A woman’s time will come; it might not be in our time
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.
A woman displays a sign thanking Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Thursday at Warren’s home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.