Monday, July 30, 2007

Where is the Praise for Hillary Clinton Being a Good Mother?

The British paper, The Observer, had an article Sunday on the current rash of bad girl behavior in Hollywood, calling this "a huge gender shift." "There is simply no male star in America who can compete with the hard-partying and jail-hopping activities of the young women who now dominate US tabloid press and cable television," says the Observer. "It is all women, all the time." The writer mentions Lindsay Lohan, Paris Hilton, Nicole Ritchie and Britney Spears. It mentions a few recent male stars behaving badly--Mel Gibson, David Hasselhoff--but concludes these are boys, but older, middle-aged men.

But is this really a significant shift?

Then what do we make of today's New York Times article about the stellar Chelsea Clinton who is always poised, always in control, always setting a good example: a complete opposite to this generational example set by Lohan, Hilton et al. No where in the article, which is a front page news story after all, is there any praise for Hillary Clinton for being an excellent mother. Here is a young woman who has turned out remarkably well given the unusual and public upbringing she has had: having to be aware of her father's affair with Monica Lewinsky, having her image used as proof that she was holding her parents' marriage together.

A recent New York Times article "Sometimes a Mother Can Do No Right," focused on how it's Lindsay Lohan's mother, a single mother of four, who is targeted as the cause of Lindsay's bad behavior, same in the case of Britney Spears. (Though in Paris Hilton's case, she is rich, and hers is a case of being spoiled by both parents, not brought up badly by a middle-class or poor parent.)

In the article, Susan J. Douglas, author of "The Mommy Myth: The Idealization of Motherhood and How It Has Undermined Women," said, "We have a long history in this culture of mother blame." "Media images of the 'bad mother' serve to police all mothers, said Professor Douglas. “We still have a virgin-whore binary in American pop culture, and this governs motherhood as well,” Professor Douglas said.

“It’s supposed to be a mother’s job to train her daughter into how to domesticate her various desires,” [Douglas] said. “If we see a young woman who hasn’t done that, the mother has failed her tutorial.”

So if a mother who is a public figure has done a great job, as it seems in the case of Hillary Clinton, then shouldn't she be praised, the flip side of that virgin-whore dichotomy? Chelsea definitely seems to have "domesticated" her "desires." So where's the praise for Hillary Clinton being a great mother?

We're not going to see any praise, or a detailed comparison or examination of the candidates' children, because the media does not judge a male politician by his children in the same way that it judges a woman. The media does not care to examine how the child turns out in order to infer whether the male politician was a good father or not, because as a society we have lower standards for how responsible a father is for a child's day-to-day care. So it's merely enough that the man has 2.5 children and a loyal wife at his side, their mere existence is proof that he is a good enough father, it doesn't matter whether that child has turned into a productive, independent, functioning adult.

Chelsea is smart; at a young age she knew that, as the New York Times article mentions, she should always have her makeup on, always be ready to make a public appearance, because if she ever acts badly, the media will be all over her, ready to indict Hillary for being a "bad mother." In other words, Chelsea is well-aware of the virgin-whore dichotomy by which mothers are judged, and daughters, too. And she is a good daughter.

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