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.