One Way Or Another, Women Will Decide It

In this Feb. 21, 2008, file photo, Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., greets supporters as she attends the Hillary Clinton Debate Watch party at the Gueros Mexican Restaurant in Austin, Texas. Clinton is relying heavily on the female vote, a key part of her base, to help her win delegate-rich Ohio and, perhaps, Texas on Tuesday as she seeks to get back on track in the Democratic nomination fight.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster
This story was written by Krissah Williams.

Hernandez living room, North Austin--Jennifer Cruz Hernandez's life goes like this: Get the kids ready for school. Work a shift at the hospital. Take her daughters to the gym for practice. Cook dinner. Help with homework. Bathe the kids. Put them to bed. Sleep, and repeat.

"It's not that dads aren't important," the 38-year-old nurse manager said, glancing across the room at her husband, Carlos. "But you walk in and everyone wants to sit on Mommy's lap. You have to be everything.

"Hillary understands. She's a mother and an attorney. As a woman you do it all- cook, wash, clean and feed the dog."

"She probably hasn't done that in 30 years," Carlos, 40, interrupted, referring to Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"You don't know," Jennifer shot back.

Hernandez has been dealing with macho men all her life. She once tried to shoot some pool in her father's bar in San Antonio, but her dad wouldn't let her. "No, women don't touch the cues here," he told his daughter.

"My dad is just a macho, macho man, and he wouldn't vote for a woman if he were dying," she said, pulling on her short bangs. "He doesn't think women are as smart as men, no matter how much education they have. He thinks the stronger person is a man-even if it's just stronger physically."

Hernandez thinks Clinton has helped puncture some of that sentiment. She has particularly enjoyed watching the senator from New York hold her own against a stage full of men during nearly two dozen debates. The scenes provide a welcome antidote to more maddening ones in her own life, such as when older male doctors in the hospital expect her to stand when they walk into the room. "If Hillary won, I think they might have more respect," she said.

"They underestimate women," her husband interjected. "By 'they' I mean white men."

"Not just white men, any men," Hernandez corrected.

She put a "Hillary for President" sign in their front yard two weeks ago even though her husband favors Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.). The sign is leaning over and wrinkled because Carlos accidentally soaked it with the sprinkler the other day. But it is still standing.

"A lot of old men from the South will flip out if Hillary wins," Hernandez said. "I just think if Hillary doesn't get in, most likely it will be a long time before you see another woman" in a presidential race.

Clementine Coffee Bar, East Austin--N'Yoka Coleman's 2-year-old son, Miles, climbed her back as she sipped green tea in a coffeehouse. She was talking, as she has so often lately, about the Democratic primary, even though she had already voted for Obama in early balloting.

"When Hillary Clinton announced she was running, I was like, hands down, that's it. I'm voting for her. Then I see that stream of light that is Barack Obama and at first I was like, what, is he crazy? I felt pressure on both sides," said Coleman, 36, a stay-at-home mom who works part time as a wedding planner. "She's a woman-how could I not support her? He's a black man-how could you not support him?"

Coleman, who is African American, pondered the Clinton-Obama question after church every Sunday for weeks with her husband, brother and sister-in-law. Their talks usually came to a single question: Is sexism or racism the bigger issue in America?

For Coleman, the answer was pretty easy. It took her a full day to think of an instance when she had faced sexism, finally recalling a time when she managed men who had difficulty taking direction from a woman.

But she didn't have any trouble remembering stinging encounters with racism. "Even now, I can have both kids, be wearing a fabulous outfit and carrying a gorgeous purse, and be in an elevator and someone will still clutch their purse," she said.

And that is a big part of the reason she voted for the black man instead of the white woman.

"She is still breaking barriers, and her inability to win the nomination is not a result of her hitting the glass ceiling, so to speak, but more of, maybe this time the needs of the people were met with another candidate," Coleman said.

Shaman Modifications Tattoo and Body Piercing, South Austin--The tattoo gun vibrated in Wendi Ramirez's hand as she leaned over the man's arm, gracefully etching the outline of a woman's torso onto his skin. For 18 years she has worked in this male-dominated field, having to endure such comments as "Little girl, you don't know what you're doing."

In the world beyond the tattoo and piercing studio, Ramirez said she "knows the game."

"This country is run by the white corporate male," said Ramirez, a partner in the studio.

The tattoos on her chest make her look tough. But underneath, the 36-year-old is afraid.

Many men don't respect women, she said, and that worries her when she thinks about voting one into the White House at a time when the country is at war and suicide bombers are blowing themselves up overseas.

"Now we need a symbol of strength to display to the rest of the world," Ramirez said. "To handle [that office], she would have to be a hell of a woman. I know that sounds bad coming from a woman, but I'm scared to death of [war] coming to our land and hurting me and my family."

"You want the torso really gruesome, right?" she asked her client.

"Yeah, yeah," he said.

Clinton's Austin Headquarters--Ali Gallagher calls it a cat tag-"dog tag" just isn't feminine enough. She tugged on the one around her neck, embossed with the name of her great-grandmother, who didn't get the right to vote until 1920.

"It couldn't have been easy for educated women to sit there and be silent," said Gallagher, 53, a lawyer who has volunteered in a back office of Clinton's Austin campaign headquarters for the past two weeks. "My bias is toward my gender, and unapologetically so."

She watches, feeling sad and angry, as Clinton tries to revive her candidacy. Women are still earning 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, Gallagher said. A cable network is comfortable using the word "pimping" to describe how the campaign is using Chelsea Clinton. Race and gender are being played against each other.

"It makes my stomach turn," said Gallagher, who is white. "A friend of mine, a black man, said to me, 'My ancestors came to this country in chains; I'm voting for Barack.' I told him, 'Well, my sisters came here in chains and on their periods; I'm voting for Hillary.'"

Gallagher said this campaign will be marked not only by Clinton's and Obama's historic runs but by the blatant sexism it has uncovered.

"What's going to come out of this race is that it was open season on women, and they fought back. It's the beginning, whether she wins or loses," Gallagher said. "Women are so close. They are ready to win it. If not this time, then next time."
By Krissah Williams
© 2008 The Washington Post Company