Hillary vs. the Patriarchy

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By Erica Jong
Monday, February 4, 2008; 12:00 AM

"Look, the only people for Hillary Clinton are the Democratic establishment and white women," said Bill Kristol yesterday on Fox News Sunday, one of the many "news" outlets to expose Kristol's reliable sexism. "The Democratic establishment would be crazy to follow an establishment that led it to defeat year after year," Kristol continued in his woolly, repetitive style. "White women are a problem, you know. We all live with that."

Bill Kristol has been much criticized for his war mongering, arrogance, poor writing and lack of fact checking. But at least the guy is honest. He considers women a problem -- especially white women. And he feels confident enough as an alpha male to be open about it. "I shouldn't have said that," he demurred. But he can say anything he likes and still fall eternally upward. He's a white man, lord of all he surveys -- including Hillary Rodham Clinton.

I, too, have been watching Hillary Clinton with admiration, love, hate, annoyance and empathy since she appeared on the national scene 16 years ago. (Can it be only16 years?) I've had a hard time making up my mind about her. Perhaps that's because I identify with her so strongly.

I'm hardly the only woman who sees my life mirrored in hers. She's always worked twice as hard to get half as far as the men around her. She endured a demanding Republican father she could seldom please and a brilliant, straying husband who played around with bimbos. She was clearly his intellectual soul mate, but the women he chased were dumb and dumber.

Nothing she did was ever enough to stop her detractors. Supporting a politician husband by being a successful lawyer, raising a terrific daughter, saving her marriage when the love of her life publicly humiliated her -- these are things that would be considered enormously admirable in most politicians and public figures. But because she's a white woman, she's been pilloried for them.

She's had to endure nutcrackers made in her image, insults about the shape of her ankles and nasty cracks from mediocrities in the media like Rush Limbaugh, Chris Matthews and Kristol.

When she decided to run for the Senate she was called a carpetbagger. When she won the hearts of her most conservative constituents by supporting their actual needs, the same poisonous pundits who said it couldn't be done attacked her.

Nor are poisonous women pundits any more kind. Maureen Dowd regularly gives her a drubbing. And "progressives" from Susan Brownmiller to Oprah Winfrey sport Obama buttons.

I, too, was a bluestocking from a woman's college, straight-A student, Phi Beta Kappa, who found my voice as a writer while exiled to the boonies with a husband who cheated. With every book I published, I saw more clearly how uneven was the playing field for women. We were let into the literary world on sufferance. Unless we wrote unreadable academic tracts that nobody bought, or mysteries or romances or something called "chick lit" (whatever that is), or biographies of Great Men, we were booed off the stage.

I chanced to get famous for my work. Hillary got famous in the unspeakable role of "First Lady," which Jackie Kennedy Onassis thought sounded like the name of racehorse. If she seemed uncomfortable in her skin, if she kept changing her hair, her image, her style, her way of speaking, how could we blame her? She was trying to be self-protective. Who wouldn't be if constantly attacked by a beastly press?

Little by little, she loosened up. She learned how to dress and speak and smile and relax on the podium. I've watched this whole process with immense admiration.

Fame in America is unforgiving. And she had to grow comfortable in the spotlight -- something very few people can do without having a nervous breakdown or drinking or popping pills.


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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