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Image: Senator Hillary Clinton
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"If ever there was an example of a deficient sisterhood, and a show of female rivalry," writes Barash, "it has been threaded throughout Hillary's campaign."
By
TODAY
updated 4/23/2008 9:29:10 AM ET 2008-04-23T13:29:10

According to womensenews.org, recent polls have indicated that women in the past five weeks have "steadily supported" Hillary Clinton. As reported by the BBC News, Senator Clinton won 57 percent of the female vote last night in the Pennsylvania primary.

This victory represents a long needed turnaround in female thinking, and the hope that women are coalescing, recognizing that our country needs and deserves the chance for female leadership.

Throughout Hillary Clinton's long and arduous campaign to be the democratic presidental nominee, she has been scrutinized by men and women alike. In fact, perhaps the harshest criticism has come from women. While the Clinton female constituency is reported to be older women with a feminist leaning, comprised of baby boomers who remember and recognize the ongoing struggle for equality and identify with feminism, the pressure for women to not support Hillary Clinton is manifold. It is always surprising to me, and fundamentally disturbing, when a woman of any age announces that she "hates Hillary." After all, whether you agree with her politics or not, Hillary Clinton has gone where no other woman in America has gone, and therein lies the problem.

When we consider that women in America did not have the right to vote less than 100 years ago (as mentioned by Hillary in her speech last evening), we are reminded of how patriarchal our culture is, and how pervasive male supremacy remains. This segues into how we have been bombarded by anti-Hillary sentiments by male journalists and television hosts, echoed by a male mentality beyond media influence, that rears the ugly face of sexism and tokenism in America.

For many men, it is enough to disdain Hillary merely because she is an impressive woman, even though the rhetoric is contradictory. Haven't we all heard a man in the room say, "It's not that I'm against a woman for president. I just don't like her"? Women who succeed in our society are always held to a higher examination than their male counterparts. We know too well that ambition and aggression are lauded for men and frowned upon for women.

The more disquieting issue is when women do not appreciate Hillary, and speak against her with venom and emotion. We know that she's struck a nerve, but what nerve? If ever there was an example of a deficient sisterhood, and a show of female rivalry, it has been threaded throughout Hillary's campaign. Frequently, women inspect Hillary's life both professionally and personally. As Amanda Fortini points out in her New York magazine article, "The Feminist Reawakening," Hillary's every decision is judged. Fortini writes of Hillary's "compromises" as "her imperfect resolutions to the dilemmas faced by many women: Do you stay with a man who has betrayed you, or divorce him?" she asks us. Hillary herself said at the April 16th debate in Philadelphia, “I have a lot of baggage, and everybody has rummaged through it for years."

As if the gender card doesn't carry enough weight (only 21 percent of the primary voters in Pennsylvania felt that gender was meaningful in their decision), the female argument against Hillary is that she shouldn't be supported just because she's a woman. This proves that the mixed messages of our society continue to confuse women. Yet why has there been such nastiness from those who don't choose her, why not some respect? Time and again, women have remarked that Hillary is where she is because of Bill's success, which not only diminishes the concept of a woman's access to an agency that is all her own, but raises salient questions. Why don't women advocate women? Why is a powerful woman so threatening and polarizing, rather than considered a role model?

When Nora Ephron pointed out in her Huffington Post piece that "white men will still decide who gets to be president," it drives home how important it is for women to band together. Yet contrary to conventional belief that female solidarity is alive and well, the exact opposite has been evidenced in the reaction of many women to Hillary.

If we take it a step further, what exists is a "limited goods" theory. Instead of being expansive toward other women, we believe in a "magical theft," as if somehow Hillary's ascension connotes another woman's lost opportunity. The shame here is not only in this profound lack of support, woman to woman, but a false sense that our fate is to miss out when another woman wins.

Hillary Clinton has obviously put a tremendous amount of effort into achieving her position. Yet she has been excoriated for her ambition and worse, frowned upon for what both women and men view as her enterprising spirit. There are women who have only rooted for her when she failed or felt pain, as seen 10 years ago during the Monica Lewinsky scandal or more recently, this past January, when Hillary revealed a chink in her armor at a breakfast in Portsmouth, N.H. When a woman asked her how she was able to get out of bed each day, Hillary had tears in her eyes. She was immediately criticized or cheered by various media, but her vulnerability appealed to women, perhaps showing that she is one of them.

Can Hillary truly know how to act when there has been no woman who has gone down this path before in U.S. history? Why is it that women don't imagine that they can succeed or fail on their own terms, only measuring themselves against other women? Research has shown that over 90 percent of women from different social strata claim that envy and jealousy toward other women colors their lives. Eighty percent say they have encountered jealousy in other females since grade school. We envy successful women and applaud when they crash and burn. This is all too familiar, from our high school days of covert jealousy toward the popular girl, the brainy one, the athlete — anyone who exceeded our abilities and goals.

Therefore, last night's results are particularly meaningful and prove that we can progress in our thinking and world view. The female support for Hillary in Pennsylvania pushed aside the sense that female power is a negative, and offered a show of women as allies. If women voted for Clinton by a 12-point margin — and CNN reported yesterday that single women in America, if mobilized, can have an impact on the next election — we know that women can champion a woman who runs for president.

Hillary, as a pioneer, brings hope that transcends the negativity spewed at her, and the unrelenting hits from every corner that have made it doubly difficult to forge ahead. With no model to follow, a winner emerges, as does a newfound belief in a female unity and the promise that more options will open up for us than ever before.

Susan Shapiro Barash is the author of "Tripping the Prom Queen: The Truth about Women and Rivalry" and, most recently, "Little White Lies, Deep Dark Secrets: The Truth about Why Women Lie."

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