When I was a (precocious, bratty, alarmingly widely-read) child, I used to call my mother “Mommie Dearest” to irk her. I didn’t actually understand what the big deal was, probably because my notions of the obligations of motherhood were yet unformed and because I lacked the experience of widespread judgment, censure, and equally inappropriate approbation and opprobrium with which perfect strangers feel entitled to shower us on the basis of our motherhood. So that little barb, coming from me, wasn’t an indictment of my mother’s parenting skills, kindness, or commitment to her family; it was just a way to make my mom grit her teeth and cast her eyes heavenward.

Now I am an adult, and my husband is an avid reader of Vanity Fair, so I understand a little more about the alleged sins of Joan Crawford. And I have to regret my callow callousness a little bit. But I’m growing up, you know? I’m realizing the depth of my insensitivity, my total failure to appreciate the pressures and circumscription that even my mother, a relatively liberated mid ’70s West Coast mom, experienced. Unfortunately, I have also realized that there’s probably no way to make up for the grief I gave her.

In Salon today, Phyllis Chesler writes about motherhood, parenting, second- vs. third-wave feminism, and Rebecca Walker’s public recriminations of her mother, Alice. It’s a piece worth reading. But what stands out in it is this rebuttal to Rebecca Walker’s public decrying of her mother’s failure to fill the stay-at-home mom role amply occupied by her stepmother, Judy:

Yes, and Alice did all the things that women like Judy don’t want to do and can’t do: Write great poems and novels, devote oneself to world work, crusade for human and women’s rights. Rebecca: Trust me, a woman really cannot do both. The myth that we can is a dangerous one.

Chesler makes some important points about the fact that third-wave feminism may not always appreciate the oppression of motherhood and how it was applied to past generations of women. She describes the danger women risk when they try to do anything else but mother well. And she makes the revolutionary and yet entirely relevant, necessary observation that women are still measured by their success as mothers (and demonized for their failures at mothering):

However, great men are allowed every excess and failure; great women are never forgiven for making a single mistake. Great men are allowed their female mistresses, male lovers, wife-secretaries, binges — and they rarely see their children. Or they exploit and abuse them.

Are we conscious of how ingrained this kind of bias, this negative judgment, is in all of us? Is a writer like Rebecca Walker (whom Chesler damns with the faint praise of being “beautiful and talented in her own right” as opposed to Alice Walker’s “world-class talent”, and, having caught more than one essay, radio piece, etc. by the younger Walker, I have to agree) aware of the unfairness of the lens through which she views her own childhood? Did anyone ask how much time Obama was spending with his kids during this primary — the one where Hillary Clinton was accused of every sin of character in the book, not to mention “pimping out” Chelsea?

I doubt it. And that brings me back to what Chesler says, and what I said a few days ago: you can’t have it all. And you are crazy to even try. Sorry, kids — I know you were hoping that you could raise a beautiful family and have an organic garden and write thoughtful, above-average literary novels and go to your kid’s baseball games, but you can’t, or rather, you could, but who wants to write above-average literary novels? Nobody’s going to remember them in fifty years; above-average means that your date was polite and wearing a pressed shirt and could converse intelligently about current trends in the habits of the bourgeoisie (slow food, tap water vs. bottled water, David Sedaris, and anything else recently featured on NPR). Rebecca Walker is above-average. Rebecca Walker is making a living and has a following (probably of mostly white, upper middle class women too timid to question her assertions and regaled by the exoticism of her mixed-race ancestry and the fact that she named her kid after a Tibetan lama, but that’s another post).

But in love, as in literature, we’re not looking for above-average. “Good enough” is a phrase often tossed around as definitive in mothering, but not so in art. The date that’s adequately groomed and reasonably articulate is OK; we can survive on that, biding our time and confirming our assumptions about life until something sublime comes along, something that will sweep us off our feet and have us waking up, bleary-eyed and breathless, in Tahiti with a new and charming tattoo on our left palm — a tattoo we would never have considered getting, one that challenges our assumptions, one that transforms us.

Alice Walker is not above-average. Alice Walker will take you to Tahiti and to an unbelievable (and sometimes scary) tattoo artist.

In my own life, I’m a lot of things, impatient and stressed-out and caustic and supercilious being chief among them. But I’m usually not a liar. And I hope I’m not a coward. And I think I’m clear-sighted enough to say, again: No. You can’t have it all. Transformative art does not have a lot of respect for families, for stability, for parenting skills, for environmental quality, for regular and thoughtfully-planned meals. So if these things are important to you, make your choice — and that goes for men as well as women, because even if we still tend to blame women when the parenting isn’t up to snuff, men are no longer expected to supply nothing more than a dinnertime appetite and a paycheck.

And if you are lucky enough to be the child of a parent who maybe didn’t make nutritionally balanced meals and wasn’t around as much as you’d have liked, but who transformed this world and the people in it, think about this before you complain: think about how much bigger and more interesting your world is because of it. Think of how not getting the attention you wanted enriched you, even as it stung. Think of how your mother’s “failings” cannot be laid entirely at her door, but must be shared with your father and with every person in your life and in this world who expected the lion’s share of parenting to go to her.

Because the truth is that all our parents fail us, and none of them manages to always give us exactly what we need. And many, many children do not have the benefit of a mother who transformed the world. Many children, in fact, having nothing but human frailty to blame their parents’ failing on.

I blame the eighties.

Before the eighties, people, especially women, understood there were sacrifices to be made to support one’s lifestyle of choice. If you chose to live on a hippie commune and bake your own bread, you weren’t going to have a lot of new clothes or watch a lot of movies. If you chose to be a career woman, then you were going to be an emasculating ballbreaker with androgynous suits reminiscent of something that would have been standard-issue attire in an Eastern Bloc country; someone else would raise your kids, or you just wouldn’t have any. If you chose to be an artist, you would have to give yourself to your art with a single-minded dedication that precluded any consistently responsible engagement with civic duties, family, or relationship, and if you had a “life partner,” that person would either be another artist who didn’t mind if you disappeared into the studio for days on end or a long-suffering homefires-stoker who’d keep the scaloppine warm for you.

But somewhere around 1985, all of that changed. Suddenly, a career woman was supposed to also zip home in her Audi to scoop up a sniffling toddler and cuddle him on her massive shoulderpad. An artist was supposed to also get enough sleep and keep the house clean. Communes across America started selling their wares nationally, franchising, getting cable TV and materialist yardsticks for personal success. And as our mass media became ever more mass and ever more commodified, so did our ideas about lifestyles. Why buy one when you can buy two? You don’t have to settle. You can have it all!

Most particularly and most damagingly, you women can have it all, the TVs said. You do not have to choose between being successful at a career and being a good parent. You can get up, drop the kids off, go to Jazzercize ™, go to work, come home, relieve the nanny, whip up some tagliatelle with sun-dried tomatoes and arugula pesto, put the kids to bed with an intelligent, literate reading of some juvenile classics, and relax with your handsome spouse and a glass of Chardonnay. This is the eighties! You can do it!

As I recall, this was also the era when Barbie generated new personalities most frenetically: Workout Barbie, Western Barbie, Rocker Barbie, Career Girl Barbie (you know, the one with the suit and the briefcase). I’m every woman, Barbie crowed! And every woman was supposed to buy into the idea that all she needed was a different outfit and a phone booth to get changed in. The Baby Boomers (them again!) both propagated and suffered one of the biggest bullshit myths of the twentieth century, and not just (though most egregiously) for women, but for anyone trying an undertaking that involved sweat, effort, time, and its own unique culture or lifestyle (and that’s most of them):

the idea that You Don’t Have to Choose. You can DO BOTH.

And so in the nineties, when I came of age, we had women getting tenure or making huge deals on Wall Street while also trying to make organic mac and cheese for their toddlers and read The Atlantic and The New Yorker and check out all the most cutting-edge sushi bars with their loyal spouses who were also trying to wear three or four hats — men who had lucrative careers and were squash champions and squired their kids to music lessons and wrote speeches for their senators. And then everyone had to take vacations to The Hamptons or The Poconos and do some power playing with their kids while talking on their enormous car phones to the office.

I had a great view of this particular cultural turn, as I was in college in NYC, and a Barnard Babysitter, for most of this time. I helped grease the wheels of dozens of families on the Upper West Side as they went about their overprogrammed, overachieving business. I paid my way through college on the paychecks of these Power Couples who needed a literate babysitter to get their families from point A to point B with minimal collateral damage. And I saw my own future plans, and those of my peers, shaped by the expectation that we, too, would have successful lives like this: urban orgies of busyness, big paychecks and big expenditures and big culture and quick changes, in those phone booths, from Workout Barbie to Career Girl Barbie to UberMom and back again.

Now it’s the aughts and I’ve been a parent, in a city, with a full-time job, for nearly three years now. And I have my writerly ambitions, all of which are being wholesale neglected in favor of survival. And I can say, unequivocally, this one thing:

You can’t have it all. And you are crazy to even try.

Think about it, people. Those stereotypes — cookie-baking mom, tough-as-nails career woman, crazy reclusive artist, etc. — exist for a reason. The reason is they work. They create a lifestyle paradigm that fosters the life in question. They give excuses and built-in safety valves so that, when a person’s life is focused on success in a particular area, that person is allowed to fuck up or neglect other areas (oh, isn’t it charming that the crazy artist can’t remember to pay taxes, or even: oh, isn’t it cute that the career woman doesn’t know how to open a can, much less cook a meal). These stereotypes are protective. They function. They are not inclusive and hardly p.c., and I hope very much that none of my readers have so little imagination that they understand me to be saying that (for example) a woman can’t both make a home and be good at her job; of course she can. I’m proof of that myself. The issue is that people can’t try to be, to quote my hometown schlock rocker Art Alexakis, “everything to everyone.” Oh, you can do it for a while…

But it’s not so great for your mental health, not in the long term. There are costs to serving two masters (and I haven’t even made a token effort to “stay in shape” or “keep up my creative efforts”; if I were attempting that on top of everyone else, I promise you would be finding dead bodies on 60th ave., in a trail from my house to the bus stop). And you know how I know it’s not just me, but the truth, that the shining promises of “having it all” were a huge load of crap our parents sold us because they wanted to believe they hadn’t really failed at one or the other?

I’ll tell you: all those women I babysat for in college, those bright, successful, culturally literate, attractive women: they’re all on antidepressants. And perhaps some of them are no longer “succeeding” in their marriages or their parenting or their careers, which is sad, but unsurprising.

It’s taken a while, but I think we’re finally ready to not buy the myth. The question is whether we can create a new paradigm more interesting than the one that caused our mothers (and fathers) to create it.

The good people over at Bitch, Ph.D are frothing at the mouth over Clinton tape in which Hillary compares her experience to McCain’s and dismisses Obama’s as minimal. That is just “fucking unacceptable,” the usually-measured B says, because we need to not tear down the competition in comparison to the opposition candidate; in other words, saying that Obama has less experience than McCain is tantamount to a McCain endorsement from Clinton (despite the fact that the Clinton camp has been vocal in saying they’ll support Obama if he wins the nomination, which the Obama camp seems to have some trouble swallowing).

Well, maybe I’m dense (it’s been well-established that my social sensors are not as finely tuned as some of you more emotional types; the INTJ blood runs strong), but it seems like a fairly mundane bit of campaign blather to me, not something to rend one’s garments or tear one’s hair over. I’m more worried about the Obama camp’s missteps, particularly Susan Rice’s epic claim that Obama and Clinton are “both not ready” (!!!!) to answer that 3 a.m. phone call. No matter how out of context that is, Rice’s words are phenomenally stupid, unless she’s a Republican plant. Because if there’s anything that says “Pick red!” to the undecided, unaffiliated voter hesitating between red and blue, it’s a Democrat claiming that her own people are incompetent on national security. Geez. “Yeah, we’ll fix the economy and give you health care, but then Al-Qaeda will come in and destroy your home and your children. But really. Elect us. Please.”

Of course, some people are accusing Clinton of fear-mongering with that ad, and they have an argument. But I’m pretty sure that in political campaigns, that kind of thing goes on all the time. Clinton is playing ball. Obama has taken a difficult position, one of trying to maintain the moral high ground, which means that whenever she throws him a particularly dirty pitch, he takes umbrage rather than swinging (and then his teammates, like the now-infamous Samantha Power, loyally start slinging mud under their breath and are shocked when their comments are overheard). It is, in a very interesting primary season, kind of a letdown.

But the larger issue that bugs me is this: why are the Clinton camp’s attacks on Obama so “divisive” and unforgivable, while the Obama camp’s attacks pass with nary a murmur? From where I’m sitting, they look pretty similar, but I’m stunned by the rage at Clinton I’m seeing. Where does it come from? And could it have anything to do with the idea that Clinton is held to an impossible standard because she’s a woman?

I’m not discounting racism. It’s as real and as destructive as sexism, and I happen to believe in reparative justice/Affirmative Action enough to think that voting for a qualified minority candidate partially because of his or her minority status (meaning gender or race) is a fine idea. But it seems we have an easier time giving Obama a pass for being black (at least the hypermasculine American white view of black males doesn’t totally conflict with the idea of being in power) than giving Clinton a pass for being a woman. And doesn’t that say something about which group, in the 21st century and beyond, will continue on as an underclass?

Think about it, women of color. As a woman of color myself, I sure am.

Well. The discussions of how misogyny and racism play into this Democratic primary keep on raging fast and furious. Mostly misogyny, because, as Robin Morgan points out, racists know better than to out themselves, but nobody thinks twice about a couple of slams on women.

However, I was part of a discussion on a blog I read occasionally this morning that demonstrated to me that racism, too, is alive and well in America. Here it is:

Let’s be honest – Hillary and Barack have made it this far because of their gender and race. The people who got forced out of the race were all more qualified and had better , smarter policies. If anything, we should be upset that gender & race preferences are leaving us with less qualified candidates.

Wow. Who knew that people felt so comfortable airing out their racism in public (as well as claiming superpowers that enable them to know the whys of things even the most seasoned political analysts can’t explain). To be fair, this was a comment to a post, not by the author of the blog. However, the author of the blog (whom I won’t name here out of a wish not to make anyone feel scrutinized, whom I had considered an enlightened and gentle person, and who started the discussion by asking why the backlash against women voters for Hillary seemed so much greater than that against black voters for Barack) chimed right in with:

[Name Redacted], that last paragraph? Very well said. I’m still chewing on it a bit, but I think you touched upon something very, very interesting.

Yeah. It’s very, very interesting all right. It’s very, very interesting that the poster in question feels completely comfortable claiming he knows that the reason Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have made it this far is because of preferential treatment based on gender and race, that they are the beneficiaries of some kind of wrongheaded Affirmative Action on steroids, that they are Not Worthy of being where they are and would not have been chosen if the white male candidates hadn’t been run out of the race so that The Powers That Be could prove they were p.c.

Apart from the problem that claiming there is any monolithic decision about whose candidacy survives is ridiculous (and the American people, even the rich ones who give a lot of money to campaigns, are hardly a monolith, as the fact that Mike Huckabee exists demonstrates), that statement is based on such deeply-rooted racism and sexism (and ignorance — does the poster think that Affirmative Action means “hiring lame-ass candidates who are token representatives of minority groups?) that all I can say is this:

I am ashamed. I’m ashamed to be in the same country as that kind of attitude — or in the same world. I am ashamed that bloggers who seem like nice, normal, kind people can swallow such racist claptrap with nary a murmur. I am ashamed to see the attitudes of educated, moderate people are so little removed from the type of violent racism that causes things like this to happen.

I’ve had a stomach ache for days due to being continually bludgeoned with woman-hating remarks about Hillary. Now my stomach is revolting with revulsion, disgust, and disheartening disillusionment at what this kind of attitude — particularly from my own peers — betrays. I don’t want to look at my children and know that this is the kind of attitude they will continually confront in their lives, for being minorities, for being female, for being anything other than cowardly, goose-stepping supporters of the fucked-up status quo. I don’t want to, but I have to — because I know that they will confront these attitudes and, worse, be the victims of them.

Because I have been confronting racism and sexism my whole life. Because I have been the target — as so many of us have — of racism and sexism my whole life, and I just got a big fat piece of proof that little has changed.

I’ve been hammering and hammering away at all my privileged white friends, all of whom are voting for Obama for indefinable reasons, and it’s the indefinable reasons that bug me: because this campaign is so tainted by deep-rooted misogyny and because these selfsame white liberals I hang out with are giving themselves a free pass to indulge in it, and a pat on the back for being cool enough to get past the racism endemic to America and cast a vote for the black dude, that my internal justice meter is roiling with agita: I do know a couple of people who are voting for Obama, but most of the people I know are voting against Hillary (see this), and frankly, it’s starting to remind me of fifth grade, when arbitrary selections of “cool” became a reason for the ravening ten-year-old wolves to get their teeth in anything that didn’t conform and rip it to shreds. I saw a comment in the NYT that explained Obamamania thusly: “I just want something to believe in.”

And I thought I had low expectations of politics.

What this primary has demonstrated to me is that being a woman, particularly a woman married to a powerful man, is deeply not cool, because our consciousness is not yet mature enough to realize that a woman can be powerful without rejecting her womanhood (see: Amazons, Artemis, Joan of Arc, Thatcher).

And that our unconscious protection of these entrenched anti-woman attitudes will stop at nothing to maintain the status quo.

Prince wrote a song about this kind of problem, and the name pretty much sums up the problematic: “Pussy Control.” I think he’s right to say, “All y’all’s loaded.”

Or, as blogger Election-year Weltschmerz says, “Many whites understand that black people are justified in a legitimate struggle against their own oppression (however problematically they might think about it); many men (and some women) do not think that women’s struggles against patriarchy are so justified.”

Pity, isn’t it?

Being a child of the seventies, I was raised on Free To Be, You and Me, which was, I suppose, my parents’ generation’s attempt at rectifying the ills (intolerance, rigid gender roles, etc.) of their own ‘father knows best’ upbringings. It’s only natural; one of the major things I’ve observed about human nature is that the primary drive of many parents is to right the wrongs their parents inflicted on them, if it’s not to continue perpetrating the same wrongs on their own children (my husband, whose Baby Boomer parents are ten years younger, was raised on this recording, which I can only speculate qualifies as the former, as the Baby Boomer’s main complaint is that their parents were uncool, although if you think “cool” is Paul McCartney singing “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” then you have bigger problems than I can solve).

Anyway, I loved Free to Be, You and Me, because it addressed all the limiting stereotypes my parents had grown up with and which were still making themselves evident in the late 70’s and early 80’s. “William’s Doll” is one of the songs that sticks out. You may remember it, but if not, you can see the cartoon and hear the song:

Yes, that is Alan Alda singing along with Marlo Thomas, and yes, the cartoon William manages to stay cheerful and well-adjusted until his grandma finally brings everyone to their senses, despite having undergone the censorious faces of his peers jeering, “A doll…a doll..don’t be a jerk!” at every opportunity. It’s a silly and obvious song that goes straight for the schmaltz and ego appeal at the end, not to mention being tacitly complicit with homophobia (Aw! Loosen up, Dadsy. William wants a doll because someday he is going to fertilize a woman’s egg with his sperm, just like you did! He wants a doll so that he can be a man). And yet I love it. I loved it when I was a little kid and I love it now, and I think the reason is that the clever grandma manages to defeat the father’s crushing narrow-mindedness with its own logic, and the little boy gets a reprieve from phallocracy long enough to get what he wants, which is a doll. To love. Because little boys want to nurture things, too, and because it’s just awful when Alan Alda pretends to be an eight-year-old ridiculing a peer (he’s so good at it!).

So when Thing One was born, I resolved not to let his gender identity be so rigidly defined, not to dress him exclusively in the navy, khaki, and hunter green with heavy machinery or mode of transport appliqués that seems to dominate the world of young boys’ clothing, and to let him have a doll. I wanted him to see people as people first and not have to gender-pigeonhole everyone he saw, not to make assumptions about sexuality based on appearance or hair length, and not to feel self-conscious about asserting his maleness. And it was working pretty well until he started going to the co-op, where a lot of the parents are more like William’s dad than they are like his grandma, and where, apparently, some adults have managed to communicate that pink is for girls.

Now, Thing One does have a lot of navy, khaki, and hunter green, because my cousin is the main source of our hand-me-downs and she is apparently not offended by the idea that you must train little boys to look like minature G.I.s or construction workers-in-training, but he also has a lot of unisex stuff mixed in, and some things that were meant for girls: a batik flowered blouse, for example, and a set of socks that prominently features pink (pink with hearts, pink with stripes, pink argyle, etc.). And I was happy that I was inculcating in him the idea that it’s totally normal for a boy to wear pink heart-patterned socks. But one day, all my hopes were dashed: he came home from co-op and informed me, “Mama, I have pink socks like a girl!”

I inwardly groaned, but I persevered: the next time we were playing with his Fisher Price “Main Street,” I named one of the little plastic people (scroll down) K. after his father. It happened to be one with the “lace collar” that is Fisher Price code for “female,” but I figured, what the hell. Who’s to say men can’t wear lace collars? So I went ahead and named all the people, including the bald policeman (Beth) and a couple of other lace collar-wearers (Paul, who is K.’s real life best friend, and Bobby). Thing One accepted it without a murmur, and I was feeling pretty pleased, but then K. came upstairs and I shared with him the news that he had his very own Fisher Price replica, and you know what he said?

“That looks like a chick!” he said.

Never mind that my husband owns more products and wears more girly colors than I. Never mind that he’s metrosexual enough to have me do his makeup when he has an unsightly blemish. Never mind that his friend Paul would probably agree that inside, they’re both a couple of little girls and that there’s something apropos about representing them both as plastic, armless Fisher Price children with plastic molded ‘lace’ around their necks. Apparently, the plastic scalloped collar is just way too threatening to his manhood.

I was disgusted. Only two years old, and already learning a set of stupid, arbitrary rules about what it means to be a man, along with a lot of implied misogyny and belittlement of women, their abilities, and their freedoms. I don’t want my kid to be William’s jeering pals, saying “dolls are for girls,” and I also don’t want my kid to be William and have his dreams crushed because people are paralyzed by the idea of a boy not acting like Rambo all the time.

But maybe there’s hope. Because yesterday morning, Thing One was playing with his dollhouse, and you know what he said? He said, “Mama, I’m a pussyboy!”

I’m not entirely sure what he understands by that. But if he’s OK with it, then so am I.

I’ve been feverishly polling my friends and relations about who they’re going to vote for in the primaries, mostly because I can’t vote in the primaries and am thus desperate to live vicariously through them, and partly because I like arguing with whatever their choice is. It’s actually not been much fun on the devil’s advocate front, because most of the people I know are relatively privileged and relatively young and in stereotypical liberal careers, like teaching or urban planning or perpetual adolescence graduate school, and so they all wishy-washily tend to probably kind of like Obama, so I’m honing that argument but not getting a lot of practice knocking Clinton or Edwards (and my Kucinich-supporting friends have either given up or long since shut up, judging from the lamentably Dennis-free state of my inbox).

So it was with a mixture of anticipation and dread that I hurried to meet my father for lunch, leaving the first (and perhaps only) baby shower I have ever attended (for two mothers from Thing One’s preschool, and even though the invite said “families welcome” and I brought mine, it was like a coven of witches, if witches cooed instead of cackled and amused themselves by flinging miniature pastel outfits at each other while charging tables full of jalapeño dip and chocolate bundt cake, and K. was the only man there and was desperately ill-at-ease even though I reassured him that, since he not infrequently wears pink and reads Vogue, he should feel right at home). Both feelings could be traced to the same source: I was bubbling with curiosity about how the author of my days would be voting, and just as fearful that I wouldn’t want to know. Why, you ask? Because my father, the Sr. to my Jr., the person probably most intellectually and temperamentally like me in all the world, voted for George W. Bush.


Now, apart from the obvious chagrin any designer-college-educated liberal such as myself might have at a family member who’d support a quasi-literate warmonger, my basic objections were just that: basic. My dad is not supposed to vote Republican. My dad is an immigrant, a scientist, a person of color, a product of public schools and the University of California (though he did go private for grad school). He should be a Democrat. I’m comfortable with the notion of him being a faintly socially conservative centrist Democrat, like a lot of the rich people I know, but he should, nonetheless, vote donkey.

I didn’t really discuss the Kerry election with him, but I remember very clearly his rationale for voting Dubya in 2000 (and the only argument that might have convinced me to vote Gore instead of Nader was the argument that it would cancel him out): character. Oh, he was concerned about the economy, and he wasn’t thrilled with how the Dems were taking care of him financially, but the crux of his argument was that the single most important factor in choosing a president was character, honesty, basic goodness and humanity, and he thought Bush edged out Gore. Yup, he had decided Bush was more pure of heart, which may have something to do with being exponentially dimmer, but the tragic part of it all was that his hierarchy of Existential Goodness went like this (first pick to last):





–So in the race as it turned out, his vote went to the man who sent thousands upon thousands of troops to Iraq to kill and be killed, commit war crimes, and generally destroy their own humanity and that of their hapless victims. He was pretty much manifesting that old Winston Churchill chestnut about how everyone ages conservative if they know what’s good for them, and it was making me want to eat nails.

So today I was pretty worried, mostly because I think John McCain is the antichrist, which you understand is a figure of speech because I’m not a Christian. But I was sure my pop was going to be helping propel McCain to the GOP nomination, and this alarmed me because I’m pretty sure the American public is more likely to elect Craggy War Hero than it is Bug-Eyed Evangelist or Mormon “Hair Club for Men” Model. I’m really hoping Romney gets the nomination because my concept of reality won’t admit that the entire country could elect him, and that means the Dems will win. I’m afraid if McCain is the nominee, we’ll see another four or eight years of social conservatism and warmongering, and no, I am not reassured by the fact that McCain is against torture. Yeah. Is he going to go hang at Guantanamo Bay and make sure no waterboarding takes place?

So all this was present in my mind when I asked how my dad was going to vote. And just imagine my surprise when he said, “I think both your stepmother and I will be voting for Hillary Clinton.” Her I expected (my stepmother practically is Hillary Clinton, and is a staunch Democrat to boot), but he threw me for a loop. His reason? Because he thinks Clinton will be better for the economy, and he thinks she’s competent and observant, and he imagines she’ll have the sense to keep sending Bill to Africa (he loathes Bill, mostly because he sees Bill as a silver-tongued Evader of Consequences, and he’s not wrong).

So today I’m going to crack a Bud* and toast my dad, who has executed an amazing feat today: he’s articulated a preference for Hillary that has nothing to do with her gender or her spouse, something the rest of America seems to find impossible. In fact, all of my semi-young and reasonably cool ‘liberal’ friends keep citing Bill, or “the idea of Clinton dynasty in the White House,” as a reason not to vote for Hillary, and I am continually dismayed by this, because the idea that you could sincerely believe that you were a Populist Crusader by trying to Keep a Clinton Out of the White House strikes me as delusional and idiotic. And on the flip side, 56% of her supporters polled in New Hampshire said they would’ve voted for Bill if he could run again (presumable, Hill was the next best thing).

The idea that a person (woman) is necessarily so heavily influenced by her spouse as to make her independent thoughts and actions irrelevant in the face of his (witness the way people responded to this story about Bill’s Nevada exploits) is not just disrespectful and depressing, it’s indicative of an inability to see women as actors. It seems much of America suffers from this limitation. I’m wondering if maybe my dad not being among them has been an enormously freeing force in my life, one that I am only now coming to appreciate.

I’m thinking maybe it is. I’m thinking that a lot of the women I know have families who give lip service to the idea that women have brains but still embrace a lot of insidiously misogynistic ideas, and a lot of these women grow up with the nagging conviction that they can’t really do or think or be anything without a man in charge, and I’m thinking I’m damn lucky not to be one of them.

*A figure of speech; naturally, I only drink microbrewed beer (when pressed), and prefer single malts, Sapphire, and Bordeaux.