Female bosses tend to come in two categories: power leaders and mentors who will go to the mat for their employees, or ambitious cutthroats who support only women willing to lean in full throttle—until they become a threat to the leader’s own power. Then they get quashed. I was privileged in my office days to work for a shining example of the former. (She is now general counsel of a major oil company. True leaders rise, regardless of sex.) Women learn to look out for and avoid the latter. I know a few of those, as well.
The tells are often subtle, but women learn them. In a fit of wishful thinking, many women want to ignore the signs about Hillary Clinton. She’s out on tour now, promoting her book, Hard Choices, which according to reviews, doesn’t even make choices to stand against ideological opponents. It’s too nice. That’s a tell—broad praise for the sake of winning supporters. She’s not seeking respect for her decision-making, but trying to buy support with honey, which would make for a stronger strategy if she had a history of offering honey.
Stoking the Mommy Wars
The oldest but general (and ongoing, see below) sign of Hillary Clinton’s divisiveness came with her “What should I have done, stayed home and baked cookies?” snark back during her husband’s presidency. Such comments are fodder for the Mommy Wars women wish would go away. They won’t in part because they give women like Hillary Clinton power.
Hillary Clinton took a much different path. She was actively involved in policy and the health care reform effort for her husband. And she came under fire in 1992 for stridently defending her own career, saying on 60 Minutes in 1992 that she wouldn’t be ‘some little woman standing by my husband like Tammy Wynette.’ ‘…I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession, which I entered before my husband was in public life,’ she said at another point.
Hillary Clinton’s 1992 campaign comments made her one of the most divisive women in the country as first lady. But they also paved the way for her to become a senator in her own right and later Secretary of State. As a public official, after Bill Clinton left office, Hillary Clinton has become the most admired American woman, according to Gallup, for years.
It is remarkable that 25 years after Clinton’s ‘cookie’ remarks, the issue of the role of women in the workplace and home is as raw and polarizing as ever (emphasis added).
One of the reasons questions about the role of women are as raw and polarizing as ever is because we keep accepting divisive women as leaders. That “but” after describing her, accurately, as one of the most divisive women in the country, is a big one. Women should accept divisiveness as long as it advances the divider’s career?
Women are tired of divisive. Look at calls to end the Mommy Wars, in which women insist that we should have choices and all will be right if we support other women’s choices. It is a tactic created in reaction to disparaging work or home judgments like “staying home and baking cookies.”
Clinton’s “baking cookies” comment might be 20 years old, but it is consistent with more recent events, such as when she seemed to imply that her former underling who leaned back into a Princeton University professorship, Ann Marie Slaughter, was an unorganized whiner without a supportive network. As The Telegraph reported shortly after Slaughter’s famous Have It All article:
Despite a lifetime advocating women’s rights, the US Secretary of State showed little patience with other mothers who struggle to juggle the dual roles demanded by modern life.
‘I can’t stand whining,’ she told Marie Claire magazine. ‘I can’t stand the kind of paralysis that some people fall into because they’re not happy with the choices they’ve made…The former First Lady, who raised a teenager in the White House in the 1990s, was however not exactly laudatory about Ms Slaughter when asked a direct question about her former colleague, who wrote a widely circulated essay about her decision to quit in Atlantic magazine.
Mrs Clinton conceded that ‘it’s important for our workplaces … to be more flexible and creative in enabling women to continue to do high-stress jobs while caring for not only children, but [also] ageing parents’.
But, she added, Ms Slaughter’s problems were hers alone.
‘Some women are not comfortable working at the pace and intensity you have to work at in these jobs,’ she said. ‘Other women don’t break a sweat. They have four or five, six kids. They’re highly organised, they have very supportive networks.’
Ponder the opening “Despite…” Clinton might advocate verbally for women’s rights, but does she serve them? Does she understand them? Or is she just another member of the “lean in and get to work” chorus that encourages our exhaustion?
Now Showing: The Grandmommy Wars
Having stoked the Mommy Wars throughout her career, now Hillary Clinton is opening a new front for grandmothers. Until the flurry of stories about Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy, like this one at Yahoo!, I hadn’t seen a “Can grandmothers Have It All?” discussion. I’ve seen women of a certain age discussing regrets or memories of motherhood and perhaps wanting to do grand-motherhood differently—both ways, either shunning it or participating in it. But “Can grandmothers have it all?” is a manufactured debate. Of course grandmothers can have it all, easily, as they are not burdened biologically or primarily responsible for young children and can choose how much time to dedicate to the new generation.
Balancing career and family still poses problems for their daughters, though. New mothers like Chelsea Clinton often face the lack of supportive network that Clinton believed held Slaughter back. “[I]t may take a village to raise a child, but these days the village may be more heavily populated with nannies than nanas.” Many grandmothers are not willing to be part of that necessary supportive network that allows current mothers of under 18’s the pace and intensity required for the big jobs. If the assumed Clinton campaign hopes Hillary’s image will soften with grandmotherhood, then they might get surprised when an intergenerational battle breaks out instead.
Blaming The Woman
We have also recently discovered, or actually rediscovered, Hillary Clinton’s tendency to blame women. The press tried to cover for this one by never looking at the opened correspondence files of past associates of the then-First Lady, but the Free Beacon did and found quite a collection of unguarded reactions showing Clinton, among other unflattering things, reflexively assigning sexual fault to a young woman and blaming herself as a wife for her husband’s infidelities.
Her reaction parallels those of feminists who defended Hugo Schwyzer when he confessed to, among other unpalatable things, pressuring minority co-eds into sexual favors. As long as the men in question say the right things about female empowerment, then many prominent feminists will forgive them their behavior. Consider this excerpt of Vanity Fair’s 1998 “How Bill Clinton Neutered the Feminist Movement”:
Among the most honest women I interviewed for this piece was Marie C Wilson, president of the Ms Foundation for Women, who related her experiences, early in her career, as a lobbyist for liberal causes in the Iowa legislature. ‘I knew how to talk about the kinds of emissions standards I wanted for Iowa companies, and what kind of childcare standards I wanted for the children of Iowa, and… Would you please move your hand?… And most times I didn’t get the emissions standards or the childcare. Now,’ she says of Clinton’s presidency, ‘I’ve gotten emissions standards, and I’ve got better childcare, and ‘’ve still got the hand. But that’s better than the other way.’
A very few women were willing to make this argument directly: that feminists could find some honour in making a dispassionate, tough-minded decision that Clinton’s value in office outweighs the sordidness of his personal life. But making this argument is something different from simply sweeping his behaviour under the rug; it’s the pretense, above all, that does the damage.
So it is better to have the good policies than to get rid of the bad practices? For whom? For educated, powerful, and wealthy women who have more options for resisting “the hand” and likely don’t need the childcare since they have or can pay for support networks, perhaps rules over practices makes sense. But for middle-class women who cannot as easily deal with everyday sexism, which option serves them best?
Ignoring Truly Oppressed Women
Shortly after the #BringBackOurGirls campaign flashed in the social media pan, we learned that Secretary of State Clinton had resisted calls to label the Nigerian girls’ kidnappers a terrorist organization and thereby had U.S. policy work against them. I will grant that this failure is more an example of feminists fretting over McDonald’s toys while ignoring real horrors, but Hillary Clinton is one who does that.
Compare Hillary Clinton’s public-service record for helping women to Angelina Jolie’s charitable service record for the same. Jolie has a reputation for Mommy War peacemaking, and she spent Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in London presenting a documentary on rape in war zones to The Global Summit to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, an event she co-hosts with the UK’s Foreign Secretary, William Hague. They seek to draft international guidelines for prosecuting those rapes. See a trailer below.
Clinton is a well-known and wealthy woman like Jolie, and was once a powerful politician like Hague. With great power comes great responsibility. The actress seems to understand that. I cannot say the same about the former U.S. Secretary of State.
Hillary Clinton’s history is one of sowing discord and of indifference to those with less power. If she wasn’t trying to shatter the glass ceiling of the Oval Office, few women would make excuses for her, for it is in the eyes of people that the ends justify the means.
“In the actions of all men, and especially of princes, where there is no court to appeal to, one looks to the end. So let prince win and maintain his state: the means will always be judged honorable, and will be praised by everyone.” —Machiavelli, The Prince