A woman’s time will come; it might not be in our time

Chicago Tribune (Sunday) - - NEWS - Mary Sch­mich mschmich@chicagotri­bune.com

When El­iz­a­beth War­ren dropped out of the race for the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­na­tion the other day, I heard sev­eral women say they were sur­prised by the depth of their sad­ness. They won­dered why this loss felt so pro­found, deeper in some way than Hil­lary Clin­ton’s loss to Don­ald Trump in the 2016 pres­i­den­tial election.

These were women in their early 60s and be­yond, women the cul­ture calls “older” and, yes, they were women who tend to vote for Democrats. To them, War­ren em­bod­ied the last hope of a fad­ing dream, and more than one said, “I don’t think I’ll live to see a woman as pres­i­dent.”

I hap­pen to think the younger women among these older women are wrong. They — we — have a good chance of liv­ing long enough to see a woman run the White House. But what we’re un­likely to see is a woman of our gen­er­a­tion do it. And that, I think, is a big part of the loss many women my age felt when War­ren with­drew: A woman’s time will come, but it won’t be a woman of our time, of our gen­er­a­tion.

War­ren is 70. She wears her age more en­er­get­i­cally than any of the sep­tu­a­ge­nar­ian men left com­pet­ing for the job. The­o­ret­i­cally, she could try again in four years. But with­out a rad­i­cal per­son­al­ity trans­plant, our so­ci­ety isn’t go­ing to elect a 74-yearold woman as pres­i­dent, even if it’s pre­pared to elect a man who’s 78 (Demo­crat Bernie San­ders), 77 (Demo­crat Joe Bi­den) or 73 (the cur­rent Repub­li­can pres­i­dent, Don­ald Trump).

War­ren, un­for­tu­nately, stands smack dab on top of the sink­hole where ageism and sex­ism meet. One day a fe­male pres­i­den­tial can­di­date stand­ing on that risky spot may sur­vive, but that day prob­a­bly won’t be in 2024.

Af­ter War­ren with­drew from the race, I re­ceived an email from a col­league who’s 52.

“I feel such a kin­dred spirit with the many, many older women who are in mourn­ing,” she said. She noted that she hadn’t seen the same de­spon­dence from younger War­ren sup­port­ers and wasn’t sure why. Maybe, she said, “it’s be­cause the younger ones haven’t had their dreams crushed enough yet to feel ut­terly ex­hausted by this.”

I un­der­stand the ex­haus­tion. I’ve felt it. And yet it’s im­por­tant not to give into it. All of us — women and men of all ages who are com­mit­ted to gen­der equality — have to un­der­stand that we’re build­ing some­thing big­ger than our­selves and our mo­ment — just as many com­mit­ted, ex­hausted peo­ple be­fore us have done. Progress may be slow, but it’s real.

There was a time, in my life­time, when a fe­male pres­i­dent was barely think­able and the prospect of a fe­male vice pres­i­dent was a mir­a­cle of progress. I’m old enough to re­mem­ber 1984, when the Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, Wal­ter Mon­dale, se­lected Geral­dine Fer­raro as his run­ning mate. It was the first time a ma­jor Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal party had com­mit­ted such a rad­i­cal act. The Democrats lost, but the prover­bial shat­tered glass ceil­ing felt like a huge break­through.

In 2020, though? Nom­i­nat­ing a woman as vice pres­i­dent would still be sig­nif­i­cant — but it wouldn’t feel mo­men­tous. These days, putting a woman in the sec­ond spot is a re­minder of how many ways women re­main stuck.

From pol­i­tics to the av­er­age work­place, the mes­sage to women of­ten re­mains: You can make it to No. 2, honey — the VP, the deputy, the al­most-but-not-quite top — but the primo spot still goes to a man.

Nev­er­the­less, we must carry on. We must re­mem­ber how long the fight for equality in our coun­try has been. Re­mem­ber that in the early 1800s — not so long ago, re­ally — mar­ried women didn’t have the right to own prop­erty. It wasn’t un­til 1920 that women won the right to vote; it took decades longer be­fore black women in some states had that guar­an­tee.

War­ren, un­for­tu­nately, stands smack dab on top of the sink­hole where ageism and sex­ism meet.

Un­til 1939 in Illi­nois, and much later in some states, women weren’t al­lowed to serve on ju­ries. Un­til the 1970s, all over the coun­try, a man could still legally rape his wife.

None of these changes came fast or eas­ily.

Shortly af­ter she an­nounced she was leav­ing the pres­i­den­tial race, War­ren spoke to her staff.

“Our work con­tin­ues,” she told them, “the fight goes on, and big dreams never die.”

If War­ren can keep go­ing, so can we, even if not all of us will live long enough to see the fruit of the work. Like so many who came be­fore us, we do it not only for our­selves, but for the women and men who come af­ter.

DAVID DEGNER/THE NEW YORK TIMES

A woman dis­plays a sign thank­ing Sen. El­iz­a­beth War­ren on Thurs­day at War­ren’s home in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachusetts.

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