Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Hillary Clinton Creates New Archetype for Powerful Women: the Fighter

Susan Faludi wrote an interesting op-ed on Hillary Clinton in the New York Times, May 9th.

She writes about how Clinton has remade her image from the typical female archetype of "hall monitor" who admonishes everyone to abide by the rules, to one of a "fighter" who is in the trenches--an archetype that is typically male, and one that's more appealing to white male voters.

Faludi writes that "[t]he specter of the prissy hall monitor is, in part, the legacy of the great female reformers of Victorian America. . . they were regarded by men. . .as reluctant trespassers in the public sphere who had left the domestic circle only to fulfill their duty as the morally superior sex, housekeepers scouring away a nation’s vice."

This archetype of woman as rule-regulator is repellent in the national imagination, she writes. "In that visceral subbasement of the national imagination — the one that underlies all the blood-and-guts sports imagery our culture holds so dear — the laurels go to the slugger who ignores the censors, the outrider who navigates the frontier without a chaperone."

Of this fighter image, Faludi writes, "Deep in the American grain, particularly in the grain of white male working-class voters, that is the more trusted archetype. Whether Senator Clinton’s pugilism has elevated the current race for the nomination is debatable. But the strategy has certainly remade the political world for future female politicians, who may now cast off the assumption that when the going gets tough, the tough girl will resort to unilateral rectitude. When a woman does ascend through the glass ceiling into the White House, it will be, in part, because of the race of 2008, when Hillary Clinton broke through the glass floor and got down with the boys."

I find it fascinating how women are held to certain standard archetypes, and how these are confining for women. I wrote about the Marie Antoinette archetype several months ago for the Chicago Tribune, and how this archetype of the spoiled rich woman who abuses her inferiors and controls her husband is applied to powerful women. There's also the archetype of the witch, which is also applied to strong women who are in charge of the purse strings: I wrote an article comparing the prosecution of the Martha Stewart trial to the Salem witch trials-the same tropes and themes and symbols arose in both. Faludi's point is interesting that Hillary Clinton has now hewed to a new archetype--the fighter--a traditionally male archetype. Perhaps Clinton has created a new archetype for powerful women, one that opens up new possibilities, new acceptable ways of behaving and being portrayed.

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