History is in the age of the beholder. As Hillary Clinton appeared on screen Tuesday to accept her party’s nomination for president, the camera pulled back to reveal a multigenerational crowd and a child by her side.
“If there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch,” she said, “let me just say, I may become the first woman president, but one of you is next.”
On the floor of the Democratic National Convention, some women wept. Some clapped politely. Some seemed more struck by the special effects glass ceiling that shattered as Clinton’s face emerged from an all-male sea of past presidents, smiling.
Part of that was the range of feelings about Clinton herself, even inside her party. But part also had to do with way change feels when it occurs over generations. Here is how the moment felt to three women – boomer, Generation Xer and millennial.
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The Baby Boomer: Shawn Hubler
I was born in the late 1950s. Growing up, in pretty much every house of every playmate, there was a “mother’s chair” and a “father’s chair.” When a working man came home, he would sit and watch the news and wait for dinner. Women didn’t work unless they “had to,” my mother, the salutatorian of her high school class, told me, and only a selfish person would take a job from a family’s dad.
That sounds retrograde now. But in that time and that rural town, it was conventional wisdom: Everyone had a place, and society worked best if everyone stayed in theirs.
And though my parents were intensely proud of my eventual career, those early impressions also were ingrained. As I watched Hillary Clinton’s nomination, I was struck by how deeply I had tamped down hope that a woman would ever occupy the Oval Office. As it sank in, I found myself in tears.
Watching that sea of cheering female faces, I thought of the girls I had gone to high school with, before Title IX, who wanted to play sports but couldn’t; of the classmates who had gotten pregnant before abortion was legal; of the cousins who marched for the Equal Rights Amendment; of the dress code in my first workplace that banned slacks for women. Of the day, midway through my career, when the payroll clerk accidentally gave me the wrong check, and I realized that a man with half my experience and skill was making 50 percent more money. I thought of my mother, who couldn’t afford college.
I thought: History will never know, really, all the struggle and sacrifice and hard work that went into this moment. I thought: Somebody give that woman a chair.
The Gen-Xer: Erika D. Smith
As I watched Hillary Clinton, smiling proudly above hundreds of crying delegates, all I could think was: “I should really care more about this. I should be crying, too. This is historic!”
But the tears just weren’t there.
When Barack Obama got nominated in 2008, I cried. Oh, did I cry. Until that moment, I never thought that a black man could become president of the United States. And eight years later, with that black man a sitting president, I suspect there are millions of black children who still don’t believe they can do it – and I don’t blame them. Part of me thinks Obama was a fluke.
But a woman becoming president? That’s different.
I grew up in the 1980s believing I could do lots of things with my life, but not that. I remember being in elementary school and one of my classmates, a little blond girl, announced that she wanted to be president when she grew up. All of the boys made fun of her. It was pie-in-the-sky stuff.
But then the 1990s came along and I remember Hillary Clinton in the White House, rocking her pants suits and righteously rankling the good ol’ boys in Washington by refusing to play the traditional role of first lady.
I remember the attacks she endured – for being a woman, for being brilliant, for having good ideas, for wanting to be in charge and for refusing to stay silent. I remember the sexism and the many ways she fought back. And somewhere along the way, my expectations about having a woman in the Oval Office changed.
Michelle Obama, in her speech Monday, put it best: “Because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters, and all of our sons and daughters, now take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.”
Count me among them.
The Millennial: Aly Pachter
As I watched Hillary Clinton break through that glass ceiling, I realized I couldn’t really comprehend the glass ceiling.
In my head, I knew it was a historic moment. But I didn’t feel the excitement of this monumental step forward for women everywhere.
Most of this is because of my privilege of growing up in the era that I did, with the parents I did and with the fight for gender equality well under way by the time I came into the world. A woman’s right to go to school, work, vote, hold office and make decisions about her body – these were all battles won by the time I came along.
I saw my mom work full time and never doubted her ability to be a mother to me as well. I played house growing up, sure, but I also played doctor, teacher and superheroes with my brother, taking turns on who would be in charge of the game.
Never in my life did I question the fact that a woman would be president, and I would be alive to see it. So, when I voted for the first time in the California primaries, gender played no part in my decision. It didn’t shock me that a woman might be the most qualified candidate, but I also didn’t vote for her simply because she is a woman.
Yes, I think it is a little overdue, but this historic moment isn’t surprising, shocking or even emotional for me. Of course a woman can be president. Of course.
Some might say I don’t know my own history. But I do. I know it, I just have no frame of reference for it. I’ve never been up against institutional sexism. I’ve never doubted my own ability based upon my gender.
I owe a lot of that to the work of Hillary Clinton.