Sunday, November 16, 2008

Required reading about Hillary . . . yes, she's back

Hillary Rodham Clinton (photo vintage 1992) is very much back in the news in recent days, mostly in relation to whether she will become the next Secretary of State. Read Gail Collins' column here, which she closes with this list of reasons why Hillary should get the job. Those reasons include the fact that Hillary might do a great job and the rather more whimsical comment that she has enough pantsuits to keep her in the Middle East for extended peace negotiations. Others include the benefit of not letting the Vice President run our foreign policy, as Dick Cheney has and that Obama could live out his team-of-rivals fantasy without naming Sarah Palin to his cabinet.

A story by Helene Cooper in today's NYT front page tells us that HRC has supporters among foreign advisers. Lots of people seem to see her would-be appointment as a win-win.

The revival of interest in Hillary and her political fortunes may be what prompted the NYT to revive this column by Anna Quindlen, who might be considered Judith Warner's predecessor. Quindlen's column was written on the occasion of Bill Clinton's election to the U.S. Presidency in 1992, and in it, Quindlen queries: "Now that we have a First Woman as educated, intelligent, superachieving and policy-savvy as her husband, what do we do with her?" In addition to sharing several reader responses, Quindlen put it all in perspective by suggesting that our responses are not Hillary as much as they are about us:

It has been about how we feel about smart women, professional women, new women. It's been about nurturing moms and working moms and what we do for love, including keeping our mouths shut. We want her to make the world safe, not only for education reform and preschool programs, but for opinionated women who want to be taken seriously.

Quindlen goes on to note that two of the terms then most associated with HRC are "hard-edged" and "headbands." If you don't get the "headbands" reference, well you'll have to do a little research for yourself; I remember all too well. As for being "hard-edged," wasn't that one of the characteristics (or characterizations?) that continued to haunt HRC as she sought the Democratic nomination for '08?

Perhaps what we saw this year with Hillary's candidacy was an example of the old adage, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Perhaps too little changed in our society between when Hillary entered the White House as first lady and when she sought to re-enter as President.

On the other hand, what did change was many women's respect for Hillary -- and it wasn't necessarily a change for the better. Between 1992 and 2008, many third-wave feminists and post-feminist women became voters. When Hillary ran for President, well, I'm afraid they just didn't get it. They didn't "get" her. They didn't appreciate her. While discussing Hillary's (near) teary moment after her defeat in the Iowa caucuses, just before the New Hampshire vote this past winter, a student in my feminist legal theory class opined that Hillary was "faking it." Seemed a mighty uncharitable presumption from a feminist, albeit a third-wave one.

In any event, I encourage you to read Quindlen's entire November 8, 1992 column here. In fact, Quindlen wrote a series of columns about Hillary in 1994. They appeared under the heading "Public and Private." You can read them here, here, and here. I love Gail Collins and Judith Warner, but I miss Anna Quindlen. A former student recently declared to me -- affectionately, I think -- "oh, Professor Pruitt, you're so second-wave." Yep, I guess I am.

1 comment:

Meredith Wallis said...

Thanks for putting the Quidlen links up! She puts the current editorial staff of the New York Times to shame and also reminds me of Marilyn Robinson--effortlessy conveying complicated ideas with straight-forward language. (I understand the structural capitalism explanations for what has happened to journalism, but it's hard to not just be annoyed when you read Dowd's work on Clinton after having the refresher you provided on Quidlen.) I'm not much one for the 'waves,” but I do think Clinton’s resurfacing is a great time to talk about feminists not being so hard on each other. After all, as linguistically amusing as it is that the woman in the race is now being considered to be a secretary, it should serve to remind us that there are enough people in the world around to do the work of disparaging us without our help.