BY ARIKIA MILLIKAN
Published March 4, 2008
For many people, Hillary Clinton elicits a knee-jerk reaction of loathing and contempt. She's been called everything from a bitch to the Antichrist. Whether it's her assertiveness or her pantsuits, there are things about her that just put people off. When asked to explain, many get hung up on the circular argument that she's dividing the country. But our country is divided - the 2008 presidential race is merely forcing people to acknowledge where those divides lie.
The way I see it, it all boils down to a battle between the people who think Hillary is the problem and the people who think that those people are the real problem.
The sad truth is that Americans are still caught up in maintaining "traditional" gender roles. When it comes to politics, men have the power and women, for the most part, have no place unless a man finds them one. But Hillary is crashing the boys' club on her own accord. And it bothers people.
Granted, Hillary's engagement with politics is inextricably tied to her husband. Some say that nepotism is the only reason that she's gotten where she is. And while we'll never know what's happening in the parallel universe where Hillary and Bill never met, I tend to think she would be still be running for president. She studied law at Yale, she's sharp, hard-hitting and she has never been afraid to play with the boys. She's just as qualified as any male candidate.
Models on authoritarianism suggest that when people are born and bred to value traditional roles, they often feel threatened when their beliefs are challenged. They get defensive and attack. The status quo about the roles that each gender should play still favors women who are submissive, demure and like to wear pink. Hillary may have worn her share of pink (especially terrifying in the 1980s), but despite the misguided efforts of her public relations team, she isn't feminine. She told a reporter in 1992, "You know, I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life."
The problem is, most of the Americans who don't like Hillary would like her a lot more if she did stay home and bake cookies. She appears to want it both ways, appealing to the side who wants to see her as feminine by maintaining her appearance and crying. But she should embrace her inner powerhouse. It's easier said than done, for the same reason that I still shave my legs. But she's not going to become the icon this country needs by pretending she's Jackie Kennedy - she needs to show the world that assertive women do have a place in society, and that it's at the top.
In a skit on "Saturday Night Live" last weekend, Tina Fey agreed with the common sentiment that Hillary is a bitch.
"Yeah, and so am I. And so is this one," Fey said, referring to fellow comedian Amy Poehler. "Yeah, deal with it," Poehler replied. "Bitches get stuff done," Fey concluded.
Well, competent as bitches are, they're still viewed as a threat by some while assertive men are viewed as "go-getters." The hegemony might be breaking as women continuously prove they are able to contend with men in virtually any profession (excluding sports, maybe). But when you're a smart, assertive female who isn't afraid to give the men a run for their money, you get called a bitch.
I guess that makes me a bitch, too. So I'll admit it: I like Hillary Clinton. She's the first presidential candidate I've ever felt any solidarity with. But the same affinity that I feel toward her is what makes part of the country shudder.
Today, Texas and Ohio - two states that will supposedly decide the nomination - will vote. If Hillary loses and is forced to drop out of the race, I'll take it as evidence that this country isn't evolved enough to accept woman outside of the place society has crafted for them. This is sad, but hopefully it will cause women and men alike to re-evaluate why things are the way they are and work even harder to change them.
If she wins, however, she's going to need the authoritarians who call her a bitch to stop what they're doing and support her, lest another Republican take office.
Hillary effectively represents womankind's first attempt at a massive power reversal in American politics. If she takes office, her success there is not only critical to the well-being of the country, but to the future of women in politics. If Americans can't get over their inbred authoritarian sexism and support her, it could ruin the chances for any woman seeking the presidency for years to come.
Anyone who assumes the position of president in January - female, black or left-handed atheist - is going to have one hell of a task cleaning up the mess the neocons left behind. But the boys have gotten us into enough trouble. Let's see what this bitch can do.
Arikia Millikan is a Daily associate editorial page editor. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.