On a Lady, Presidential Candidate

Well, Maureen Dowd's well written article ("¿Quién Es Less Macho?" NYT, 2/24/08) first struck me as a prototypical product of political journalism forcing out a strong thesis at the cost of misrepresenting reality. Then, on second thought, I realized that the author is getting at part of what I was trying to say without all the researched details: that Hillary has had to play a different sort of game-- dancing backwards in heels, if you will.

Now to me, this is a bit like trial by fire to me, which has made her stronger, more flexible, more resilient, forced her to pay more attention and give more care to the changing demands of others.

Aside from this though, Dowd aims to point out that Hillary has honed herself as "one of the boys" at the expense of the vital feminine elements she could have--and her male opponent does--bring to the campaign, and presumably could bring to the White House. This is where I think Dowd is stretching---to bring a stunning eloquent thesis, replete with turns of surprise and ironic tragedy to the printed page at the cost of misrepresenting the situation and damaging the candidates (maybe both).

OK, in a way Dowd is right to the extent that, and here is the hard part to swallow, her message and the willingness of many others-- journalists, voters and otherwise-- to portray Hillary as somehow a traitor to her sex and a callous, overreaching Machiavelli who has designed herself in the cast of her desired image is both impossibly sexist and at once an intentionally selective abuse of a common criticism of politicians.

Hillary, as a female candidate, is forced purely by her sex, the fact of being a woman, to safeguard her position as a strong leader. This political necessity of the campaign is a strategy, not the essence of a candidate. In other words, if we were to transpose any other candidate into her shoes, they would--regardless of their political thoughts and personality--come to the same conclusion and play the same strategy.

That is commonly acknowledged. But what is not is that it is a testament to our society --- that we are, in a more imperceptible and less obvious way, not ready as a country to elect a woman to the Presidency. Our society is still stuck in putting undue pressures on a candidate who happens to be female, pressure sufficiently strong as to be an overarching force on the candidacy and play a dominant role shaping the foundations of that campaign.

Now, the question becomes, how has Hillary reacted to this? Has she, as Dowd asserts in her column, bowed entirely to this sexist wont --- a social discrimination on the societal scale that she is at once required to in some way to respond to internally and yet outwardly feign ignorance?

And so does Hillary successfully "out-macho" her opponents, to quote Dowd? That is a determination for us each individually to calculate. But, I would suggest to you that although on an electoral level the perception of that trait may play its part, this does not mean it needs to influence either your evaluation of this candidate as an individual or impact your vote.

Perhaps it is worthwhile to stop here and point out why she must feign ignorance. To publicly acknowledge this tide of subtle yet formidable sexism would inflame the following negative effects: first, if Hillary were to admit that the country is still fundamentally sexist, she would inadvertently suggest to the Democratic Party that her sex makes her unelectable and therefore, she could potentially prematurely forfeit herself from inclusion in the race. Second, were Hillary to discuss the sexism she faces openly it would cause both the press to jump on the hot story of a Presidential candidate and a well-known public figure putting forth accusations against the very electorate from whom she wishes to garner votes and, simultaneously, draw attention away from the substance of her campaign. She wishes to run for President, for change, not against something, a societal problem or otherwise.

Third, in bringing focus to the inherent sexism to which her campaign must react--or rather, simply illuminating the elephant in the room--Hillary would be sending forth the message that she is a feminist of the type that 'criticizes' rather than 'solves problems'. The prior is a negative stereotype that has emerged by illogically bifurcating it from the latter in our cultural consciousness. From her beginnings as a political activist, through her marriage to the Governor of Arkansas, to her role in the Clinton Administration, Hillary became labeled as a ring leader of that first group of feminists--the type good old fashioned folks "just didn't like and they didn't know why". She was and is, of course, not in any way limited to this negative stereotype of a confrontational feminist--no more than any feminist is, no more than the stereotype holds integrity itself. However, if the history of politics has proven anything, it is that appearances can be everything. And so yes, insofar as discrimination is a reality and reputation is power, then Hillary Clinton begins at a deficit, even if in character, accomplishments, experience, and political and moral education, she is a diamond in the rough.

A diamond in the rough is not a cliche I use lightly. Based on whom she is and what she has done, I believe she is a diamond. But in what rough? That skin as rough as any needed to get a human being--a brother, a mother, an individual--through the scorching Presidential political race and into the White House, except hers needs to a be a bit thicker to prove she is not a girl, but a man who happens to be female.

Someday, to be a woman will be enough, but that day has not yet come. Sadly. Will it come before November? Well, in an imperceptibly small way, I hope this will help. If nothing else, it is a salve for me to write down these thoughts, which have been itching within me these past few weeks.

1 Comment:

Kinggame said...

While Ms. Clinton certainly had some disadvantages due to her gender, sizable ones at that, the fact remains she didn't run much of a campaign. I preferred her to Mr. Obama, mostly because I do not like the power of the cult of personality, but she had the advantage in name recognition, money, connections and infrastructure. He took it to her, and there's no choice but to take the hate off to his coup. That said, I'm backing Mr. McCain.