For over a year there’s been quite the buzz over Hillary Clinton’s potential for presidency. Newsweek’s Kathleen Deveny writes in “Just Leave Your Mother Out of It” that as much as she hates to write it, “America is not ready for a female president . . . It appalls me. It goes against everything I grew up hearing, everything I tell my daughter. But I have come to believe it.”
Do you believe that? Many journalists do, opinion editorialists, National Review, even Madonna. It is unfortunate that those who love Clinton and those who hate her have pin-pointed her womanhood as the reason. I think it’s time we got a bit more honest with ourselves.
Far be it from me to assert that our sex has no affect on our humanity. It does, our body is the bearer and expression of something interior. However, there is much to evaluate in a presidential candidate. Do please include Clinton’s womanhood, but let’s not park on this as the deal breaker. Isn’t it possible that she is failing because of other key components of who she is, for her tactics, her positions, her tendency to be ruthless in debate and strategy (personally I lose respect for men or women who treat people as means rather than ends), her lack of clarity or conviction when the popular vote leans in an opposite direction. Watching her use of emotional rhetoric, her rise to senator in New York and her calculating strides to grasp at a slice of America’ power pie make me distrustful. But none of this revolves around her being a female. I know of several female women I would be excited about running the country, Clinton just so happens not to be on my list.
And yet, I’ve noticed a double standard. Clint may be about as ruthless and clever as Madonna, but we don’t admire her, instead we poke fun at her, deride her, insult her. Why?
I’ve noticed “anti-Hillary” comments tend to focus on something pitifully unimportant.
Most criticism of Clinton focuses on her body. And I’ve heard enough to believe that what we’re really saying is that a female might be powerful ONLY if she is sexy. This expectation is not, sadly, very new.Attacking a regular-looking woman who seeks power has been an American past-time.
Interestingly, the attacks on Clinton’s “cankles” and “pantsuits” are precisely the type of negative censure that faced Aimee Semple McPherson, founder of the International Church of the Foursquare Gospel, nearly 100 years ago. McPherson was targeted as not being beautiful enough, identified as the woman with the “thick ankles.” During her rise to fame, she looked simple, dressed plainly and kept to the strict message of Jesus as the salvation of each person. This was only at first.
But, newspapers and the American people who demanded stories, could not leave her appearance alone. The Record ran a contest to “identify Mrs. McPhersons’ ankles” on the front page of it’s paper, featuring 8 sets of ankles. McPherson learned in these years that she must squeeze herself into the slim standards of Hollywood in order to be respected and loved while she continued to break into a male dominate sphere, pastoring, preaching and leading a church, university, radio program. This was in the 1920′s when women were expected, as McPherson’s own husband asked her, to “wash the dishes”, “take care of the house,” and above all “act like other women.”
McPherson’s life shows us how far a woman will believe she must go, how the public can change a woman. McPherson became intentional about altering her image to dazzle her audience with a remade self. She became the perfect picture of a slim, peroxided bobbed feminine beauty. I know its hard to believe, but this second picture is the same woman, Aimee Semple McPherson, remade for her public.
We need to note what the attacks on Clinton’s appearance do to us as women. They reveal that we either do not know any issue on which to disagree with her, or we believe appearance is a sufficient reason to disqualify a woman from doing her work. Would you ever tolerate an employer telling you that? “You can’t work here because your legs are too fat??” We would not live with that in our own lives, and yet so many women are insisting that it is Clinton’s appearance that disgusts them, makes it horrendous to even imagine her as president. We are insisting on the stringent standards of appearance that we are all frustrated and often enslaved by. It’s time to stop.
Kathleen Deveny of the Newsweek’s article claims that in America we still don’t like our women powerful. I’d have to disagree with Deveny, because I know of several powerful women we easily admire: Madonna, Angelina Jolie and Oprah. All have fit bodies, all have marketed themselves as attractive, desirable females and each has about as much depth as a pie tin. Unfortunately this is not the sort of power I care to aspire to. So when Madonna comments about Hillary’s difficulties, “In America, men are still afraid. And I don’t think women are too comfortable with the idea of a female in charge. I find that really amazing” I think I might have an answer for her. Perhaps women don’t like a woman in charge because in America powerful women have to maintain a certain sexiness, too. That becomes a distinct threat and one, ironically, women like Madonna have perpetuated, marketed and exploited.
So while I will not vote for Clinton, let’s do away with this nonsense that she must be a dazzling Hollywood vixen. Presidents in this country should not be required to seduce the public with their stunning figure simply because they are women. If you’re going to criticize Clinton, and women I’m speaking directly to you, do not start and end with her body, her fashion, or her hairstyle. That is about as objectifying to women as is Hugh Hefner’s entire industry.