With Political Animals premiering on USA yesterday, it seemed the appropriate time for this post. Of course, the series is technically not about Hillary Rodham Clinton - it is about the fictional character Elaine Barrish, former First Lady, unsuccessful presidential candidate, divorced from her affair-prone husband, and currently serving as Secretary of State. But of course there are so many parallels that everybody knows it's really a show about Hillary Clinton. First of, a disclaimer: I have always admired Clinton. In fact, she's one of my all-time role-models, together with (among others) Gloria Steinem, Alice Walker, Madonna, Ellen DeGeneres, and, most recently, Ashley Judd. Quite an eclectic list, I know! Anyway, back to Political Animals, and to Clinton.
I watched it for two reasons, one being the fact that I like Sigourney Weaver, but the other, more important aspect being my interest in how they would choose to portray Clinton. As has been abundantly demonstrated, the gulf between those hat like and admire Clinton, and those that despise her, couldn't be wider. Ever since she appeared on the political scene many years ago, she has been demonized and ridiculed. Descriptions of her alternate between "She's cold, ambitious, robot-like and driven, and all she ever cared about was power" and the (equally flattering) "She's staying with Bill because she's weak, has no self-respect, and is a disgrace for modern women". Of course we've also all heard the "Bill cheated on her because she is old/fat/ugly/bad in bed"-version of the tale. There are countless jokes about her physical attractiveness, her wardrobe, her headbands, her decision (not to) wear make-up, and countless other things.
I was pleased by the show's willingness and ability to portray Clinton ... I mean Barrish ... as a complex being, a woman who is not only ambitious (though she clearly is) but also caring, who struggles, who is not perfect ... who is, for lack of a better word, real. It is clear from the start that the audience is supposed to be on her side, to root for her ... and that is, quite frankly, a nice change.
I have spent a lot of time (too much time, frankly) pondering the reasons behind the vitriol and hatred directed against Clinton. It is like she serves as a key, a red flag, opening the gates, so the hidden river of sexism and misogyny can pour out freely, openly exposed for everyone to see. And the saddest thing is, so many don't. They either don't see, or they don't care. It almost seems as if, as long as you claim you're "only" referring to Clinton, you can get away with anything and everything. I have never been able to understand why, and I still don't. I probably never will. I read somewhere once that an acquaintance described her as "100 years ahead of her time". Maybe that's it. Maybe it's the fact that she does not try to "disguise" herself the same way many other powerful women do. She does not try to appear to be "less", in any sense of the word, than she really is.
I know that many (myself included) were worried, after the outpour of sexism during the 2008 primary season, about the message sent to young women and girls. Would even more be turned away, thinking "If that's how you're treated when you want "too much", reach "too high" and cross "too many" lines and try "too hard" to break that glass ceiling, I don't want to try it. It's not worth it." But then I thought again. That's not at all what Clinton has taught us, despite the fact that she did not secure the nomination (and that was certainly in part due simply to miscalculations and mistakes by her campaign). She has taught us how to be strong and gracious, even in defeat. How to ambitious without putting yourself before everyone and everything else. How to be tough without being hard. How to be self-confident without being full of yourself, still retaining a sense of humor and an ability to not take yourself too seriously. How to be something that still, even in today's world, is very much a rarity: a woman in a position in power. Clinton is quoted to have, at some point, said something like" Whenever I say something, people look at me as if I were a talking dog". That's probably true, even today. But certainly, because of her, fewer women will be looked at that way in the future.
Thank you, Secretary Clinton, for not giving up. For blazing a trail, for staying your course, for fighting against sexism. Thank you for existing!