Hillary Clinton is not a woman, and that's a triumph for feminism and a problem for Hillary.
Let me clarify.
Yes, technically she is female. But when millions of Americans think of Hillary Clinton, they don't think of her gender; they think of, well, Hillary Clinton. Some may think of her as a heroic liberal technocrat. Others might think of her as a deeply partisan politician. The list goes on: She's a supportive (or enabling) wife, a great (or terrible) former secretary of state, a left-wing bully or a victim of political witch hunts.
What she is not is an icon for a category of humanity called "womanhood."
This strikes me as a significant victory for feminism, though not for professional feminists and certainly not for Hillary Clinton.
Clinton, who on her best days is a workmanlike (workwomanlike?) politician, desperately wants to borrow some unearned excitement about her gender. And to her great frustration, it's not happening. In Iowa, Bernie Sanders crushed Clinton among women under 30 years old by 70 percentage points (84-14). He beat her significantly among 30- to 44-year-old women (53-42). Meanwhile, Clinton trounced Sanders among mature and, uh, very mature women. Women over the age of 65 backed Clinton 76 percent to 22 percent.
But in the lead-up to the New Hampshire primary, Sanders had opened an 8-point lead over Clinton among New Hampshire women, according to polls.
While a gaggle of female Democratic politicians and aging feminist writers and actresses have tried to gin up female solidarity, it's largely backfired.
Gloria Steinem, a fading icon of a bygone era, said that Bernie Sanders is attracting young female supporters because they're boy-crazy, and "the boys are with Bernie." She later apologized.
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was trotted out to issue her favorite quip: "There's a special place in hell for women who don't help each other!"
Albright's defenders note that she's been saying this for years. And that's true. She traditionally aimed this banishment to eternal damnation at women who undermined other women in contests for the one token woman's position.
And that's quite telling. While there's surely still sexism out there, the days when women had to make do with token positions as representatives of their gender are largely behind us. Clinton herself was the third female secretary of state. No one thought she got the job because she's a woman.
In other words, Albright, like Clinton, is a product of another age, and she sounds like it.
The best part of feminism was always grounded in the simple idea that women should be judged as individuals, not categories.
The irony, however, is that in pursuit of that laudable goal, feminists argued that society needed to do the opposite. Whether through hard quotas, Title IX lawsuits or social pressure, feminists argued that a certain amount of tokenism was required to get society to a place where women could be judged on their individual merits.
We can debate all day whether those efforts were warranted, fair or wise -- or if they are still required. The simple fact is that we now live in a country where a woman as accomplished as Hillary Clinton can't get away with claiming she deserves a job just because she's a woman.
Again, I'd like to think that argument wouldn't fly coming from any woman, but it really falls apart coming from Clinton, precisely because no one sees her as an abstraction. Most people see her as a very controversial and compromised person who has been in the news for nearly 30 years.
It has been widely reported that Team Clinton wants to re-create the Obama coalition from 2008. The problem with that plan is that Hillary Clinton is no Barack Obama, for good and for ill. Race and gender play different roles in our society. And, right or wrong, the prospect of the first black president was more exciting for more Americans than the prospect of the first female president is.
Moreover, Obama was largely an unknown, upon whom diverse voters could impose their hopes and expectations. Clinton keeps reinventing herself to no avail; people know who she is.
That's why when she says she's not part of the "establishment" because she'd be the first woman president, most people scratch their heads and say, "Huh?" When she invites female senators and celebrities to say Clinton's the rebel, young people see the establishment rallying around one of their own. Shouting, "I am woman, hear me bore" won't change that.