Casting Stones

When Hillary said during her New Hampshire victory speech, “Over the last week, I listened to you, and in the process I found my own voice,” I snorted. It seemed odd that after campaigning for a year, she would only now have found her voice. But my wife, Amy, said, “Oooh. That’s good. Women will like that.”Why? Because for many modern women, the struggle is seldom about overt sexism or glass ceilings. It’s about battling persistent self-doubt, resisting the powerful temptation to adjust one’s style – and yes voice – toward a male-dominated culture. When, during a debate, Hillary raised her voice and was then called “shrill,” it likely resonated with women. And when male pundits and candidates (John Edwards) mocked her relatively controlled display of emotion as being a sign of weakness, it reminded women of how many times in their own lives their authentic voices were criticized or squelched. Women, particularly of Hillary’s generation, struggle not so much against censorship but against self-censorship. I think what made the crying moment important was not that it “humanized” her but that it reminded us of the full arc of her story. She succeeded at a time when the only way to do so was by wearing (metaphorically) men’s clothing. She created a successful career only to find her influence connected to her husband — even worse, a husband who treated her badly. Like so many women of her generation, she dealt with the cross-pressures by creating a tough, controlled demeanor. Now she finds herself in an era when voters, or at least her fellow women, want female leaders to be more in touch with their feminine side. That didn’t come easily to Hillary. So when she finally showed her vulnerability, I suspect women all over New Hampshire felt a deep, deep connection. She tried so hard to keep it together, and then discovered she didn’t have to. What a relief that must have been for her to discover that in letting go – and, just as important, weathering the mockery that ensued – she would be rewarded with a huge empathetic embrace.