Maybe It’s Just An Inkblot

On my drive home today I caught an item on NPR about the ways in which women view Hillary Clinton.  In 30 Ways of Looking at Hillary, various female authors write about their responses to Hillary Clinton, the woman who once referred to herself as “a Rorschach test for voters.”

I should preface my next remarks with the explanation that I am among a rare, and until recently seemingly disappearing, breed, the moderate Southern Democrat.  Yes, we exist.  My grandmother once commented to me, “Well, you know, your grandfather wouldn’t have voted for God if he was runnin’ on the Republican ticket.”  I’m not sure what Pa Pa would have thought about Mrs. Clinton.

And I’m not quite sure what I think about her either.  I would love to see a woman elected president.  Other female world leaders have proved women have what it takes to lead governments.  I just wish I liked what I saw in Hillary a bit more.  I also worry that, if she is the Democratic candidate, that too many people who might consider voting for the Democrats this time around will refuse to vote for her.  

But, in listening to today’s NPR segment, it was not those concerns that disturbed me the most.  What’s had me thinking since then was the idea that women react negatively to Hillary because she’s openly ambitious–not an “accidental” leader a la Benazir Bhutto.   That women today remain uncomfortable with members of their own sex who willingly admit to wanting to get ahead.  And it’s hard to hide that ambition if you’re running to be the President of the United States.

So, as someone who’s been ambitious from the time I learned I could beat my first-grade arch academic rival through the System 80 sequence if I just worked hard enough, I have to wonder why, in 2008, is it a bad thing, or somehow inherently unfeminine, to compete to win?

The real answer, I think, is that in many ways Americans still want to see their women whipping up cookies rather than policies.  Or, maybe it’s okay to make some policies, just as long as you’re sure you’ve got a good backup recipe for chocolate chip cookies (a classic!) just in case you’re asked.  Because it wouldn’t be feminine not to, remember?

And, yes, I’m sensitive about this topic.  I run up against a small sliver of the same attitude often in my work.  When people ask me where I work and I mention All-American Public Schools, the next question is always, “Oh, are you a teacher?” Since most of our employees are, this is not an unexpected question.  What never fails to amaze me, though, is the shocked response I often get when I tell them that I’m an assistant superintendent.  It was the same when I reported being a high school principal, maybe even more so. 

In response to my answer I’ve heard everything from  “Well, that’s a big job for someone with three kids.” to “How the hell did you get that job?”  Yes, really.  My guess is that a man with the same job would get neither of those comments.

But maybe, like I said, I’m just sensitive.  And maybe when we look at Hillary and find her a bit wanting, we’re really seeing less of her and more of ourselves.

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10 Comments

Filed under Life in General, Work

10 responses to “Maybe It’s Just An Inkblot

  1. Calvin

    Good post. I have wondered whether a majority of American society as a whole is ready to elect a woman or an african-american or any other minority as President. I foresee a brighter future where such things will not matter . . . the younger generations seem to be moving away from such prejudices . . . but are we there yet? We shall see . . .

  2. Interesting post. I could mimic Calvin’s response, actually, as I have wondered the same things. I, myself, though still undecided on whom to vote for, appreciate the confidence that Hillary exudes. Women deserve a place of power, and what’s more powerful than being head of state.

    I wonder if Oprah would fare better were she seeking the presidency.

  3. Rachel

    I find I’m torn in my reaction to Hillary… I’m not drawn to her, but I also bristle at a lot of the negative reactions to her. Certainly the way a lot of the negative reactions are verbalized — the snide remarks about her clothes, her weight, or her “hardness” seem pretty sexist.

    I think what bothers me about her is a feeling that her ambition has pushed her across an “intellectual integrity” line — that she positions herself too much on the basis of what she thinks she has to say to be elected. I think it happens to a lot of male politicians too — both Kerry and Gore seemed to suffer from it a bit, and though I don’t follow the Republicans closely I see it in Romney too. But I do think even I notice it more in Hillary because somehow the ambition isn’t as taken for granted.

    But what has struck me during the campaign is that as much as people who don’t like Hillary say its about her, and not about her being a woman, they can rarely come up with another woman they see as a presidential candidate. There are now lots of women in politics (Feinstein, Boxer, Snow…) with more experience that most of the current candidates in either party, yet I doubt any would be taken seriously as a presidential candidate.

  4. Hillary is smart and well-spoken, but in the end, a highly divisive character. This country can’t afford that kind of leadership after 8 years of W’s illiterate and illegitimate governance.

    Hillary got where she is on her husband’s coattails, unlike Boxer, Snow, and even Condi Rice (dare I say). It’s not enough. Hillary needs to have an independent, cool political persona, but she does not. For me, Hillary’s lack of appeal is her personality not her femininity.

  5. Samantha

    Well as an opinion from across the pond, I have heard alot of women here say that they lost alot of respect for her after her decision to stand by her husband. Personally I would love to see her become president, and I think she would do a much better job than a certain Mrs Thatcher did, and by far a much better leader too.

  6. Excellent post LSM. My feeling on the women in power topic is that we are what I would call the ‘tween generation when it comes of women’s equality. Our own parents and grandparents who greatly shaped our views on this, were from the old school, women in the kitchen generation. For some of us with younger parents, the movement may have started, but not completely taken hold. Our generation is still very conflicted. Plus, we often work with some of the old guard. My company is run by a 60 something southern man with his classic ‘good ol boy’ mentality and posse. However, the second in command is a lesbian! Something which just 10 years ago would have been impossible I think. Our kids most likely will be the generation who turn the tide though. I am sure your daughters will face less of this resistance than we have. Progress takes time and until older generations fade away and their influence dies out, we will still battle. But, to quote Bob Dylan: “The times, they are a’changin’.”

  7. ramblingmom

    This is just rambling. Obama is black and Hillary is a woman but to me Hillary’s sex seems to be more of an issue to her than Obama’s race. In other words, I keep getting the impression that Obama is running as a candidate, and Hillary is running as a woman (or running as not a woman which still takes her womanhood as an issue).

    And I’m really not sure why that is.

    Hillary is a bit “bristly” and that bothers me — and I know it’s thought of as “unbecoming a woman” to be bristly — but let’s face it — it’s also unbecoming a man to be too rough around the edges — at least in politics.

  8. CT Mom

    I am delighted by Hillary Clinton’s ambitiousness and feel glad that she is fulfilling the expectations that people have had of her since she was in college. I myself am so overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of her experience (Just finished Carl Bernstein’s book A Woman in Charge) that her gender is something I rarely consider. However, I will say that as is often the case, as a woman, she has to be better and smarter and MORE to compete with any man. I suppose the day I see her win or sworn in, it will hit me emotionally that she is a woman and what a miracle it is! However, it will also hit me hard emotionally to see a black man sworn in with his black family at his side. and I rarely consider Obama’s race either at this juncture. They are both fabulous candidates, although I will say that Obama’s lack of experience and willingness to be conciliatory toward a party that has been ruling like they will be there forever is pushing me toward a final Hillary choice.

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