From Chile to the USA—Recognizing Feminism’s Most Intrepid Duo

 
Advancing Women's Political Participation

I recently wrote a blog post about my feminist hero and Chile’s first female president, Michelle Bachelet. This woman came of age watching her country fall into the grip of tyranny. She personally suffered the monstrosities of Pinochet’s dictatorship—as the daughter of a murdered general, the prisoner of torturing interrogators, and finally, the exile of a country she loves, her home. While this woman has every reason to be full of hate, and pain, and trauma, she turned those scars into a constructive force, rising from dictator’s victim to democratic leader. As she eloquently conveyed to hundreds of thousands of Chileans on the night of her presidential victory, “Because I was a victim of hate, I’ve dedicated my life to turning hate into understanding, tolerance, and—why not say it?—love” (qtd. in Powers).

Michelle Bachelet truly transformed what is possible for all marginalized people to imagine. Since becoming president in 2006, she has specifically committed herself to the global empowerment of women and girls. Needless to say, I am utterly and eternally enthralled by this feminist hero, forever her #1 fangirl.

But I am not alone in this fan club. Michelle Bachelet has quite the following, and a fellow fangirl of hers is actually running for president herself these days: Hillary Clinton.

A lot has been said in recent months both for and against Hillary’s run for president. I myself shared my support of her in an earlier blog post. But at this point, I feel like I’m starting to hear the same things over and over, both from her supporters and her critics—“Let’s finally elect a female president,” “She’s the most experienced,” “She’s a fighter for women and minorities,” v. “We can’t trust her,” “She’s big money,” “She’s just not as great as Bernie.” Honestly, it’s all starting to sound like that familiar noise of American politics, so I’d like to contribute a different tune, say something new.

We all know what everybody thinks of Hillary, but what does Hillary think of someone who was once in her position, who knows the hardship of laying a path for women to the presidency? It’s important to ask who the idols are of someone running for leadership, who they will attempt to model as a leader. So, who is Hillary’s hero? I’m thrilled to say, the one-and-only Michelle Bachelet.

Hillary and Michelle first met in January 2005, while Michelle was campaigning for president and fighting hard to assert women’s leadership potential in a patriarchal country—a path Hillary would come to know as well. Hillary recalls this major fangirl moment in an article she wrote for Time Magazine back in 2008, when she herself first ran for president. She had been so eager to finally speak with Michelle in person and admired the “deep passion and even deeper expertise” with which Michelle spoke about the challenges facing Chile. Hillary writes, “Being a woman in politics can be tough business, and Bachelet made it look effortless. In our meeting, I learned why: because Bachelet, 56, speaks and leads from her heart.”

One has to believe that if this approach to leadership is the sort Hillary admires, then we can expect the same approach from her. One can imagine that as Hillary is campaigning now, it is Michelle’s image that comes to her mind again and again, at every rally, every debate, in every speech she gives. I certainly hope it is the truth, for I would feel more than secure with someone resembling Michelle leading our country.

After their first meeting, Hillary and Michelle went on to work together on the global stage, most notably while Hillary was Secretary of State and Michelle was the Executive Director of UN-Women. In fact, Hillary was one of the people who urged Michelle to take that post in 2010. Upon Michelle’s acceptance, Hillary stated,

As long as I have known President Bachelet, the needs of women and marginalized populations have topped her list of priorities. She has broken barriers for women in Chile and throughout the region, and I am inspired by her passion, her expertise, and her courage to speak out on difficult issues. These are the indispensable qualities that make her an excellent choice to lead UN-Women. (still4hill.com)

Together, this intrepid duo launched UN-Women and sought to empower women and girls on a global scale. In 2012, for example, the partners-in-feminism visited Peru to participate in a forum on women’s growth and social inclusion. At this event, Hillary expressed her joy to work “with someone I admire so much” (latercera.com). Later that year, at the launch of the “Equal Futures Partnership” initiative, Michelle thanked Hillary in her remarks, for “her strong leadership for women and gender equality” (unwomen.org).

Today, Michelle is leading her country for the second time as president and Hillary is campaigning for the second time to become president. Something about that fact seems off. Something about it makes me feel a little disappointed in my own country. It’s not just the difference between Hillary and Michelle when we’re comparing campaigns, it’s the difference between the voters. Hillary and Michelle don’t doubt each other’s leadership potential, and yet, many Americans just don’t love Hillary the way Chileans love Michelle. I hope to see that change. I can’t help but wonder if Michelle has the same hope.

In Hillary’s 2008 Time Magazine article, when she had a clear vision of becoming the next President of the United States, she ended with this quote praising Michelle. And while it is Michelle who Hillary describes, we can actually see in this quote Hillary’s own reflection—the woman who would dare to run a second time, never giving up and forever committed to women’s empowerment:

In every country, on every continent—in places where women are soaring to new heights, and in places where too many women remain second-class citizens—women and men can draw inspiration from leaders like Bachelet, leaders with grace and courage, leaders who never give up and never give in.

Count me among the inspired.

So, the number one reason why I’m voting for Hillary? We share the same hero. And I can see that hero beautifully reflected in Hillary’s own growth as a leader.

Sources/Links:

Powers, John. “A Woman of the People.” Vogue 05 2006: 268-271+. ProQuest. Web. 01 Apr. 2016.

http://now.org/blog/from-dictators-victim-to-democratic-leader-the-story-of-a-feminist-hero/

http://now.org/blog/a-message-to-my-fellow-voters-let-us-make-some-history-of-which-to-be-proud/

http://content.time.com/time/specials/2007/article/0,28804,1733748_1733757_1735593,00.html

https://still4hill.com/tag/michelle-bachelet/

https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=es&u=http://www.latercera.com/noticia/politica/2016/02/674-668677-9-estoy-contigo-el-eslogan-de-bachelet-que-utiliza-hillary-clinton-en-eeuu.shtml&prev=search

http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2012/9/remarks-of-michelle-bachelet-at-the-launch-of-the-equal-futures-partnership-initiative

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