"There is difference and there is power. And who holds the power decides the meaning of the difference." --June Jordan

Thursday, May 3, 2007

In Defense of Hillary

When I read The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How it Has Undermined Women by Susan J. Douglas and Meredith Michaels, it totally resonated with me. I completely agreed with the authors about how today's child-centered American society demonizes women for not living up to an idealized and pristine standard of modern motherhood, and how the media falsely glamorizes motherhood as a state of constant sunshine and sparkles.

However, a more recent work by Susan J. Douglas doesn't sit quite so well with me. I'm referring to her April 26th article Why Women Hate Hillary published in In These Times magazine. In just a few paragrpahs, this short editorial about Hillary Clinton generalizes the point of view of American women (both feminist and nonfeminist), misleads readers about Clinton's stance and focus on numerous issues, and makes completely contradictory statements about feminism. She resorts to the usual "bash Hillary" criticisms that we've heard over and over again - the ones that are contstantly applied to any hardworking, powerful, successful women - that she is too loud, too ambitious, and too much "like a man". But what is most scathing and damaging about this particular article is that it comes from a self-identified "progressive feminist" and not your typical ignorant misogynist who thinks women should be held to a certain standard of femininity. Douglas notes that women of the baby boom generation fought (and still fight) for women's liberation "wearing lipstick, skirts, and a smile", and she criticizes Hillary for making "few concessions to the demands of femininty" and for "exempting herself from compromises women have to make every day". Doesn't it seem completely contradictory that a feminist would attack a woman for not being "feminine" enough? By doing this, Douglas is appropriating an offensive strategy commonly used against women by anti-feminists, and it seems that she's doing it out of bitterness (and maybe a little jealousy) that Hillary Clinton has gotten as far as she has without playing into "the masquerade of femininity we are compelled to don".

But this doesn't add up. Even if this were a valid attack against Clinton, and even if it actually mattered what she wore or how often she smiled, it's not even true. Hillary Clinton DOES wear lipstick and skirts. She smiles when it is appropriate to smile. Is Douglas really under the impression that Hillary Clinton has somehow been exempt from the pressures to conform to femininity in her public career? Has she already forgotton how much intense criticism Clinton received for not being a "traditional" enough first lady? From her hairstyles to her choice of clothing to her decision to use her maiden name? How she was advised by her handlers to participate in a ridiculous cookie bake-off to soften her image and show the world that she can be a "real woman"? And how about now, when most of the complaints about her seem to have something to do with her personality rather than her politics? If her gender were reversed, would anyone have the same complaints? (Yet another incarnation of the phenomenon I brought up in this post.) Douglas opens her editorial with the statistic that "nearly half of adults say they dislike her personality and her politics", but isn't this to be expected when half of the country opposes the platform of the democratic party? As for her personality, we can't rule out the likliness that in many cases, this is merely a visceral reaction to a strong, successful, powerful woman. From my experience, whenever Hillary Clinton comes up in conversations, the reaction to her is almost always completely splanchnic. I'll give you wo recent examples from my own experience: the crinkled face and statement from my mother: "Oh, I can't stand that woman," and the adamant claim from one of my coworkers: "If that bitch gets elected president, I'm moving to Canada."

I just don't get what this "feminist" writer thinks she is accomplishing by accusing Hillary Clinton of being too masculine. It seems that her only "evidence" for such an outrageous assertion is to claim that the candidate supports the war in Iraq. I have two problems with this argument: 1) It implies that one's stance on war or national defense is based on one's degree of "masculinity" or "femininity", which is completely stereotypical and anything BUT progressive, and 2) It's completely untrue! It is well-known that although Clinton fights for protective measures for the troops who are already in Iraq (such as funding for body armor), she is for ending the war as quickly as possible and bringing the troops home. (Read her response to the President's veto of the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Bill)

Douglas expands her argument that Hillary is "patriarchy in sheep's clothing" by implying that she neglects to address issues that are important to feminists. She says:

"And for many of us feminism did not mean trying to be more like men. It meant challenging patriarchy: trying to bring equity to family life, humanizing the workplace, prioritizing womens issues in politics, and confronting the dangers of militarism and imperialism. "

There may be many things for which Hillary Clinton can be open to scrutiny, but failing to prioritize women's issues in politics is certainly NOT one of them. Throughout her entire public life, she has fought for women all over the world to have more opportunities and protections. She is a strong advocate for reproductive rights (NARAL Pro-Choice America gives her a grade of 100% for her support of reproductive freedom), eliminating the wage gap, reducing violence against women, increasing employment opportunities and implementing microcredit programs for women to start their own businesses, and more and better access to education, healthcare, and childcare for all. She is the only presidential candidate I have ever seen devote so much energy to improving the lives of women and girls all over the world, and she even includes women's issues as a complete category on her Senate website. (http://clinton.senate.gov/issues/) Also check out these clips of Clinton in action as a chair of the Senate hearings on the issues of Equal Pay and Domestic Violence:

This post is not necessarily an endorsement for Hillary Clinton for president (I'll probably have plenty more to say about that later), but after reading this scathing article, I feel like Hillary deserves some defending. If Susan J. Douglas wants to serve feminism, she is certainly not doing so by tearing down the only female in American history with a real shot at breaking the ultimate glass ceiling. Or by insulting and attacking a woman who has prioritized women's issues for her entire public career.


Anonymous said...


excellent post! I am surprised that Douglas would take such an anti-feminist position on Clinton. Personally, I have never understood the vitriol Hillary has had to endure, and I agree that she has been a very strong advocate from women's rights, as well as a great role model for women. I am excited that there might possibly be a female president next time!

Tracey said...

Thanks, TG. I was really surprised, too. And I'm especially disappointed that I heard about her editorial on Rush Limbaugh's radio show. He cited as a way to say, "Hey, look! Even liberals and feminists hate her!" Ugh. (Disclaimer: I don't make a habit of listening to Limbaugh. I occasionally turn it on in the car when I'm feel especially masochistic. It's totally terrifying to get inside info on what "conservatives" are thinking.)

Jane said...

For sure she has fashion adviser