in airport gift shops.
But Morgan reserved her greatest ire for women who won’t support Clinton “while wringing their hands because Hillary isn’t as likable as they’ve been warned they must be. … Grow the hell up. She is not running for Ms. Perfect-pure-queen-icon of the feminist movement; she’s running to be president of the United States.”
Recent polls support the suspicion of many women that they are a gender divided. Last week’s Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found Clinton’s solid support from women to be dwindling. Women are now evenly divided between the two Democratic candidates, although Clinton still enjoys a sizable advantage among women 65 and older, who prefer her three-to-one over Obama.
Gloria Steinem, a Clinton supporter, weighed in with an essay in the New York Times in which she claimed that, in public and private spheres alike, women have a tougher time than black men.
“Gender,” wrote Steinem, “is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House. … Black men were given the vote a half-century before women of any race were allowed to mark a ballot and generally have ascended to positions of power … before any women.”
Many women who support Obama say they were torn, but they’re unapologetic. For many, the decision turns on one vote cast by Clinton in 2002: the bill authorizing President Bush to invade Iraq.
Last month, a group calling itself “New York Feminists for Peace and Barack Obama,” circulated an online petition that was a qualified endorsement of the Illinois senator. It was so popular that the words “New York” were dropped and the effort went national.
Katha Pollitt, an author and columnist for the Nation, was one of the signers. But she took issue with Steinem’s comparison.
“And even if it were true that white women were more oppressed than black men, that still doesn’t mean you should vote for Hillary Clinton,” said Pollitt. “It might mean you should fight for better enforcement of anti-sex discrimination rules, but it doesn’t mean you should vote for the candidate most likely to wage a war.”