Sexism and Hillary Clinton: Maureen Dowd Edition
THE most famous woman on the planet has a confounding problem. She can’t figure out how to campaign as a woman.
In 2008, Hillary Clinton took advice from two men — Bill Clinton and Mark Penn — and campaigned like a man. Worried about proving she could be commander in chief, Hillary scrubbed out the femininity, vulnerability and heart, in image and issues, that were anathema to Penn. Consciously tamping down the humor and warmth in Hillary and playing up the muscularity and bellicosity, her strategist modeled Hillary on Iron Lady Margaret Thatcher.
Hillary saw the foolishness of acting like a masculine woman defending the Iraq invasion after she fell behind to a feminized man denouncing it. After losing Iowa and watching New Hampshire slip away to the tyro, Barack Obama, Hillary cracked. She misted up, talking to a group of voters in New Hampshire when a woman asked her how she kept going, while staying “upbeat and so wonderful.”
Her aides thought the flash of tears would be a disaster, that she would seem weak. But it was a triumph because she seemed real. As The Washington Post’s Dan Balz wrote in his campaign book, it “let a glimmer of her humanity peek through.”
Hillary always overcorrects. Now she has zagged too far in the opposite direction, presenting herself as a sweet, docile granny in a Scooby van, so self-effacing she made only a cameo in her own gauzy, demographically pandering presidential campaign announcement video and mentioned no issues on her campaign’s website.
It’s inescapable that Clinton* is a woman and that this brings a certain scrutiny. But it’s hardly as if male candidates are immune from taking too much advice from handlers and overcorrecting.
*Like Dowd, I frequently refer to Clinton as “Hillary” in the written form, presumably for the same reason: there’s another Clinton, her even more famous husband, whereas everyone knows who you’re talking about when we say “Hillary.” I nonetheless prefer to keep with the last-name convention when it’s obvious from context about whom we’re referring.