Tuesday, April 29, 2008

I Still Like Hillary

By Kelly Jean Cogswell

There's nothing more ridiculous in America than an aging woman. Unless you are one. This election season's underlined that. Instead of serious discussions about policy, you've got Obama making kitchen sink jokes, and New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd dismissing the battling Hillary as "a cornered raccoon."

I consider that a compliment on Hillary's behalf, and have "cornered raccoon" on my list as a quality I aspire to. I'm bold in a group. Alone I'm more of a mouse than a clawing Procyon. It's worse as I get older. I'm not as quick to respond when I'm insulted or when people stare. I sweat when I pitch articles. I worry about my weight, and my hair. If somebody would pay me, I'd give up journalism altogether and do a hair blog.

I'd start with stories about when I was four and my mother hacked my tangled pigtails off and gave me a bowl cut. After that, people kept calling me "son." What an embarrassment. Who wanted to be a boy? Apparently plenty, but not me. I had two sisters and a largely absent father, and didn't want to be banned from the girl club. As an adult, I walk that gender line like a national border, trying to straddle instead of crossing it, a dyke and perpetual alien in the country of women.

Approaching middle age, straight women seem increasingly foreign to dykes and vice versa, almost like different species, especially in the upper lower, lower middle class I'm from. Hets age exponentially after marriage and kids. Women begin wearing age appropriate clothing in pastel shades, or fighting against sags with high heels, stretch pants and layers of make up I wouldn't be caught dead in.

Dykes persist in their youth. We're good at it. What characterized my generation was a certain ferocity, and humor, too. Lesbian Avengers sometimes wore real capes. We left the Archdiocese and St. Pat's smelling of sulfur, plastering the place with labels, "Homophobia stinks." We ate fire in front of the White House.

How do we age after that? How do I inhabit this body that isn't prime for fleeing security guards? Of course, I can still kick whippersnapper ass. But it's not enough. And I recognize something in women like Hillary, whether or not they see something similar in me.

It comes down to living in female bodies, accumulating years. In all of us, tits emerged. Hips. The eyes of men focused on them and not our faces or brains. For some of us that was desirable, some not. Even some straight women cower all their lives in the shadow of their bodies. Others bloom early then fade. Some lucky few manage the trick like Hillary and sail boldly forth as matrons.

I have begun to admire confidence in women of middle age. No matter if they're in Chanel suits on podiums like Hillary, sporting plastic surgeries like Catherine Deneuve and still eclipsing all the others in the room, or like my aunts who displayed themselves in homemade denim pantsuits with flower sequin appliques.

Young men are not generous towards any of us. Straight girls are worse, despising spreading flesh and conventional taste. Perpetual sneers have left them tuned only to a man's reassuring voice.

Nobody should be surprised when plenty of these poor, broad-hipped women vote for Hillary. The press said in Pennsylvania they were casting a vote against Obama. The truth is, he barely exists for them. Like they barely exist for Obama except as the butt of jokes. How could they, shopping at WalMart and not Whole Foods? Eating iceberg lettuce when he's an arugula man? Having tits and spreading thighs and two crappy jobs and exploding debt no million dollar book deal is gonna wipe out?

He seems arrogant, young, and sheltered, no matter how many relatives he has in the developing world. Hillary, likewise, may not be the answer to the problems of older women, but at least she's learned not to sneer, not to dismiss cookie bakers any more.

Almost inadvertently, she's became my role model, and I wonder what will happen to that tiny bit of momentum Hillary's generated for women when -- if -- she loses? The feminist movement in the U.S. has been on life support for years. Will her little gains evaporate like our jobs and savings? Having lost, will we run and hide? Will we remember what it is to cling to the stage when the hook comes out? As it has again and again for Hillary?

Despite what the press says, a couple more months of a campaign won't destroy the Democratic Party, not when a decade or two of compromise, timidity, and self-satisfaction in the Boys Club already has. And the gains for women are huge. Here's to cornered raccoons!

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