Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A tear in time

[Warning: Wild, unsubstantiated speculation follows. May bear no resemblance to any persons living or dead.]

So Hillary won New Hampshire.

Watching the results come in yesterday, and reading about the Hillary turnaround, I couldn't help wondering how much of this had to do with her little 'breakdown' on Monday. And by extension, just how spontaneous that breakdown was.

I could be, and probably am, wrong. It's entirely possible that Hillary would have won NH even without the coffee-shop incident. And it's likely that her little outburst was genuine. It's just that the whole thing looks a little too neat to my twisted, cynical mind. Candidate has reputation for being heartless. Candidate's campaign is not going well. Candidate has much publicized emotional moment a day before an important primary. Candidate wins said primary by a narrow margin. Isn't it just possible that the Hillary campaign managers decided what she needed was to show a little emotion, and she did?

Don't get me wrong. This is not a criticism of Hillary. On the contrary, if she really did pull off a stunt that clever and calculating my respect for her just went up. What saddens me is the idea that people may have needed to see Hillary break down and cry in order to be able to relate to her. As though there were something wrong with a woman who wasn't vulnerable, or, more importantly, who wouldn't show that vulnerability in public. It doesn't really matter whether Hillary's breakdown was staged or not - the point is she shouldn't have needed it at all (which, of course, she may not have - but we'll never know now, will we?).

You could say this is not a gender thing - that men have been shedding tears on the campaign trail as well. True. But aside from the fact that men don't risk being labeled weak or hysterical as a consequence, I can't help feeling that showing emotion is a choice for male candidates, not a necessity. If a male candidate behaved the way Hillary does, I suspect he'd get labeled 'the strong and silent type', the assumption being that he felt deep emotion but just didn't want to put it on display. When Hillary refuses to show emotion she gets described as unfeeling and cold and unlikable, the assumption being that if she doesn't show it, she's not feeling it.

Look, I'll be honest. I'm not a huge supporter of Hillary per se. But when I see the sexist way the media reacts to her - when I read front page profiles in the New York Times that talk about how she may be "too hardened to inspire", or see / hear the endless stream of cartoons and jokes that riff off her being a woman, it makes me hope she'll win anyway, just to show them. And I can't help wondering how many other people, if any, feel that way.

In Fire With Fire, Naomi Wolf attributes the success of the first Clinton campaign (in 1992) in part to the Republican's bungling of the gender issue. She writes:

"the media tended to put the governor's wife [Hillary] in a harsh light....("For better or worse, an awful lot of Americans have taken a negative image away from their experiences with her. How you explain that?" Bryant Gumbel asked on the Today show, inadvertently providing the explanation himself.) ...misreading the press's warmth toward Barbara Bush and hostility to Hillary Rodham Clinton as a reflection of the feelings of the electorate as a whole, rather than a reflex on the part of the male-dominated press, the GOP cued its themes to that contrast, and did not understand that a significant portion of Republican women saw their own lives reflected more fully in the lives of the Arkansas governor's wife"

Wouldn't it be ironic if all the sexist commentary on Hillary were actually helping her? And if she ended up winning, inspite of herself, precisely because she is a woman (not that I'm saying it's going to happen, or that she needs it)? I'm still trying to decide how I'd feel about that. On the whole, I suspect I'd be happy.


Meanwhile, to commemorate the season of primaries, I've been watching State of the Union. It's not Hepburn and Tracy's greatest film (actually, it's not even average) but it makes for interesting viewing given what's happening in the presidential race. It's especially fun, in the context of the Obama campaign, to watch the character Tracy plays mouth off about how "we need to pull together or we'll end up pulling apart" and talk about how he'd like to break away from conventional politics. It makes you think how much of the Obama campaign could have been directed by Frank Capra (with, presumably, Angela Lansbury as Hillary).

P.S. Some of you may notice that this post marks the introduction of a new label on 2x3x7. I figured it was time I stopped being in denial. And what better day to inaugurate a 'Gender' label than the birth centenary of Simone de Beauvoir


One Trick Pony said...

I think there is too much importance being ascribed to her "breakdown" (which was nothing of the sort. her voice wavered. i imagine she was exhausted). the media loved it because it made for a good t.v. moment and hence all the chatter, but Hil had support in NH and until Iowa was expected to win there - all that clinton nostalgia.

You're right - she gets slammed for not showing emotion. What you don't mention is that now the chatter will be "she only won NH cause she cried, because thats what women do, they cry"

OR, "she is such a robot, she planned that cry to seem more sympathetic. she has no real feelings. i want a president who is authentic"

She still gets slammed. And I hate the coverage she gets - it is sexist and infuriating but I wouldn't vote for her because I felt sorry for the poor female candidate getting beat up in the media.

Falstaff said...

one trick pony: I agree. It certainly isn't clear to me that she couldn't have won NH without that incident. But as I said, we'll never know. And the whole authenticity bit I don't really get - I seriously doubt Hillary is authentic, but then, I seriously doubt any of these candidates are, and I have no reason to believe she's any less authentic than anyone else, yet it's always her authenticity that gets questioned.

Just to be clear, though, I wouldn't "vote for her because I felt sorry for the poor female candidate getting beat up in the media". But I might vote for her (that is, if I had a vote, which I don't) because I was angry at all the sexist coverage and wanted to pay them back.

Anonymous said...

You know, I loved the Gloria Steinem piece. As a woman, I feel sad that Hillary gets so vilified in the press. If her voice chokes just for a second, she is having a breakdown, she is emotional. If she laughs, it's hysterical laughter. If she shows half an inch of cleavage one single time, she is dressing inappropriately. Or else, she does not how to dress "to show off her feminity".

And why do people feel the need to show placards to a presidential candidate saying "iron my shirt"?

It's not surprising that women got the vote after African-Americans did. People's attitudes still haven't changed all that much..

Falstaff said...

lekhni: Ah, yes, the Steinem piece. Did you see this morning's Tom Toles cartoon? I loved that.

Anonymous said...

No, I had not. Thanks for pointing me to it. I am in the middle of a long post saying exactly the same thing that he managed to say so pithily :(

Chevalier said...

Now that we're on this subject (isn't EVERYbody?), do check out Maureen Dowd's unbelievably bigoted 'Can she cry her way to the White House' (

Dowd's often set my teeth on edge, with her complete insecurity about being either a feminist or not (why does she need to justify either stand so much? - see her 'Are Men Necessary' for more), but today she's forced my simple, staight-forward feministic brain into too many convoluted hoops of illogic.

I give up, and I'm just putting a zillion 'Hillary for President' decals on my car anyway.

Falstaff said...

lekhni: Ya, I know the feeling

chevalier: Yes, I read that Dowd piece. Twice. But I'm still not sure what she's saying.

Anonymous said...

Chevalier, I read the Dowd piece was awful reading stuff like "She became emotional because she feared that she had reached her political midnight, when she would suddenly revert to the school girl with geeky glasses and frizzy hair, smart but not the favorite." It's sad to see that even some women think you need to be Miss USA to become President..

I have always felt that Dowd is a big fan of Obama, but still...

Anonymous said...

It doesn't seem like there's that much difference b/w Obama and Clinton and Edwards (other than maybe Edwards pro-poor focus). So why not vote for Hillary seeing as she's got more experience than Obama?

Also, I'm dumbfounded by the amount of explicit and implicit sexism in this campaign - how Hillary looks, her cleavage, when she cried, when she did not, how Bill will manage in the WH, whether she has the cojones to be the Leader of the Free World and whatnotbullshite. She's certainly had the toughest run (I don't think they could have done the same to Obama on the basis of his race and get away w/ it I think) and she's come off quite nicely in a hard campaign. I'm increasingly leaning Hillary.

That said, a Clinton-Obama combination - hoo boy!


Falstaff said...

n! Agreed. When I say I'm not a supporter of Hillary, it's not that I have a problem with her being elected. I just have no particular reason to want to see her win, aside from the sexist treatment she seems to be getting.

Tabula Rasa said...

I just have no particular reason to want to see her win, aside from the sexist treatment she seems to be getting.

i agree with that completely. i don't like her stated policies and i don't like her record. so the only reason that makes me 'like' her is the fact that she's having to cope with all this other crap.

that said, one line that i'm hearing a lot is that it would be a great step for women if she won. i don't see how. the world has had margaret thatcher and indira gandhi and several others (including benazir bhutto). are women as a whole better off due to these people? this is not a rhetorical question, i seriously don't know how people think about it.

Preeti said...

how can you not love someone who has 5 points to describe any issue, and 3 points when laying out solutions?? I don't think there are substantive differences in stated policies, so what is important to me is that someone capable enough to figure things out as issues come up is in office. also, as everyone's stated, the blatantly sexist reporting is disgusting .. wonder why it's more ok to be sexist than racist .. I don't see anyone commenting on obama's use of ebonics when addressing a black audience.

Falstaff said...

TR: I don't know that it would be a great step for women if she won. I do think there would be some symbolic benefits. It certainly couldn't hurt. the cause of women. And at least it'd be a slap in the face to all these sexist critics.

preeti: You know, I'm reminded of the whole 'do CEOs matter?' question. Personally, I don't know that there are significant differences in ability to 'figure things out' either, nor am I convinced that Presidents need to be particularly good at figuring things out - that's what they have advisors for, no? For that matter, how do you know Hillary came up with those five points on her own?

Anonymous said...

TR: Well, actually I do think it would help in one way: taking us just one step further to making gender a little bit less relevant in leadership considerations. You know, I actually like it when people say "Oh SHE wasn't any better than any man would have been in that position." EXACTLY!!! She doesn't need to be better or worse than someone else because of gender but because of other considerations. So, electing a woman as President of the US and then finding she wasn't better or worse than a male POTUS would itself be a powerful signal to both raise and lower leadership expectations for women.

Does that make sense?


Veena said...

TR: The rest of the world has had Thatcher and Gandhi, the States doesn't. Don't think its a great step for womankind, but a role model can't hurt. No?

Falsie: Exactly how jobless are you? Reading Dowd twice that too to figure what she's saying?!

Btw, in concurment. If I had a vote its going to Clinton. This sexist coverage is way too much.

Tabula Rasa said...

okay, i see the role model argument -- but has britain had more women in leadership positions since thatcher took over? has india? israel? bangladesh?

and is the (to me still-nebulous) benefit of a role model greater than the possible cost of yet another right-of-center, iraq-voting, patroit-act-supporting confidence trickster?

just playing the devil's a :-D

Preeti said...

so if she didn't come up with the points herself, she just has way better advisers than the others .. either way, works better.

Falstaff said...

veena: I'm a PhD student - this means by definition my joblessness is infinite. You of all people should know this.

TR: yes, those are pretty much my concerns as well. Though I view them less seriously than you seem to be.

preeti: The person with the smartest advisers right now is the person who gets elected, who may or may not be the person with 5 bullet points on a problem. You know what the irony is? You know Bill Clinton's comment about Obama's whole campaign being a 'fairy tale'. I realize he meant it as a criticism, but I saw it as praise. I like fairy tales. On the whole, I think I prefer Obama, just because his campaign is so much more, I don't know, poetic.

Veena said...

TR: Valid concerns. But I am not convinced that Obama and Clinton are that different policy wise. You really think he is left of centre? Looks like we need to talk about how we define centre then!

I find myself conflicted between the two and funnily enough, it has nothing to do with their policies. I like Obama because 1)he is super likeable 2)as Falstaff and Bill say his campaign is a fairy tale which to me is pretty appealing and 3)well, how can I not like the Senator from Il? Chicago will disown me if I do that. Clinton because of this coverage which has been so over the top and because its as close as any woman has gotten to the Presidency.

As for the role model effect, no idea. (Though I am sure n! could pull up some half a dozen studies on the topic.) To me, its not very nebulous but thats based solely on anecdotal evidence. Known a few women whose career choices and aspirations have been heavily influenced by people like Kiran Bedi.

Tabula Rasa said...

nope, i don't think that on matters of policy obama and clinton are very different at all. to me edwards is the most acceptable of the lot, and he's just the best (to abuse a good word) of a bad bunch.

kucinich is the only one that makes any sense to me.