A phrase I was raised alongside was that “mothers are always right.” Suffice to say, my own mother has done a damn good job at proving that catchphrase true. With that being said, what about the times she wasn’t right or when I disagreed with something she said?
Even when my mother undoubtedly spoke to a teenage me with my greatest interests in mind, I recall groaning in response along with facing embarrassment at being seen with her in public, a feeling typical of adolescents. Though now a grown man who loves his mother to death, that sentiment does exist in a fraction of its former self and is equally visible in my own father when she fails to perform as simple a task expected of her as bringing home fruit.
If I was so fatefully embarrassed by my own mother, how would I feel if she was in the national spotlight in the role of president? How does our perception of a president who fails in performing their duties change when that president is a woman?
In our currently heated political climate, Hillary Clinton represents a landmark achievement for women in the political arena, a setting where their presence has proved so scarce. In spite of this, tension remains at the thought of her as president while accusations are lobbed at her left and right.
“As your president, I will always have your back,” are the words spoken by her after emerging victorious at the Democratic primary. She speaks this in a direct and comforting manner making eye contact with the audience and softening her voice as she finishes the sentence. These are traits characteristic to a nurturing mother which is not a role Hillary Clinton has typically associated with on the political stage (take for instance her self-effacing, stone-cold demeanor on Zack Galifianakis’ show ‘Between Two Ferns’).
Are the changes in demeanor based on the situation warranted and do they create some sort of confusion in the public as to who is the real Hillary Clinton?
One of the issues Hillary faces is that the public always sees her as a working figure. The image of the working mother is something of a recent development in the span of U.S. history and though we progressive states embrace furthering the rights of women, there are many states which thrive off of curtailing the presence of women in a public arena. Look no further than a 1979 Arkansas and you will see the public vehemently accusing Hillary of holding back the ever-popular Bill Clinton from taking office for not dressing or acting as a woman ought to.
Although nearly 40 years have passed since that date and Hillary has since propelled herself into a global spotlight, attitudes have continued to show skepticism and the public is hesitant as ever to pledge their support.
Perhaps one of the reasons Hilary had such a hard time finding acceptance as the first lady in the White House is because she was perceived as equally intelligent to if not more intelligent than her husband. According to Judith Butler, “gender norms operate by requiring the embodiment of certain ideals of femininity and masculinity.” In the traditional American lens, women are servile to men and thus, women are expected to perform that subservient role in all areas related to the public. When a woman displays even a modicum of intelligence and independence, she is castigated and labelled as conniving (in Hillary’s case, a dominatrix).
If Sarah Palin’s 2008 speech to the RNC is anything to go by, women are allowed to be empowered so long as they are in the service of men. Her entire speech is dedicated to the adulation of a president McCain, dismissal of the opposition, and graciousness and admiration towards her family members including her parents and husband. The only time Sarah references herself is when discussing her role with relation to another unit i.e. even when discussing her role as a mayor/community organizer, it’s done with the intent of crediting John McCain as being “the same man” inside and outside the political arena.
The crowd seems to eat up her energy but the curious bit is that going forward, Sarah Palin became an object of ridicule for her nonsensical claims. Thus another interesting question is raised from the previous one: even if the female candidate embraces the limitations of her role as a female and caretaker (in Palin’s case, that of a community-friendly “hockey mom” as well as nutcase), is she allowed to be outwardly wrong?
The larger issue in question that surfaces from this query is that there is a fundamental imbalance between male and female candidates. In the 2016 Democratic race, Hillary was frequently hounded by Senator Sanders for voting pro-Iraq while his track record remained clean. Sure, Bernie may have been the exemplar candidate at this point in time but to lump the blame for an entire war widely considered a mistake onto one person who voted yes is simply ludicrous.
This reinvokes the idea of the female who fails just once at embracing her characteristic virtuosity being labelled as a tainted specimen which is a label that is difficult to separate from. This may partially explain some of the reasoning as to why Sanders supporters are so hesitant to heed his plea for them to support Hillary in the upcoming presidential election; Sanders and his supporters have already tarnished her reputation, why should they see her as anything greater than the warmonger they already deemed her?
Logically, Hilary has not attracted such labels as warmonger without reason; however, the extent to which these qualities are magnified in her case call into question the extent to which the public and the media actively seek to defame her. One particularly disconcerting term that arises in such discourse is the word ‘scandal.’ Although the New York Times doesn’t actively use the word in their article “Hillary Clinton, ‘Smart Power’ and a Dictator’s Fall,” the author does write in such a way as to persuade readers of her responsibility for America’s intervention in a tumultuous Libya and the chaotic aftermath that ensued, one such event often labelled the ‘Benghazi Scandal.’
In the article, Hillary is described as ‘hawkish’ and highly critical of President Obama’s (in)actions while still trying to remain in his inner circle. One point that the author vividly paints for readers is a scene where rather than outright push the president for intervention, she coated her language “in a fairly clever way” so as to sway the president toward intervention by presenting the intelligence in a way that could potentially guilt him should he decide upon inaction.
This swaying is labelled the turning point in the debate on Libya intervention and the author goes on to describe the consequences as fatal for the region thus leading readers to conclude that Hillary is something of a Lady Macbeth, a female figure imposing her will on those in power at the expense of others.
I’d like to close by reframing my central question in asking whether I would be embarrassed if my mother were in Hillary’s stead making similar mistakes and perceived in similar ways. I’d like to think that I would be more critical of her (being my mother and all) but that I would also be able to see through the transparencies of the accusations levied against her.
As embarrassed as I might feel around my mother, I would never wish to shame or humiliate her for moments of being wrong. If we are to perceive Hillary as our nation’s mother figure, can we not feel similarly sympathetic regarding the times she may have failed us or must we castigate her into an inescapable pit of filth?
–Mama Hillary for Prez is authored by Theodore Wallace, a graduate student at Hunter College and high school english teacher in New York City.