MY TURN-Today's article was inspired by a letter I was writing my daughters, daughter in-law and granddaughters. My daughter, Hillary Hunn, added a post on Facebook Wednesday which literally brought tears to my eyes. It said, in part, "I give credit to my mom, Denyse C. Selesnick, and all the pioneering working women like her who blazed the trail to make a historic moment like this a reality. Thanks, Mom. #ImwithHer"
I have gotten to know so many of you over the last three years so I hope you will forgive my taking the liberty of writing a very personal article on the significance to me of Hillary Clinton's nomination and speech on Tuesday night. For all you “Hillary Haters" -- why not use her as a place mark in our long march to equality?
As a woman of "a certain age," I entered adulthood and a career at the time of the real "Mad Men." I watched the show only once, but it was for me a "reality" show in all aspects. I lived it...so I couldn't watch it! I know that many of you younger women, including my own daughters, never faced the situations that we "feminists" did in the sixties, seventies and eighties. You take for granted that you can be anything you want. Fortunately, my granddaughters will have an even more expanded universe to make their mark.
You do not realize what women went through in those years. "Leave it to Beaver" and "Father Knows Best" were the programs on TV when I grew up. In my day, going to college was more about getting an MRS. Degree than an education. I have shared with you that my decision to be a journalist covering international news was made at the age of fourteen. When I divulged that to my mother, she scoffed and said, "Women don't have those type of careers." Girls from middle class families became teachers and social workers until they met "the one" and then they became housewives. This was the rule…not the exception.
My parents were born and grew up in the UK, so not only did they have to embrace the entire Southern California ambience and culture...they had a daughter that wouldn't fit the mold. This was traumatic stuff. I'm sure they pondered the wisdom of their decision to immigrate here more than once.
I met a guy and fell in love but warned him that I had no intention of being a housewife! I wanted to pursue a career and had already gotten a job on a small trade magazine. I also wanted a big family. I don't know if he really believed me but he said OK. I was twenty at the time and thought I could have it all. Even though we have now been long divorced, I know that I never could have done that climb up the ladder without his support. He was a terrific participatory Dad and I will be forever grateful.
The husbands in our circle of friends used to make a lot of caustic comments, asking, “How could he let me engage in work-related travel and be in such a male dominated business world?” Once, I heard him reply, "She is not chattel mortgage. She does what she has to, as do I.” Being the only "working mother” both on my street and in my four children's elementary school, my kids were often asked by the neighbors if they hated me working.
My best friend used to refer to herself as Mrs. James Smith. It took me a few years to convince her that she was Rita Smith...not Mrs. James Smith!
Work wise, the magazine was involved in the manufacturing part of the apparel industry...not fashion. I can't remember how many times I was invited to lunch by a man I was interviewing and noticed between the time we had the interview and went to lunch that his wedding ring seemed to have vanished.
One time, I was invited to a conference and was the only woman among 500 men. The featured speaker looked at me and said over the microphone, "Well gentlemen, there go the dirty jokes."
Looking back on some of the experiences and comments, I don't know why I didn't get mad. But this was accepted behavior and I felt lucky to be included in this male-dominated industry. I went to many events and probably 75% of the time I was asked when my boss was going to show. They confused “Denyse” with “Dennis.” No, I was not the “secretary.”
When I became Publisher/Owner of the same apparel industry magazine, I was the only female publisher in the apparel/textile industry world-wide. When I sold them twenty years later, I was still the only female publisher in the industry world-wide. I know, this is too much information...but I wanted to set the foundation for my thoughts, not from books or articles...but from personal experience.
Is Hillary Clinton a flawed candidate? Of course she is. One can't reach almost seven decades without making mistakes along the way. Don't your children complain about things they didn't like about their upbringing? If they haven't, they will. If it's any comfort, tell your kids that after they are 40 they can't blame their character defects on their parents…or so it says in the “parenting book” on page 89.
Yes, Bill Clinton has been judged for his sexual peccadilloes and I'm sure that more than one of the gentlemen reading this have done the same. Monogamy is and always will be a controversial subject. President Clinton's predecessors were not choir boys either, but no one seemed to care. Wasn’t he an intelligent, thoughtful man who left office with a surplus in the treasury, full employment and no wars? Didn’t he represent us well on the world stage instead of retiring? Doesn’t he have a 66% favorable rating? He must have done something right. The Clinton Foundation has done wonderful things around the world. I'm sure there are one or more journalists out there now researching this very topic.
Hillary Clinton has also had some great achievements and some really debatable policies. But character assassination has no place in this election. You may not agree with her policies or where she sees the country going, but you can't deny the historical significance of her nomination.
Even if she wins the Presidency and has a Congress like President Obama has endured, at least she is the most experienced candidate running. She’s built up tremendous good will around the world. It may be sexist to say, but women are much more collaborative than men. All that testosterone can sometimes get in the way.
The first woman to run for President in the Republican Party was Margaret Chase Smith. She spent twenty-four years in the Senate and House of Representatives. But Barry Goldwater won that nomination and we know how that turned out. Shirley Chisolm ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972. Can you imagine the effrontery back then of an African American woman having the nerve to run for President?
Donald Trump implies that Hillary is physically weak and doesn't have the stamina needed. Perhaps he might have said the same thing about Indira Gandhi (India) Golda Meir (Israel) and Margaret Thatcher (UK). In fact, the 20th century saw 47 female heads of state who served as either Presidents or Prime Ministers. We Americans are late to the party.
Frankly, after 2008 I thought I wouldn't live long enough to see a woman become President of the United States. I sat there on Tuesday night watching the election results -- thinking about my path and feeling fortunate that I have lived to see all these changes. We haven't yet elected a “lady mayor” in Los Angeles but we will still have two lady Senators from California. Every girl – no matter what age -- knows that she can aspire to be President, Fire Chief, astronaut, doctor, plumber and, as I like to describe stay-at-home moms, Domestic Goddesses. For that, we of the female persuasion owe Hillary Clinton and all those who came before her our gratitude.
To quote Vice President Joe Biden, "It is indeed a big f@#$% deal!"
(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: [email protected]) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.