Along with every man, woman and cocker spaniel being bandied around as possible contenders for the 2020 presidential election, one very familiar name is on lips once again: Hillary Clinton.
The case against yet another Clinton candidacy is obvious: she’s tried and failed several times, she’s a legacy of the old Democrats, a party marred by a lack of general wokeness trying, albeit ham-fistedly, to reinvent itself. Hillary also generated the kind of attacks and confected loathing that few other candidates ever managed.
I’m still going to support another Clinton run. Not because I think she’s necessarily the best candidate – “best” in a world where a reality TV star sits in the Oval Office is meaningless anyway – but because she should do whatever she damn well pleases. Sure, I’d rather a more progressive candidate – I was feeling the Bern before Sanders exited stage left – but I’m supporting Hillary’s decision to carve out her own career path and not be dictated to by pundits, pollsters and party hacks.
Recently I had a conversation with a female colleague – similar age and stage of career as me. She was having a wee rant about senior academic women who she saw as gatekeepers, viewing them as past their prime and deeming it time for them to step aside and let in “new blood”.
In my imaginings I have an amazing poker face. In reality my disappointment was displayed ostentatiously.
There’s a personal repulsion to the idea that in twenty or thirty years time there’ll be a knock on my office door telling me that contributions are insufficiently fresh. Ours is a culture that already gives women too many reminders that their value diminishes with each passing birthday, we don’t need to hear this nonsense from workplaces, many of which remain paradoxically mesmerised by bright-eyed-and-bushy-tailedness while simultaneously lamenting inexperience and disloyalty. My grievance however, is broader and distinctly more gendered than this.
For too long women have internalised the idea that there’s only one man, one job, one by-line, one book contract, one promotion, one version of success that we need to catfight to the bitter end for. We need to stop buying into the idea of everything being a scarce resource and that it’s other women who are blocking our paths to success. This is self-defeating and it’s also misogynistic.
The idea that Hillary should step aside buys into the notion that not only do older women need to leave things to younger people – a burden rarely on the heads of older men whose shelf-life seemingly extends as long as their heart keeps beating – but that there is an obligation for a woman to somehow do the right thing.
Being too ambitious or too opportunistic have always been viewed as ugly qualities in women. Instead, women – particularly so older ones who we’ve culturally decided have “had their turn” – are expected to forgo their own aspirations and prioritise the needs and wants of everyone else, all the while plastering on a smile of infinite forbearance.
Hillary doesn’t have an obligation to anyone else here. She doesn’t have to step aside to let someone else have a go, she doesn’t have to put the party’s “needs” ahead of her own. If the 2016 election taught us anything, it’s that politics is by no means a meritocracy. There’s no fairness, no queue, no natural bloody order. Hillary throwing her hat into the ring doesn’t get her the job – it doesn’t even get her through the primary process – therefore the system should decide if she’s their best chance come 2020 not a culture that has decided 71 is an unforgiveable age for a woman.
Hillary won the popular vote by 3 million votes in 2016. She has unprecedented name recognition, and she’s had every bit of her laundry aired and unpicked. She’s battle-hardened, more than qualified, boasts fundraising finesse and is quite possibly the middle-of-the-road answer for a country that isn’t quite ready Beto, having, alas, nudged further to the right in recent years. Hillary’s also the only one who can serve as a corrective: that America may have slipped and stumbled but that history can get back on track once again.
A note of incredulity is detectable in think pieces about any kind of Clinton resurrection. A sense that running again would be undignified is barely below the surface. Hillary is the only one who has to face her reflection in the morning and she’s the only one who should decide when she’s had a gutful of this malarkey. Had she been a man we’d be praising her for never saying die. As a woman we apparently want her to focus on her macramé. Hillary needs to change not only the course of history but the discourse around gender and ageing. Hillary Clinton is the one to do that.