The Stages of Feminist Grief, Or How the Democrat Party is Feminist, Until It is Not

Photo by Michael Weibel on Unsplash

First, a disclaimer. While I am going to be doing some ranting and raving here, please do understand I am not one of these people who demand some “purity test.” I do not want to give the impression in what I am about to say that I feel like there is a step by step path here, where a Democrat must support women, equals must support women candidates, equals must support Feminists. I do truly believe in a big tent where many viewpoints and many ideas are welcome, where many candidates are welcome, and in any case, it is not as though “feminist” is even definable these days in any sort of obvious and simple way. Especially since there are “feminists” who are fighting “feminists” (such as, for example, Radical Feminists feuding with Liberal Feminists). So I am not about to rant and rave that the Democrat Party has failed a feminist purity test. What has happened, actually, is more complex than that, which is why I am so very depressed and so very angry and need to rant and rave a little.

Elizabeth Warren really put it best when she said:

“Gender in this race — you know, that is the trap question for every woman,” Warren said,… after announcing she would be suspending her campaign Thursday. “If you say, ‘Yeah, there was sexism in this race,’ everyone says, ‘Whiner.’ And if you say, ‘There was no sexism,’ about a bazillion women think, ‘What planet do you live on?’”

There was a book I read recently called You Play the Girl: On Playboy Bunnies, Stepford Wives, Train Wrecks & Other Mixed Messages by Carina Chocano. There was a passage in there that really resonated with me, since “feminism” is something I am fairly new to, still learning, still exploring, still trying to pull my head out of the sand of my ultra conservative upbringing. She said:

“…. the stages of feminist grief: the shock of waking up to the fact that the world does not also belong to you; the shame of having been so naïve as to have thought it did; the indignation, depression, and despair that follow this realization; and finally, the marshalling of the handy coping mechanisms, compartmentalization, pragmatism, and diminished expectations…..”

Watching the Democrat Presidential Primary play out has crystallized these stages of feminist grief for me. As I watched the news that Elizabeth Warren was dropping out, and as I later watched all of the media blithely completely ignore the fact that Tulsi Gabbard was still there — she was the “invisible woman,” not seen, heard or acknowledged…a too familiar experience for too many women, myself included — the stages of feminist grief settled upon me like a dark despairing cloud. There I sat, absorbing the fact, trying to come to grips with the fact that here is what we have: The choice in the Democrat Party is between two old (well, actually, very old) white-skinned, grey-haired men. Really? I mean, really? What happened?

When the race began, we had six women, every single one of them an excellent candidate, more than capable of taking on President Trump: Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Marianne Williamson, Amy Klobuchar, Elizabeth Warren, Tulsi Gabbard. And we had not just gender diversity, but all manner of diversity. We had Julian Castro, Cory Booker, Andrew Yang, Deval Patrick. And then there was Pete Buttigieg, who really broke a barrier, a gay man with a husband running for President. I looked at this field, at the beginning, and I practically had tears in my eyes from pure happiness, pure joy, pure pride, and enthusiasm, and thought to myself, “Look out Trump, a diverse America is coming to get you.” Oh, I was so gleefully happy.

What happened? I mean seriously, what happened? As of the time I am writing this, it was just 11 days ago, just 11 days ago, that we still had Warren, Klobuchar, Buttigieg. Buttigieg had done so amazingly well — stunningly well, if you really stop and think about it — while Warren was surprisingly slipping and Klobuchar was surprisingly surging, and it was shaping up to be an exciting, intense, and passionate race. Bloomberg was stirring up trouble and making it even more interesting. And I was feeling more gleeful than ever. And Biden? In Iowa and New Hampshire, Biden was a trivial “also ran,” hardly even on the map, not even on the radar, and his grave was being dug by well wishers, quietly and sadly mourning Joe’s demise, but oh well, time to move on…and then….what happened? I wake up one day….and it is 2016 déjà vu all over again. In 2016, Hillary was the recipient of a coronation, not an actual election process, but a fait accompli, ordained in advance, understood to be just how it was going to be. And now, Biden, recipient of a coronation, a fait accompli, just accept he is the nominee. Get over it. Accept it. That is what I heard on the news today, March 11. It is over. It is Biden. Really? What happened?

The Democrat Party, both the party elite and a huge number of voters in the Democrat primaries now jumping on the Biden bandwagon (the voters almost like some strange photo negative reversal, instead of mice jumping from a sinking ship, they are mice jumping to a ship that had sunk but somehow resurfaced) has decided since the number one concern is beat Donald Trump, that Biden is the one. It is so obvious, isn’t it? Biden will beat Trump. Of course he will. Uh-huh. Right. Didn’t everyone say the same about Hillary? When it became clear that Trump had locked up the Republican nomination, weren’t Democrats — and the Hillary team itself — holding parties to celebrate? Certainly it was clear it was game over. Trump the opposition. Obviously, it would be President Hillary Clinton. Uh-huh.

I am still learning when it comes to feminism, but I do know a thing or two about politics. I understand where the conventional wisdom comes from, saying that Biden can beat Trump. It is basic Electoral College mathematics. Trump won because he took the rust belt states. Biden is popular in the rust belt states. Ergo, Biden beats Trump. Fine. But consider this: Klobuchar could have taken those rust belt states. She is from Minnesota. So she has the regional advantage. She is basically a liberal, but with just enough sensible and practical semi-conservatism to appeal to those rust belt voters. Klobuchar is smart, very good at debates, toes the middle ground perfectly and adroitly between the pie-in-the-sky socialists and the more moderate old guard. Klobuchar is 59 years old, meaning old enough to have gained wisdom, but still young enough to speak to younger voters. And, yes, a woman. You wanted a candidate who could beat Donald Trump, there she is. And there she went….and oh, there she is endorsing Biden…..and here I sit, contemplating the stages of feminist grief.

I thought the world belonged to us now, after #MeToo, after Trump fired us up, after so many woman candidates swept into Congress, I thought the world belonged to us. But no, not quite. Not quite. Klobuchar takes the back seat while Biden gets the driver’s seat. I felt ashamed at being so naïve that I didn’t see this coming. I feel indignation, depression, and despair that a woman candidate who had everything needed to beat Trump was bypassed….no, not bypassed, but politely encouraged to accept reality and for the good of the Party, step aside like a good girl….and she did….for a grey-haired old man, a dinosaur of the Old School Age of Politics. So, now I face the fourth stage of feminist grief, pragmatism and diminished expectations. And I balk at that. No. I don’t want to accept the “diminished expectations.” I want to speak out. Biden is not my candidate, and not just because he is old, white, and a man.

Anita Hill, for one thing. Biden was the Chairman of that committee that put that woman through hell. Maybe he was not the head torturer, but he stood by while the torture happened. And would not agree to allowing other witnesses to testify, to at least allow Anita to not be sitting all by herself at that table, facing a wall of men. Yes, Biden apologized to Anita Hill. That is, he apologized when he decided he was going to run for President. You know, the timing of an apology kind of does matter, doesn’t it? When the timing of an apology just happens to coincide with political expediency, does it even really still count as an apology at all? And in any case, Ms. Hill said that she would not characterize what she heard from him as an apology. She did not feel he had taken full responsibility for the precedent set, that culminated in the farce of the Kavanaugh hearing.

Yes, I know, Biden is a sweet, nice guy. And I am not saying that sarcastically. He really is. And in the course of my life, I have known a lot of sweet, nice guys. These are the guys who give you a big smile, and good-natured pat on the back. Uh-huh. But lets be honest here. While it is true that sometimes sexism — much like racism, for that matter — can be a brutally ugly and obnoxious, in-your-face sort of thing, easy to spot and even easier to condemn, there still is another kind of sexism, just like there is another kind of racism. Certainly you are all familiar with the racist who is the nice and friendly guy who says, with a winning smile, “you know, some of my best friends are blacks.” Uh-huh. And in the realm of sexism, that more subtle, insidious, nice and friendly version is known as paternalism. It is the man who is so very sweet to women, chivalrous even. The man who is all about taking care of women, looking after women, helping women, protecting women, some of his best friends are women. Paternalism. Women, actually, don’t need to be “looked after” or “helped” or “taken care of” and, honestly, instead of that friendly and sweet pat on the back, we would really, frankly, rather you instead just simply politely stepped out of the way, because we are going to take our turn. Biden is a sweet, nice guy, but what he needed to do, instead of entering this race, was step aside, and endorse either Warren or Klobuchar and work on behalf of their campaign. That is what he needed to do. Biden is a sweet, nice guy, but he is paternalistic, and that, sorry to say it, is just sexism with a smiley face plastered over it.

And what do the Democrat voters do? They shrug their shoulders and say, “He is better than Trump.” Well, yes. But that is not saying much since that is a pretty low bar to clear. Klobuchar and Warren and Buttigieg are better than Biden. But yes yes yes, I know, the Democrat voters feel Biden will beat Trump. I hope you are right. You weren’t right about Hillary. Through the whole election day, you didn’t want to believe it, you didn’t want to think it was possible, it couldn’t be possible she would lose to Trump. But she lost. And I think it is well within the realm of possibility it could be déjà vu all over again in November 2020 with Biden. Sometime politics isn’t fair or reasonable, sometimes politics is actually completely irrational. I have some inside information from some Trump supporters that I would like to share with Democrats out there. Whatever the pundits say, whatever the number crunchers say, whatever the political scientists say as an answer to the question “why did Hillary lose?” the actual answer can come down to something ridiculously simple, can come down to one — just one — verbal misstep: Hillary lost because she called Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables.” Yep, that is it. And I am not being facetious. I don’t think anyone outside of the world of Trump supporters realized just how much that energized and fired up his people. That was the final rallying cry that put Trump over the top. Now, anyone who knows Joe Biden well, anyone who has actually been paying attention (and I think a very large number of Democrat voters have not been paying attention, as they are obsessing too much on the mantra “must beat Trump must beat Trump”) knows that Biden is the King of the Gaff. He always manages, sooner or later, in his sweet and nice guy way, to say something horrendously offensive or inappropriate. Just one gaff from Hillary was all it took to energize the Trump vote over the top and get him elected. Let us all hold our breath till we turn blue that by some miracle, Biden doesn’t stick one or both feet in his mouth before November. Hillary helped create a massive market for funny “deplorables” T-shirts, and who knows what T-shirt market in Trump World that Biden will create.

The stages of feminist grief. I am still sitting at the stage of depression. And I am eyeing that stage that awaits me down the road, of pragmatism and diminished expectations. Is it inevitable? Is that where I am going to land, because it is just what happens? You know, I cannot help but wonder where Christine Blasey Ford is right now. I don’t mean physically where she is, I mean mentally/emotionally. Is she at the fourth and final stage of feminist grief? And what about Anita Hill? Did she end up at that fourth and final stage? I don’t know. And Warren and Klobuchar, what about them? Klobuchar exiting the race, and then endorsing Biden, sure seemed to me like “pragmatism and diminished expectations.”

And with that, I end this blog, trailing off …“not with a bang but with a whimper”….because I just cannot get out of my head that poem by T. S. Eliot The Hollow Men

Between the idea

And the reality

Between the motion

And the act

Falls the Shadow

A private person, now living mostly “off the grid.” I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science (and photo is from the 80s, I’m hopelessly nostalgic)

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