“Woman can change better'n a man," Ma said. … "An' that's one more thing a woman knows. Man, he lives in jerks — baby born an' a man dies, an' that's a jerk — gets a farm an' loses his farm, an' that's a jerk. Woman, it's all one flow, like a stream, little eddies, little waterfalls, but the river, it goes right on. Woman looks at it like that."
— The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
Hillary Clinton stood there in that pumpkin-colored pantsuit all unequivocal, looking those Democratic women who had carried her on their shoulders square in the eye.
Go with him, she said.
Go with him and don't squander this chance, even if it's not what we hoped for, not what we counted on, not what we once held in the palms of our hands.
She was telling them to do what women have always done, to push past the hurt, disappointment and anger, however justified, to get to the greater good.
And still, there are the faithful who aren't sure they can.
Many of them are smart, accomplished women who hoped their elderly mothers would get the chance to see a woman in the White House — not as first lady, but running the whole show. They wanted us to be like countries where a leader's gender seems about as remarkable as her height.
They wanted the fact of a female president utterly for taken for granted by daughters and granddaughters, the same way kids today think of the struggle for suffrage or civil rights, if they think of that at all.
But they are also women who probably taught their own children what happens when you cut off your nose to spite your face.
(Before we go on here, an indulgent moment about, forgive me, that pantsuit. Yes, this race is about policy and personality, about an unpopular war, health care, education and a sagging economy, among other things. But women, some of us anyway, also tend to notice the detail of what she wore for her moment, Hillary in bold orange, Michelle Obama in a Laura Petrie dress. So maybe you look at a diamond and see a shiny rock; we peer through a jeweler's loupe to scan facets and flaws for what they say about her, and her choices.)
But back to the critical election, and the fact that not now does not mean not ever.
Recently I was talking to a judge about the proliferation of women on the local bench. She thought us particularly suited to the job. We are natural mediators, she said, and nothing if not practical.
We also know disappointment.
Some Hillary diehards remain so stung that there is still talk of not voting at all, or, unbelievably, voting for John McCain, the candidate most opposite the woman they followed with their whole hearts. Do not expect Republicans to miss this opportunity.
The question is whether these particular voters can stomach the prospect of being this election's version of the Nader spoilers of 2000.
No law says you must vote. It is your absolute right to throw away your say on everything from your country's children serving in a war you do not like to who gets to select new faces for the Supreme Court and the far-reaching implications of that.
But I wonder if that's really how these women are made.
Because it sounds something like handing over power without a fight, when who has power and who doesn't is what the fight was all about.