To the world, she's a villain; to me, she's fun

Hillary Clinton has been vilified for five years - so far. Why? Maybe we just can't cope with complex women

Share
Related Topics
Last night Hillary Rodham Clinton made a speech to the Democratic Convention in Chicago, in support of her husband's nomination for the US presidency. Not, as it happens, that he needs support; his nomination is assured; instead, her speech has been described as a "rehabilitation" exercise.

From what does she need rehabilitating? From a five-year campaign of unparalleled vilification: not just from the Republican opposition, but from pundits, journalists and gossip-mongers worldwide. For just about everything.

First, she was a dour intellectual feminist; then she was a manipulative, power-hungry woman driving a charming but weak man towards the White House; then she was a vain woman willing to remake herself to fit media images (and even pretend she could cook chocolate chip cookies!); then she was a political failure whose health plan was an obvious disaster; then she was probably a criminal - or at least a sharp operator, called as a witness at seedy financial trials; now, more often, she is sidelined - a neurotic, paranoid nutcase sacking staff and holding seances - at best a liability and at worst a danger.

It's very strange, really. What exactly has Ms Clinton done that is so awful? She has worked hard, stood by her man, and struggled to find a public image acceptable to both herself and the world, but ...

Tiresomely for her, Hillary Clinton is, perhaps above all, very intelligent: quite simply, mass marketing hates clever women - unless they confine themselves to universities and eccentricities. They are meant to "pay" for being brainy by being both ugly and emotionally unfulfilled.

She is serious - when she speaks or writes about the things she cares about, such as families, she does not attempt to trigger traditionalists' terrors, but to look at what children need to flourish. Her book, It Takes a Village (to raise a child), really does try to negotiate a new relationship between community and individuals within a complex society. Instantly, she has made herself a hostage to fortune, once again. Bob Dole, the Republican challenger, has taken up the title, responding: "It takes a family to raise a child," adding that her book is really a justification of big- government socialism. But the social condition of children is a serious issue in the United States, and even in the political cauldron of an election year she takes it seriously.

She is effective. The health plan may not have been successful, though God knows what healthcare plan would have been, but her education programme in Arkansas and her child advocacy work have been accepted as innovative and practical.

Ms Clinton is not just clever, thoughtful and effective; she is also a feminist, a wife, a political activist, a mother and a career lawyer. The real fact is that we have not yet learnt to deal with complex women. Recent studies have shown that all women politicians get less favourable media coverage than their male counterparts. In some ways it is even harder for Hillary Clinton, because she is not only a political figure but also the wife of a head of state, who must harmonise her views with his agenda.

One of her problems is unquestionably her age. She is too young to be "momma of the nation" and not young enough to be the sweetheart of the nation, as Princess Diana says she wants to be. The media circus into which she is inevitably thrust would probably be delighted with either stereotype, but it does not seem to be able to cope with anything more subtle. There are quite a number of acceptable roles for women - suffering mother, beautiful queen, virtuous lady, for example - but if you are a woman with high visibility who cannot easily be slotted into any of those niches, you will be villainised; witch, bitch, hysteric, or whore.

There is something personal in this defence: I like Hillary Clinton. She is fun, (something never mentioned, perhaps she can't be any more, which would be sad). I stayed with her once in Arkansas, during the years that the now President was out of office. Despite her hectic schedule, we enjoyed long late-night conversations. I remember one, a mixture of hilarity and real interest, on the relationship of religion to morality and civic life. She dredged out of her address book valuable contacts for my research on Christian feminism in the US, and rang her friends to find more. She was easy to be with, thoughtful, interesting and supportive.

Even if I had never met her, I think I would still be a grateful fan. Women like me need a few more women like her: high-profile women who can managed the juggling trick - careers, children, a partnership, and a truly chic pink suit at the Peking Women's Conference. Women who want to be good and clever.

I hope the Democratic Convention delegates, more than half of whom are women and 40 per cent of whom define themselves as "liberal", recognise how much they, and contemporary women more widely, owe to Hillary Clinton. The risky and obviously painful course she has been made to run has helped us. The media attack on her has shown us how far we still have to go to achieve anything resembling equality in representation. If the convention expresses the real enthusiasm that the Republicans generated for Elizabeth Dole - another career wife, after all - they will be cheering for themselves and their daughters, for some sort of optimism in the possibility of women being allowed some public space without giving up all personal dignity.

And anyway Hillary Clinton has got a hellish few months ahead of her. I wish her good luck.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

Recruitment Genius: General Processor

£7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

£14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Our representatives must represent us

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
MP David Lammy would become the capital’s first black mayor if he won the 2016 Mayoral election  

Crime, punishment and morals: we’re entering a maze with no clear exit

Simon Kelner
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot