Sunday, June 8, 2008

Hillary Clinton & the Glass Ceiling

In the (sadly) now defunct British Literature class, one of my favorite units has always been the one on Virginia Woolf. We study A Room of One's Own, and while the students find it tough reading, they routinely report the conversations that result to be among the best of the entire year.

And this year, as in all years, we have lived those issues. The first year I taught the course was immediately after the Larry Summers incident, and every year, current events have pushed us deeper and deeper into the heart of these intense problems. While I ultimately supported Obama, I was really taken by Clinton, especially at first. I think what Woolf would say is that Clinton's anger and frustration got in the way so that she was not able to "express her genius whole and entire" and to "burn incandescently" like Woolf feels Shakespeare did. Obama has worked through his sense of injustice in the world, as he outlines so powerfully in his books, and this is a big part of his appeal to me - the magnanimity with which he treats those who attack him, most clearly in his dealings with Reverend Wright when Obama refused the easy rejection and paid the consequences. Clinton understandably is still working through a lifetime's worth of frustration and anger, and part of what turned some voters like me off was the edge of desperation that marked the second half of her campaign. She is right that while she did not break the glass ceiling, she put eighteen million cracks in it. And for that, we should all be grateful.

Here's a good article that sums this up, and asks, as I do, why it is that Clinton's last speech of the campaign was her most powerful and genuine. I suspect this is because she felt that in order to win, she still needed to project a certain image that was in some fundamental way either at odds with her soul, or if not that, then at least partial. Woolf said she felt women needed a hundred years from when she was writing before the progress could truly manifest. If her prophesy is correct, we still have twenty to go, which would make the time right when my current students come of age.

We live in exciting times.

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