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‘Hillary & Women’

In response to:

Hillary & Women from the April 7, 2016 issue

To the Editors:

Zoë Heller makes several factual errors in her piece “Hillary & Women” [NYR, April 7]. I’m writing about the one that concerns me. At the end of the essay, she writes:

Indeed, several of the women who have declared their intention to vote for [Hillary Clinton] in this election have cited their empathy with her sufferings, their understanding of what it is to be slighted and mocked and undervalued by a male-dominated system, as part of what has clinched their decisions.

She then quotes a blog post I wrote about the grim feminist epiphanies of my late thirties. That piece, however, says nothing about these experiences clinching my decision to vote for Clinton; it was about a tangential subject, the ongoing electoral divide between older and younger women.

I wrote a separate essay, “Hard Choices,” about my decision to support Clinton in the Democratic primaries after opposing her in 2008. As I said there, the determining factor is my conviction that Bernie Sanders, whose politics I generally share, would be eviscerated in a general election. Heller may disagree, but her suggestion that I want to elect Clinton to the highest office in the land because “men have criticized Clinton’s figure and voice and called her ‘Hellary’ and declared themselves repulsed at the idea of her going to the toilet” is, while perhaps amusing, flatly untrue. If Heller is going to mock other writers for not having “very good or grown-up motives” for their political stances, she might at least render those stances somewhat accurately.

I assume you’ll be running a correction, as Heller also misspells the name of feminist writer Jill Filipovic, and groups her among Clinton’s “older female supporters,” even though she is thirty-two. If and when you do, I hope you’ll correct Heller’s mischaracterization of my own position as well.

Michelle Goldberg
Slate
Brooklyn, New York

Zoë Heller replies:

My apologies to Jill Filipovic for misspelling her name. (At thirty-two, she is not old, I agree, but I think it was fair to identify her as “older” than the young women whose voting choices she was attempting to explain.) I am also sorry if Michelle Goldberg feels that I misrepresented her arguments, although I don’t believe my reading constitutes a “factual error.” It’s difficult to read the Slate post from which I quoted and not conclude that Goldberg’s empathy with Clinton’s sufferings has played a significant part in her voting choice (or at least in making that choice more palatable to herself). The piece is a defense of Debbie Wasserman Schultz’s claim that young women who vote for Sanders are “complacent” about the importance of having a woman president. In it, Goldberg does observe, parenthetically, that she would vote for Sanders if she believed he was electable, but she devotes considerably more space to describing the sexist slurs that Clinton has endured and to lamenting the naiveté that young Sanders supporters evince about “sexism’s continuing salience.”

The other Slate article to which Goldberg refers in her letter is, if anything, more forthright on the subject of her empathy with Clinton and how it has shaped her voting choice. She proposes that much of what is disappointing, both about Clinton’s political record and her inability to be “frank and open with voters,” can be explained by the sexist attacks that Clinton has endured throughout her political career. (If Clinton has built “a carapace around her true self,” Goldberg writes, it is because “there is no person in America who has been subject to such constant, withering public dissection. Tens of thousands of words have been devoted to sneering at her hairstyles. She’s been jeered at for her laugh, her wrinkles, her ankles, her clothes.”) She concludes that “for a progressive, how you reconcile conflicting truths about Clinton depends, to some extent, on how much you empathize with her.” It’s worth noting that as an (indisputably) older woman of fifty, I too object to the sexist treatment that Clinton receives. I just don’t believe it’s a good reason to vote for her. The enemy of your enemy is not always your friend.