By Camille Paglia, 2008-04-21
Is Hillary Clinton the saviour of feminism? Or its albatross, dragging feminism backwards under a weary weight of old-guard victimology and male-bashing?
The scrum is on! Feminist grand panjandrums like Gloria Steinem have leapt back into the arena, while younger women have seized the feminist banner to proclaim Hillary the messianic Wonder Woman, destined to smash the glass ceiling of the presidency.
All women, on pain of excommunication from the feminist claque, must now support Hillary. Never mind her spotty record or her naked political expediency. Any woman with the temerity to endorse Barack Obama (as I do) is condemned as a “traitor” to her sex. “Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life,” trumpeted Steinem earlier this year in an article promoting Hillary in the New York Times. Barriers of race, class or economics are waved away as mere frippery.
As a resident of Philadelphia, I am currently under siege by the firestorm of political adverts heading toward Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary, which Hillary has long been expected to win. She has roots in this state: her grandfather was a Welshman who settled in the coal-mining city of Scranton, which remains conservative and working-class. Women there are tough and blunt, with few illusions about life.
Hillary's voter base consists of middle-aged to elderly white women who identify with her caustic, stubborn, bulldog resilience. Humiliated and upstaged by her philandering husband, Hillary is the champion of an army of women who were stymied, betrayed or outmanoeuvred by men. Over the past year, whenever her cowed male opponents mildly rebutted Hillary in debate, her campaign jumped into über-feminist mode: male bullies, they screeched, “ganging up” on a helpless damsel.
Losing ground with other core groups - notably her own cohort of upper-middle-class, baby-boom career woman - Hillary played the gender card to the max. When polling showed she had seemed too harsh to the caucus-goers of Iowa, she rolled out teary eyes for New Hampshire, which handed her a primary victory. Hillary will scratch, claw, and morph through every gender trick if it rakes in votes.
This symbol of raw female ambition has never comfortably fitted into a conventional sex role. As the first child of a hard-working and authoritarian father, Hillary absorbed his willfulness, competitive drive and suspicion. Excelling academically, Hillary felt ill at ease with the feminine persona so deftly deployed by pretty, popular girls in that era. Frumpy, stumpy and myopic, she identified with the new idolatry of shiny careerism promulgated by the second-wave feminism of the late 1960s, when she emerged from posh Wellesley College.
Though she would specialise in women's and children's issues, Hillary's public statements have often betrayed an ambivalence about women who chose a non-feminist path. “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies,” she sneered during Bill's 1992 presidential campaign. Then, defending her husband against the claims of a 12-year affair by Gennifer Flowers, Hillary snapped: “I'm not sittin' here like some little woman, standing by my man like Tammy Wynette” - a sally that boomeranged when Hillary had to make an abject apology. The irony is that Hillary had offended the very group of stoical, put-upon, working-class women who are now proving to be her staunchest supporters.
Whatever her official feminist credo, Hillary's public career has glaringly been a subset to her husband's success. Despite her reputation for brilliance, she failed the Washington, DC bar exam. Thus her migration to Little Rock was not simply a selfless drama for love; she was fleeing the capital where she had hoped to make her mark.
In Little Rock, every role that Hillary played was obtained via her husband's influence - from her position at the Rose Law Firm to her seat on the board of Wal-Mart to her advocacy for public education reform. In a pattern that would continue after Bill became president, Hillary would draw attention by expressing public “concern” for a problem, without ever being able to organise a programme for reform.
Hillary has always been a policy wonk, a functionary attuned to bureaucratic process, but she has never shown executive ability, which makes her quest for the presidency problematic. Hillary's disastrous botching of national healthcare reform in 1993 (a project to which her husband rashly appointed her) will live in infamy. Obama may also have limited executive experience, but he has no comparable stain on his record.
The argument, therefore, that Hillary's candidacy marks the zenith of modern feminism is specious. Feminism is not well served by her surrogates' constant tactic of attributing all opposition to her as a function of entrenched sexism. Well into her second term as a US Senator, Hillary lacks a single example of major legislative achievement. Her career has consisted of fundraising, meet-and-greets and speeches around the world expressing support for women's rights.
What feminist supporters have recently denounced as troglodytic misogyny in media portrayals of Hillary has in fact been a function of her own strange sexual accommodations and ambiguities. Yes, she may surround herself with luscious, multicultural babes (such as her minder, Huma Abedin, or her now sacked aide, Patty Solis Doyle), but Hillary, despite the rumours, is no lesbian. She's a crucifix-wearing, Methodist do-gooder who confidently thinks she's God's agent. There's no room for random eroticism in her calendar.
Genuinely disturbing are the caricatures of Hillary (called “Hitlery” or “the Hildebeast” on the web) that rarely accrue to male candidates: she's portrayed as a hectoring nag, a witch on a broomstick, or a castrating bitch. But if such images were truly generated by simple fear of female power, we would expect to find them around other women politicians too, such as the current female Speaker of the House.
No, Hillary was demonised by the American electorate long before she sought elective office. It is Bill Clinton who is responsible for the tainted sexual aura around his wife.
Furthermore, Hillary's mythomania and her chameleon-like daily alterations of persona and voice are unsettling. (Even Hillary's eye colour is fake: she wears blue contact lenses.) No male candidate enjoys Hillary's options as a woman to tailor her costume to the audience.
Hillary's recent remarks about politics as a “boys' club” resistant to uppity women was sheer demagoguery. By progressing farther than any woman presidential candidate, she has become a role model for future aspirants. But by attaching herself so blatantly to anti-male rhetoric - particularly in view of her debt to her husband - she is espousing a retrograde brand of feminism no longer applicable to the US.
If Hillary loses, batten the hatches against a mass resurrection of paranoid, paleo-feminist martyrs, counting their wounds and wailing at the blood-red moon.
The above article is from Source www.telegraph.co.uk (© Telegraph Media Group Limited 2008)
The annotations are added by Xah Lee (me), on 2008-05.