A few weeks ago I was at home during the weekend, talking about Hillary Clinton with my mom as she sat smoking Benson & Hedges cigarettes by the fireplace – a habit she picked up in the ’70s, a time when the prospect of a post-feminist era seemed about as far-fetched as those television phones on “Star Trek.”

“What will it say about America,” she asked me, “if we pass over the first serious female candidate and elect a child prodigy?”

It wasn’t the first time I’d felt guilty, as a woman, for not supporting the nation’s first formidable female candidate for president. First a John Edwards supporter and later a Barack Obama fan, I wondered if I wasn’t somehow betraying the most important accomplishments of my mom’s generation. Plus, deep down it bugged me that I wasn’t doing my part to make the phrase “woman in charge” feel like it meant more than that terrible 2003 TV show with Geena Davis.

Partially because of the hesitance of lukewarm young feminists like me, Clinton has found herself walking a fine line between wanting to be a feminist champion and convincing people that gender isn’t a centerpiece of her campaign. On “Meet the Press” in January, she awkwardly tried to have it both ways.

“You have a woman running to break the highest and hardest glass ceiling,” she said. “I don’t think either of us want to inject race or gender in this campaign. We’re running as individuals.”

Yes, it was an impressive display of doublespeak. But this statement also manages to encapsulate both why I like Clinton and why I don’t want her to be the Democratic nominee.

I like her because I love the idea of shattering the glass ceiling. Unless John McCain quickly starts sounding less like a 107-year-old bully, Clinton would be the first female frontrunner for the presidency if she wins the nomination – enough to make good on her “making history” mantra. What’s troubling about that scenario is that if she wins, Clinton would also be the most divisive figure Democratic politics has ever seen.

Call me crazy, but that’s not what I had imagined when I wanted to put a woman in charge.

It’s not that I don’t like Clinton. It’s that, for better or for worse, she’s fallen so far behind in the race that, barring some seismic upset far worse than an inflammatory pastor, she’ll have to badly exploit the system to win come August.

It’s generally accepted that a Clinton victory would rest on superdelegate votes. And it would be disenchanting, to say the least, if party bigwigs overturned the will of the electorate.

To make a superdelegate-driven victory even sort of acceptable, she’ll need to win the popular vote. Getting it, however, would almost certainly require counting the votes she won in Michigan and Florida. In Michigan, where her main rivals weren’t on the ballot and where no one campaigned, it’s easy to see how pretending that it was a real election would disenfranchise millions of voters who might have voted differently (or at all) had the primary been a real one.

Pretending Michigan’s January primary was real isn’t technically breaking the rules. But it’s just as bad, if not worse. It’s sending a clear message that the largely white Democratic establishment doesn’t have a problem upending the candidacy of the first minority candidate poised to win. In a way, it’s a betrayal the other great ideological movement of our parent’s generation – civil rights. That, and it would alienate the party’s most loyal voting base.

However you look at it, the Democrats are in trouble if Clinton secures the nomination. And frankly, so are the feminists. Do we really want that shining moment, our epochal first, to be tainted with so strong a stench of illegitimacy?

I don’t think we’re actually in a post-feminist era any more than I think they’ve gotten TV phones to work like they did on “Star Trek.” I know progress has slowed – women’s wages have all but leveled off since 1991 and the number of female executives in Fortune 500 firms has been waning since 2005. But it will take more than a symbolic gesture to buck the trend anyway. As far as I’m concerned, Clinton has already proved what she needed to: that a woman could do it.

I just don’t think this one should do it.

Anne VanderMey was the Daily’s fall/winter magazine editor in 2007. She can be reached at vandermy@umich.edu.

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