For those of us who still can't get enough of the 2008 Presidential elections, who hunt through books like Game Change like truffle pigs in Provence, Rebecca Traister's Big Girls Don't Cry is wonderful foraging ground. But for women it is much, much more than another campaign book.
It is a testament to Traister's book that this formerly mystified over-50 female Obama supporter now finally understands what the hell all the crying was about. In our delirious march to the drumbeat of righting a different wrong, we didn't see that an entire movement of awakened and extremely sensitized women were almost lost forever to McCain/Palin. Mostly this book is for and about them—the ones apparently still reeling from the stunted ride.
These women were still roiling that Hillary Clinton had been hounded out of the primary, when no other Democratic candidate had been pushed by so many before the convention-- by commentators, former friends, party stalwarts, angry men all—just as she was getting going and still getting votes, and for getting passed over as vice president.
Many women personalized her campaign, as though an insult to Hillary were a personal insult. Their rallying cry was, "I will not live to see a woman president." Traister says, "You get the candidates you get." I always felt there could be now and would be other female candidates in a way that Hillaryites didn't, and didn't share their 'now or never' sense of the campaign. But there is no question that Hillary being that candidate brought out the worst in men. It elicited wildly sexist comments from male audiences ("Iron My Shirt!") and commentators ("I am so glad you're not my wife!" "Shrillery!") and divided office workers in liberal workplaces into other-hating hostilely bemused camps.
The personal is the political for so much of the book: Hillary is most appreciated by the author in the personal; when she cries, struggles, fights, refuses to give in, endures, and suffers through a "shit-storm." The verbs of empathy often sound like the job description for a Biblical character, more than a President. Traister writes, "I noticed that her popularity rose when she was cuckolded, but was not particularly bothered by it, I was appalled by her Iraq vote, but not surprised by her unwillingness to play lady dove..." I was troubled by both, and it is, I think the essence of our difference in our reactions to Hillary—as though as feminists, we should just forgo a sincere position on foreign policy to "bad faith," something we have to play-act.
Perhaps a more accommodating woman, one with a less polarizing past or personality would have garnered less criticism from the wolf pack, as Traister calls the male press. A Governor Jennifer Granholm of Michigan? Have you heard her speak? I can't imagine anyone calling her shrill; I would love to speculate on whether Russert, Olbermann, and Matthews would have given her the same treatment.
In the end, Traister points out, the Democratic party did so little to redress the dramatic ways in which sexist taunts by the media became commonplace that a huge faction of America's progressive women almost deserted the Democratic party they felt deserted them. This fact is profoundly important, and is made convincingly, in this book.
There are big ideas raised freshly in the book, some reviewed exhaustively, others merely touched on, which new thinkers can begin to unpack. I was particularly compelled by the question of whether feminists can have different ideologies. This deep issue was raised when the McCain team cynically picked Sarah Palin in an effort to sweep up all the disaffected women who had been seemingly abandoned by Obama's not only winning, but not picking Hillary for VP. This two-fer left a lot of aggrieved women looking for someone to follow, no matter how hard Hillary tried to bring them into the Obama fold after the convention. Eventually, the issue of reproductive choice and other social issues brought most of them back to the party, but not at first.