Hillary and the revolution

8 Jun

 

Long ago when I was a politics student, my supervisor asked me to attend a seminar group he ran, and to give a presentation on an obscure philosopher who influenced Marx’s thinking. When I duly turned up, I found the class in a basement room, and as I opened the door, the smell of leather jackets, young men and old tobacco was strong.  I was the only woman in the room.  There was a kind of hanging silence as I said my piece and all the men nodded earnestly at various points and attended carefully.  At the end there was a bit of back and forward intellectualising, and we all got up to go.  One of the leather-jacketed hoard followed me out saying how impressed he was – there was an air of surprise in his commentary.

 

Later on my supervisor said that I’d done well and didn’t need to attend the rest of the course, just get on with my own thing.  I took this as a compliment and buckled down to my project – by this time I was known as ‘the girl who did theory’.

 

In retrospect, I’ve wondered how good a thing it was not to carry on around the table with the leather jacket brigade, as they built their social capital on metaphorical beard-stroking (this was pre-hipster) over the subtleties of different forms of dialectical materialism.  Meanwhile I plugged away in splendid isolation, and left university with good marks for my Marx studies, and a lifetime supply of quotes to insert into political arguments …

 

I was reminded of my lonely furrow as woman of the Left, when news came through that Hillary Clinton had won the Democratic nomination for the US presidency. Of course, the problem for many – notably Sanders supporters – is that she is just not Left enough, that she is undesirably hawkish, too close to Wall Street, too much of a throwback to a previous flawed regime.  These issues have rather overshadowed the milestone of her achievement of becoming the first woman to make it to nominee to contest the Presidency in the USA – a country with even lower political representation of women than the UK, where 29% of MPs are female.  And it made me think that women’s fight for recognition and for power has often been a side order with someone else’s revolution;  how the Left in various guises has been known to put feminism on the backburner, while the struggle for systemic change goes on with other priorities.  I understand where these arguments come from, but it is extraordinary quite how quickly the issue of women’s representation – that’s over half the population we’re talking about –  can be subsumed under other considerations.

 

I have no illusions as to the flaws of Hillary as a candidate, but it is worth remembering how she has got there.  It has been by sitting at the table and carving a space in what remains a world designed largely by and for men.  A world in the USA, where reproductive rights and employment protection for parents are not universally provided, and where childcare is even more patchily available than here, and just as unaffordable for many. On these issues, she has a reasonable record.  And as for other progressive issues in social policy, foreign policy, environment and so on, she seems no more or less flawed than her predecessors.  Even Obama has not been perfect, nor has he delivered conclusively on every issue to which the ‘hopey-changey’ thing aspired. In the recent documentary series on BBC2 ‘Inside Obama’s White House’, one of the most striking parts was where Obama admitted his frustration that as President of the United States, there were times when there was little he could do to make things happen.  Even this power is limited. But Hillary can make something happen for women by taking her place at the highest table of all, and showing that this is possible.  Or you could give the whole handcart over to Donald Trump – but that’s not my kind of revolution either.

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