Feature

Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women by Rebecca Traister

Traister recaptures many of the unforgettable moments during the 2008 election when Hillary Clinton battled Barack Obama in the democratic primaries.

(Simon & Schuster, 352 pages, $26)

History was destined to be made in 2008, when the Democratic primary pitted the country’s first electable female presidential candidate against its first electable African-American one, said Kate Tuttle in The Boston Globe. But for many older feminists, the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama played like a slow-motion tragedy. “The misogyny Clinton faced on the campaign trail was shocking”—as was the fact that so many younger women opted for Obama. Salon.com’s Rebecca Traister, in her “provocative” new campaign diary, recaptures many of the unforgettable moments that women experienced while watching it all unfold.

Traister is “at her best” when exploring the fissures that erupted among Democratic voters, said Connie Schultz in The Washington Post. As a feminist of a certain age, I was initially put off by the author’s blithe dismissal of “antiquated notions of feminism.” Soon I realized, though, that she was simply recording one in a series of her ever-changing personal reactions to the long campaign. Later, Traister watched with horror as “the ‘frat boys’ at MSNBC” mocked Clinton’s appearance, and was stunned when male friends criticized the New York senator in sexist terms. Though Traister never personally supported Clinton, “she ended up sobbing” when the former First Lady conceded.

Traister sometimes is merely rehashing old news, said Hanna Rosin in Slate.com. Did we really need another account of Bill Clinton’s extramarital affairs? In the end, “the book’s best bid for relevance” arrives in its analysis of Sarah Palin’s candidacy for vice president. The way Palin embraced her role as a feminist groundbreaker initially won her fans even on the Left, Traister suggests, because Clinton had let them down—and doomed her own chances—by “failing to fly her feminist flag.” But the author’s open hatred for Palin keeps her from coming to grips with the Tea Party–friendly feminism that Palin represents. Perhaps that just proves Traister’s point: This uniquely unsettling campaign raised far more questions for women than it resolved.

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