In a must-read piece headlined "The End (of Women's) History?," Kay Hymowitz explains why the nomination of Hillary Clinton, the first woman to attain to this honor, is eliciting a giant "meh." Even feminist reporter Lynn Sherr asked in June, “How come I’m not feeling the tingle?”
There is of course the singular nature of the first female nominee, the ethical stench, the programmed personality of the nominee, and the suspicion that she did it on a man's coattails.
But Hymowitz finds two other compelling reasons for the lack of excitement that are not rooted on Mrs. Clinton's personality. First, the apathy has grown from identity politics:
But public apathy over Clinton’s history-making is rooted in something deeper than personality. It is an unintended consequence of the very identity politics Hillary would like to surf to victory. Identity politics asks that we view a candidate not as an individual but as a representative of a particular minority group. As the subset of groups has grown with immigration and the LGBT revolution, identity politics has been breeding historical firsts like a policy world’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice.
This year, the Democrats might well have nominated the first Jewish president if they hadn’t instead chosen the would-be first woman president; the Republican field included a woman, two possible first Hispanic presidents, and a possible first Asian-American president. (According to Donald Trump, it also might have included a potential first Canadian president.) Closer to home, New York City recently elected the first Dominican congressman to replace the first black chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, who, once upon a time, defeated the first black congressman from New York State.
Naming other "firsts" (Eric Holder, first African American AG, followed by Loretta Lynch, first African American woman AG; Tammy Baldwin, first "out" gay to serve in Wisconsin state legislature and then U.S. House of Representatives and then Senate, etc.), Hymowitz suggests that we are suffering from "first" fatigue.
But Hymowitz posits another reason: Clinton is getting to the party awfully late. Despite characterizing herself as a feminist trailblazer, Hillary lags behind the real trailblazers: Senator Nancy Kassebaum, elected to the Senate in 1978, who was joined in 1992 by first women senators from Maryland, California, and North Dakota. It was the “the Year of the Woman,” and it was almost a quarter century ago. Geraldine Ferraro became the first woman nominated to be a vice presidential running mate in 1984.
College-educated women, Hymowitz notes, are a "proudly feminist generation," who speak in the "language of patriarchy, rape culture, male privilege, and wage and childcare gender gaps." Still, a USA Today/Rock the Vote survey found that 61 percent of them supported Bernie Sanders in the spring. They are unfazed by Hillary's "first," having seen women CEOs at major companies. Women head the IMF chair and Federal Reserve.
The apathy has been hard on older feminist, who don't quite know what is going on, poor dears:
Older feminists “scold” younger women for failing to appreciate Hillary’s moment. But it’s the old-timers who are misreading both history and the popular mood. Identity politics answers only one narrow set of challenges; our current whirlwind of economic, demographic, and global change presents us with a host of others.
Earlier this week in Philadelphia, delegates waved signs about TPP, not “equal pay.” In the fevered politics of today, it’s not the first woman candidate but old white men—Trump and Sanders—who strike the public as the real change-makers. However wrong-headed that public is, they are a reminder that living history mocks the most carefully laid plans.