Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Quick 'Gender' Take on YouTube Debate

Hillary Clinton was directly (directly, in that the questions were aimed only at her) asked three questions tonight that forced her defend her identity, things that are unchangeable about herself, namely 1) her gender and 2) that she is a Clinton, which is also about gender, in that the YouTube questioner was indicting her for being the wife to Bill Clinton, assuming that she would bring to the table the same elements as her husband, just because they are married. She answered all three questions calmly and with dignity and forthrightness. But perhaps being put on the defensive prevented her from loosening up.

One gender question Hillary had to answer was whether Muslim countries would take her seriously as a woman, the inherent implication the YouTube speaker was making was that she would not be taken seriously, so how dare she run for President. He had a snide, gotcha tone to his question. Hillary answered the question with aplomb, talking about her experience as First Lady and Senator meeting with the leaders of 82 countries, and saying, "I believe there is no doubt in anyone's mind that I can be taken seriously."

The other question that centered on her being a woman asked her to react to Elizabeth Edwards comment last week that her husband would be a better supporter of women's issues than Hillary. She answered, "I've spent my entire life advocating for women. . . ." (How strange that Elizabeth Edwards decided to bring in the element of a catfight into this race; why did she have to go after Hillary Clinton as not being a good supporter of women--it's a ridiculous, unnecessary attack. She didn't say Edwards would be a better supporter of women's right than the other candidates, she focused on Hillary because she is a frontrunner, and because she is a fellow woman so she could attack her.) Yet Hillary Clinton handled these questions well, never getting angry and riled up, unlike some of the male candidates to her right and left. But I think because her very identity was questioned, she was forced to maintain a composed and serious demeanor, a woman "to be taken seriously" as a presidential candidate.

But this was not a woman who seemed to be having fun; she didn't allow herself to let loose and show that side of herself, the side that Susan Faludi wrote about back in 1992 in the New York Times when she argued that what upsets Hillary Clinton's critics in the media "isn't so much that she is independent--but that she enjoys it."

As Faludi wrote [in her 1992 article "The Power Laugh" (this is when Hillary was First Lady)]: "She is doing something her predecessor didn't dare. She's abandoned the earnest, dutiful demeanor. She doesn't bear the grim visage of the stereotypical female policy wonk; she's no Jeanne Kirkpatrick. . . And therein lies her sin: Hillary Clinton is visibly, tangibly having fun. Eleanor Roosevelt loved the public life, but she rarely revealed her exuberance. Before the media, Ms. Clinton throws back her head and laughs, kicks up her heels and breaks into a dance. Wipe that smile off your face, the media instructed Hillary Clinton. . ."

It's difficult to loosen up when these questions from the "common folk" claiming their five minutes of fame show that yes, there are going to be attacks on you for being a woman, that some will not take you as seriously as if you were a man, and, as last week's New York Times poll attested, that some women, ironically, more likely those who are college educated, are going to be jealous of you.

But I'd like to see Hillary Clinton get back that smile and reveal her enjoyment in running for President. She should have cracked a few jokes, like Gov. Richardson and Sen. Biden did towards the end. Then again, there was Kuchinch who wouldn't stop smiling and talking about text messaging for peace, and came across as a grinning Chesire Cat. There must be some happy medium.

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