Hillary, Ireland and Just Showing Up

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Writing here for the Women’s Media Center, Irish writer Nuala O’ Faolain rebuts the statement by David Trimble that Hillary Clinton’s participation in the Northern Ireland peace proces was “silly.”   O’Faolin describes  how Irish women were marginalized from  both official and grass-roots peace efforts:  

About 95 percent of all the women in Northern Ireland were outside every loop. No one took any notice of women’s attempts at activism.

What Hillary did to transform matters was turn up. She turned up. She turned up with hope and energy to a city which, when I moved there in 1998, was leaving one murdered Catholic a week just on my street, merely to keep the level of intimidation going. A city where women were almost all tribally opposed to each other….

It may sound small to people now that what she came for was a woman’s conference on one occasion and a lecture on another, that she knew people’s names and histories and took note of them:and was no doubt sometimes lied to and misled and laughed at by women as well as men (outsiders often strike skeptical locals as simpleminded).

But she kept turning up anyway.

It was not small what she did.

Not small at all….

Even today, when it is all over, I don’t know whether even Hillary Rodham Clinton knows how much someone like me thanks her:how aware I still am of what her bright, friendly, caring   presence meant, when despair was very near.

In some academic circles, it’s chic to claim that gender does not matter in a brave, new, post-identitarian world.   To the twenty-first century law student, that message  translates to mean that  a person need not resemble us in any particular way (least of all race, gender-identity, ethnicity, class, etc.) in order to be an effective role model.   I generally agree with that notion, but I might qualify it a bit: gender doesn’t matter unless there is no gender diversity.   In other words, I can and will identify with male Professor A as a role model, based on mutual interests and temperament, but that identification is facilitated by having many different role models to choose from.

This article about Senator Clinton in Northern Ireland reminded me that even if gender (sometimes) doesn’t matter, power always matters.   Thinking from the perspective of my students, it matters to them that their professors show up to their events – whether the moot court finals, an admitted-students’ reception, a guest lecture or  graduation.   Because by showing up, we say, “We care about you.   We are interested in what you are doing.   We support you.”  

Ok, so students are not like the embattled citizens of Northern Ireland, but bridging happened when Senator Clinton visited with women’s activist groups and it happens when we attend our students’ events.   Just by showing up, those of us in (semi-) public positions of (semi-) power say a great deal, even when we don’t say much (or anything) at all. Admittedly, I do not attend all of the student events to which I am invited, and sometimes other responsibilities get in the way of my attending the events I really “should.”   But I am reminded that just showing up can be a really big deal.   It’s the fiftieth moot court I’ve been to, but it’s my students’ first.

-Bridget Crawford

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