By Katie Allen and Kate Brightwell
Cold. Determined. Bill’s wife. Strong. First Lady. Benghazi. Annoying. I’d rather not comment.
Yesterday we had a visit from Amie Parnes, the author of HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton. To begin the conversation, the moderator, Steve Scully, asked the audience to describe Hillary in one word or short phrase. There was a wide range of answers including the words above.
What we found to be particularly alarming was the apparent double bind – the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position Hillary Clinton finds herself in as she prepares for the 2016 presidential election (c’mon, we all know she’s running).
With the presidential campaign right around the corner, Hillary Clinton will have to be mindful of the flaws in her 2008 campaign. She was heavily criticized then for being too serious, too masculine, and not relatable. It was suggested in yesterday’s discussion that she will have to make significant steps to improve her overall image.
The overwhelming consensus in the discussion was that Hillary Clinton is not relateable or feminine enough. With words such as “cold,” “annoying,” and “pantsuit,” it is hard to ignore the possible reasons behind these assumptions. Women have long been considered the nurturing counterpart to a male breadwinner, which has been perpetuated over time through misogynistic media coverage.
Media and society in general have demanded that women fit these sexist stereotypes, even in positions of power. Hillary Clinton is faced with the fine line of being too cold; however, if she were to be the nurturing figure they visualize, further criticisms would arise calling her weak and not up to the job. This weakness comes from an inevitable part of her gender, or so, media and society would like to suggest.
At no point in our discussion this morning, was her role as Secretary of State mentioned with regard to her demeanor in the public eye. A position of such power requires a strong, independent leader. However, when she rose to the task she was considered to be too bossy or bitchy, whereas a male figure in the same position would be considered assertive.
Furthermore, none of her policy was considered in the discussion, but rather her image was thrown around as the main focus. In the same debate, women are criticized for what they wear while men are criticized for what they say. Another female politician, Sarah Palin, was widely criticized for being “overly” feminine on the campaign trail (a skirt and heels) while Hillary Clinton is criticized for her lack of femininity while often wearing a pantsuit.
This quote from the New York Times demonstrates the double bind women in politics face. They cannot be strong without being bossy. They cannot be independent without being aloof. And they certainly cannot wear a pant suit.
These issues are going to become even more relevant as Hillary ventures closer to announcing her candidacy (seriously, who’s questioning?) If she is to successfully move forward, she will need to find a way to conquer the battle facing women that is perpetuated by media and society. Manicure or none – what difference does it make?