July 24, 2005

An easy lesson about criticizing Hillary.

Naomi Wolf, riffing on Edward Klein's "The Truth About Hillary," makes an extended comparison of Hillary Clinton to the 19th century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft. Basically, there's a standard underhanded way to attack women, which was around in the 19th century and is still around today. There's an easy lesson here, and most respected writers have already learned it: if you want to attack a woman, don't taint your legitimate criticism with crap about how she's not feminine enough.

13 comments:

knoxgirl said...

...and the corrollary to the "unfeminine" critique is the frequent accusation that any successful or powerful woman is *secretly* a total bitch.

For example, even if every nasty story about Martha Stewart is true, if she were a man, her behavior--if it was even noticed--would be characterized as "aggressive" or "a laser-beam focus" or something similarly non-pergorative.

Mark said...

The male analogues to "bitch" are "jerk" and "creep" and "asshole." They are used quite often.

Meade said...

Other analogues to "bitch" are "idiot," "Alfred E. Neuman," and "chimp."

My guess is that Mr. Bush long ago internalized Wollstonecraft's wisdom: ''Those who are bold enough to advance before the age they live in,'' [Mary Wollstonecraft] wrote, ''must learn to brave censure. We ought not to be too anxious respecting the opinion of others.''

knoxgirl said...

It's true, men are often called creeps and assholes. And Bush is called a chimp, idiot, etc.

What I'm talking about is criticisms aimed at powerful women that specifically target female traits.

Sorry, but criticisms that specifically target male traits don't surface nearly as often. Bush, for example, is not being criticized for his physical appearance or an effeminate affect.

L. Ron Halfelven said...

So what's the upshot? Are we supposed to regard loose speculations about someone's possible homosexuality as inherently insulting or not?

Does Klein's book include a picture of Hillary wearing plaid pants?

Ann Althouse said...

I think both men and women are insulted by associated them with the opposite sex. But it is mainly in the case of women that displaying an urge to attain power brings out the insult. Men draw the insult when they do things associated with not being competitive and ambitious enough. So it's in the case of women that the problem is connected to power-seeking.

Mark said...

Think of the most powerful women in our government: justices, Cabinet secretaries, senators. There are 20 such people. Other than Boxer, Clinton and maybe Mikulski, who else have you heard called a bitch?

James Lindgren said...

I have always viewed the attacks on Hillary Clinton's appearance as unhinged and sexist. It is almost as if her critics expect any public woman to look like a Hollywood actress or a TV anchorwoman, and faced with a woman whose appearance is only above average for women of her age, can't help finding fault.

Margaret Thatcher was one of the greatest leaders of the century, yet (beyond a certain twinkle in her eye) I don't think that most British men viewed her as particularly attractive (or particularly feminine). Indeed, her strength of will and plain talk were the source of her personal appeal as a leader, not her looks.

Those who have worked with Hillary Clinton during the Clinton administration (particularly on health reform) suggest that she has some serious drawbacks as a leader -- she seemed to view reasonable attempts to deal with incentive problems as expressions of disloyalty.

Brad DeLong's account is the most revealing (http://www.j-bradford-delong.net/movable_type/
2003_archives/001600.html).

After noting that Hillary would make a better president than George W. Bush (whom DeLong consistently disdains), he states that Hillary Clinton would "almost surely not" "make a good president":

"My two cents' worth--and I think it is the two cents' worth of everybody who worked for the Clinton Administration health care reform effort of 1993-1994--is that Hillary Rodham Clinton needs to be kept very far away from the White House for the rest of her life. Heading up health-care reform was the only major administrative job she has ever tried to do. And she was a complete flop at it. She had neither the grasp of policy substance, the managerial skills, nor the political smarts to do the job she was then given. And she wasn't smart enough to realize that she was in over her head and had to get out of the Health Care Czar role quickly."

"So when senior members of the economic team said that key senators like Daniel Patrick Moynihan would have this-and-that objection, she told them they were disloyal. When junior members of the economic team told her that the Congressional Budget Office would say such-and-such, she told them (wrongly) that her conversations with CBO head Robert Reischauer had already fixed that. When long-time senior hill staffers told her that she was making a dreadful mistake by fighting with rather than reaching out to John Breaux and Jim Cooper, she told them that they did not understand the wave of popular political support the bill would generate. And when substantive objections were raised to the plan by analysts calculating the moral hazard and adverse selection pressures it would put on the nation's health-care system...[this is DeLong's ellipsis]"

"Hillary Rodham Clinton has already flopped as a senior administrative official in the executive branch--the equivalent of an Undersecretary. Perhaps she will make a good senator. But there is no reason to think that she would be anything but an abysmal president."

From Naomi Wolf's essay, you wouldn't know whether Ed Klein had anything coherent to say about Hillary Clinton's abilities as a possible president. From other sources, such as this interview of Ed Klein at NRO (http://www.nationalreview.com/
interrogatory/klein200506200754.asp), it appears that Wolf's brilliant little essay entirely leaves out some of the book's main themes. This is fine for Wolf's purpose, which was to write an essay, not review the book more generally.

The only weakness I see in Wolf's essay is that she seems to view Clinton in abstract terms -- as a kind of icon, a symbol of something larger (and more noble) than just herself. Yet Hillary Clinton is a human being, with all the faults that we humans possess. By focusing so much on the unfair criticisms of Hillary Clinton, we may fail to look closely at her considerable strengths and weaknesses.

gs said...

Politician Hillary Clinton triggers two immediate associations in my mind. First, I am slightly put off by her personal styling (sheesh, I might live to vote for a President with a piercing!). Second, she reminds me of Nixon.

I suspect that Politician Hillary Clinton would rather have me focusing on the first issue than on the second.

Jeff said...

Most of the criticism of powerful women not being feminine enough seems to be coming from the left these days. The feminist idea of "feminine", of course -see Heather Mac Donald's takedown of Dahlia Lithwick in a recent NRO article:

"Real women do not separate their emotions from their reason. This is the central feminist insight propounded by legal commentator Dahlia Lithwick in a recent New York Times op-ed on Justice Sandra Day O'Connor. Lithwick's op-ed demonstrates yet again that there are no more faithful proponents of the Victorian view of women than modern-day feminists...
  
...Justice O'Connor has a big problem, according to Slate editor Lithwick: She didn't act as a female justice should."

http://www.nationalreview.com/comment/mac_donald200507050802.asp

Sean said...

So do we conclude that Dahlia Lithwick is not a respected writer? I personally don't find her worth reading, but the word "respected" seems to imply that there is a consensus to that effect.

Ann Althouse said...

I could point to the word "most" in "most respected writers," but really, the truth, as I see it, is that liberals so assume that everyone understands they are on the side of women and conservatives aren't, that they have a special dispensation to say sexist things about conservative women.

Bruce Hayden said...

Above and beyond HRC's politics, I have some personel problems with her. Dick Morris, in his book on her, brought out a couple of things.

First, corruption. He pointed out that if the Clintons were involved in a sex scandal, it was Bill's, but if it involved either money or abuse of power, it was invariably Hillary.

On the money side, we have the commodities trading, Whitewater, billing irregularites, and all that stuff that disappeared when they moved out of the White House.

On the abuse of power side, we have pulling all those FBI files on Republicans and siccing the IRS on political opponents. Also, it has invariably been she who hired the PIs, invariably the best in the business, to, for example, handle the "Bimbo Eruption".

The second, alluded to above, is the parallel with Nixon, and that is her paranoia. She is the one in the family who, when things start going badly, thinks that everyone is out to get them. And that is one big thing she has in common with Nixon, the president she helped bring down. And, when she gets paranoid, that is when the abuse of power side comes out.

Obviously, a lot of this is through the eyes of Dick Morris. But much of it rings true, from all that we have learned of her.