The column I intended for this week has been put aside. This is a historic moment, and as a journalist, with a front row on history, and as a woman in what many still think is a man’s job, I cannot let the moment pass without offering the recognition it surely deserves. Finally, in my lifetime, a woman has become the presidential candidate of one of the two major parties in the United States of America.
Although I have voted for candidates of both parties in different presidential elections, depending which one I thought was better, this has nothing to do with party affiliation. I would never pick party over country. The triumph of this moment does have to do with a struggle for equality in governing that is as recent as my mother’s hard-won right to vote in the 1920s. Can you imagine a time, not prehistoric but merely one family generation back, when women could not even vote? Or earn careers in medicine, law, business, literature or the arts?
This has nothing to do with whether I like Hillary Clinton or don’t like Hillary Clinton, any more than whether I am a Republican or a Democrat. This turn of events feels like we are emerging from the dark ages and into the sunshine of the 21st century. And to be honest, I am surprised at how powerfully this moment affects me.
Yes, I came of age during “women’s lib,” graduating from college at the time Betty Friedan’s book, “The Feminine Mystique,” was published. And yes, I was one of the early wives and mothers in our social circle to balance the needs of a family with those of a business, but frankly I never thought of myself as a member of “the second sex,” or as a revolutionary. I was merely doing what for me “came naturally.” But throughout my life working these dual jobs, I have felt the contradictions within society about a woman’s “role.” Indeed, my own mother was dead set against my starting a newspaper, accusing me of “abdicating my responsibilities at home.” But I thought all that was long past.
Why shouldn’t a woman lead her party in a run for the presidency? If the population feels she is qualified, why shouldn’t she lead her country as president? Now there is a lot more going on during this vindictive presidential campaign than women’s rights. In fact, I wasn’t so aware that the issue of women’s rights was playing a part. So much of the population is angry, frustrated, even frightened with how they are being governed by an obstructionist Congress and a rapidly changing economy.
Thus my surprise by my own reaction on the level of gender equality. I still remember when Geraldine Ferraro, who came to the New York Press Association as the keynote speaker when I was its president in the 1980s, declined my husband’s offer of a corsage. He had bought one for her and one for me, but she explained she “couldn’t look too feminine.”
I also recently remembered with a laugh, as I was recalling early history to my 21-year-old grandson, that I had been propositioned while eating alone in a dining room of a hotel before a convention was to begin there the next day. “Good girls don’t do that,” I was admonished, for dining solo. Lest I chalk up that encounter to a fluke, it happened again on the train trip home.
The past may be past, but it surely isn’t forgotten. And when I looked around the table last month at the board of directors meeting of the NY Press Association and realized that there were only two other women publishers in a room of 28 board members, I realized that the past isn’t even past. But clearly there is hope.