Tuesday, June 14, 2016

"Big Girls Don't Cry" by Rebecca Traister

I so enjoyed reading "All the Single Ladies" (reviewed here) that as soon as I was finished, I picked up an earlier book by the same author, Rebecca Traister:  "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election That Changed Everything For American Women." 

The election Traister writes about here is the 2008 U.S. presidential election, including not only the story of Hillary Clinton's historic but unsuccessful campaign for the Democratic Party nomination, but also of Michelle Obama's critical role in her husband's campaign (and how she had to downplay her own considerable accomplishments to make herself -- and him -- more palatable to the broader American public), Sarah Palin's rise to fame as John McCain's running mate, and other ways that women affected the contest. What did it mean to be an American woman and a feminist in 2008? Traister explores this question thoroughly.

The story of the 2008 election is framed by Traister's own experiences and observations as a young feminist writer. She began the year as a John Edwards supporter. She didn't especially like Hillary Clinton and, like so many others, found herself wowed by Barack Obama (or, perhaps more accurately, by Michelle Obama) -- but by the time Clinton conceded defeat to Obama...
I looked around at the people waving their flags, hoisting their kids, and cheering for her. My phone began to vibrate with calls from my mother, my cousin, my girlfriends, all watching from their homes. As Clinton stepped off the stage, I saw a text from Geraldine. "I am completely losing it," she wrote. It was then that I lost it too. Sprinting from the press area, where Clinton's reporting squad were saying their goodbyes after months on the road together, I found space behind a pillar. Next to me was Matt Drudge, who seemed not to realize or care that I was stupidly sobbing. I was so tired. Tired of caring so much about a woman I hadn't meant to care about at all. Tired of arguing with my friends. Tired of being angry at people I'd never been angry at before. Tired of being identified with Hillary even when I didn't like her. Tired of resisting the fact that maybe I did like her quite a lot. (page 203)
Reading this book now, eight years later, in the middle of the primaries leading up to the 2016 election, I had the weird sensation of deja vu, or history repeating itself. Clashes between two different generations of feminists? Check. Outrageously sexist remarks from other candidates and media commentators? Check. Controversial statements by Gloria Steinem? Check. Frat-boy types running the leading male contender's campaign? Check.  Ad nauseum commentary about Clinton's "likeability" (or lack thereof)? Check.

Coincidentally, I happened to be reading the very page describing Clinton's pre-convention concession to Obama, with the famous quote about the glass ceiling with 18 million cracks in it, on the morning after Clinton clinched the 2016 Democratic Party nomination (which was exactly 8 years to the day later). I remember tears rolling down my face as Clinton moved to make Obama's nomination unanimous at the 2008 convention; my eyes welled up again as I watched this latest, even more historic moment. 

If you believe that it's high time America had a woman president -- or even if you're not convinced that having a woman as president would or should be a big frickin' deal -- or that that woman should be Hillary Clinton -- read this book. You might not change your mind -- but you WILL find yourself thinking.

(In Canada, we've already had a female prime minister -- albeit we've never actually had one who was elected to the job by voters. Kim Campbell became prime minister in 1993 by virtue of winning the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives, the governing party of the time, after Brian Mulroney stepped down as prime minister and party leader.  Her tenure as PM lasted all of four months:  the party was decimated in the Oct. 25 election, in which she lost her own seat in Parliament, and she resigned the party leadership shortly afterward. Several women from a number of different political parties have also been elected as premiers of several Canadian provinces over the past 25 years.)

This was book #9 that I've read so far in 2016.


  1. I have been a Hillary Clinton supporter since the early 1990s. I voted for Bill Clinton in my elementary school's presidential election, and the main reason is because I was fascinated with Hillary (mainly that she was a lawyer). I once waited in line for 7 hours, most in the blistering sun, to hear her speak at a 2008 campaign rally.

    I think that she's unduly criticized, both in the media and by the general public. I mean, I don't know how many times I've heard headlines along the lines of "Clinton is dressed in a purple outfit" or "Clinton looking very grandmotherly" instead of focusing on her experience, foreign relations, her proven track record, etc.

    I hope she wins the election because I feel like she would be one hell of a president. But I also hope she wins because the alternative is so scary that it's keeping me up at night.

  2. Oooh, I really want to read this now. Watching from afar, I have found the discussions about Hillary most disturbing. Remember long before she declared her intention to run, she was asked if she could be President as a new grandmother? Argh! Sexism is alive and well in the political system, it's just not discussed, any more than the racism that has been so apparent in opposition to the current President. And don't get me started on attitudes towards feminism!

    We've had two female Prime Ministers (one elected for three consecutive terms), and two female Governors-General (maybe more, I forget, they're not really important). It's a perfectly reasonable assumption here in NZ now, though that said most of our political parties are currently led by men.