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Hillary Clinton And The Feminist Reawakening

Amanda Fortini has an interesting piece in New York magazine on the "feminist reawakening" that Senator Hillary Clinton's run for the White House has brought about. Here's the crux of her thesis:

The women I interviewed who described a kind of conversion experience brought about by Clinton’s candidacy were professionals in their thirties, forties, and fifties, and a few in their twenties. In some cases, the campaign had politicized them: Women who had never thought much about sexual politics were forwarding Gloria Steinem’s now-infamous op-ed around, reiterating her claim that “gender is probably the most restricting force in American life.” In other cases, it had re-politicized them: A few women told me they were thinking about issues they hadn’t considered in any serious way since college, where women’s-studies courses and gender theory were mainstays of their liberal-arts curricula.

This seems like a very positive development, but Fortini's argument gets less convincing when she turns to Clinton herself:

There has been clamoring for Clinton to make the gender equivalent of Obama’s race speech. In this idealized homily, Clinton would confront the insidiousness of sexism and speak out against the societal ills that affect women; she would renounce the unfair criteria, at once more stringent and more superficial, by which women are judged..

This speech, of course, is not likely to happen. Not only because, as was pointed out on The XX Factor, women disagree on such fundamental issues as abortion and child care, or because Clinton is politically cautious and to do so would risk alienating male voters. A speech like this would open Clinton to the criticism, leveled at her several times already in this campaign, and at any female candidate who refers to her gender or acts in a particularly feminine way (by crying, for instance)—that she is “playing the gender card.”

What exactly are quotation marks doing around those last four words? Maybe Fortini just chose to use them because the phrase is an overused one, but in the entire article there is nary a mention of the Clinton campaign's gruesome attempts to drum up sexist outrage for no good reason. Even if you choose to believe that her crying moments were completely authentic, what about her claim that the reason people wanted her to leave the race was because she's a woman? Or her claim that the "boys" were ganging up on her at a debate? Surely this kind of thing does not help anyone...other than Hillary Clinton.

Moreover, about that speech Clinton might give, Fortini adds:

She might even address the compromises she is said to have made in her life—this is idealized, remember—and tell us why those compromises, rather than making her an inferior candidate, instead make her a stronger one, as they can be viewed as her imperfect resolutions to the dilemmas faced by many women: Do you stay with a man who has betrayed you, or divorce him? Do you keep your name, or take your husband’s? Do you put your career aside for his—at least for a time?

Those were indeed compromises that Clinton made, but what about some others? Here is a quote from Melinda Henneberger's (excellent) Slate piece today on the Clintons' marriage:

During their Arkansas years, one of her ways of sidestepping bad news of all kinds was simply refusing to read the papers. After the Gennifer Flowers story came out during her husband's '92 presidential run, her response, according to Carl Bernstein, was to throw herself into efforts to discredit Flowers and to try to persuade horrified campaign aides to bring out rumors that Poppy Bush had not always been faithful to Barbara.

And here are Henneberger and Dahlia Lithwick explaining in depth why Clinton will never give such a speech:

She won't give that speech because she has been on the wrong side of gender bias. OK, there is no right side, but she consistently relates to and protects and stands with the oppressors in the gender wars, not the victims. It isn't only that she stayed with Bill Clinton, but that she invariably sees him as the victim, preyed upon by a series of female aggressors.

According to Carl Bernstein's A Woman in Charge, as her husband prepared to run for president, she pushed to get sworn statements from women he'd been rumored to have been involved with, statements in which they were supposed to say they'd had no relationship with him. She even interviewed one of these women herself, at her law firm. She also led efforts to undermine Gennifer Flowers, whom she referred to as "trailer trash."

In an interview she gave after the Monica Lewinsky affair became public, Hillary spoke about how horribly her husband had suffered in his childhood as the result of being torn between the first two women in his life—his mother and grandmother. (Note: Again, in this scenario it's the women who are victimizing the poor little guy.) 

--Isaac Chotiner