The Absurd “Anti-Feminist” Attacks On Clinton: Why “Empowered” Shouldn’t Mean “Perfect”
5:08 pm, March 26th | by Amy Tennery
Earlier today, The Jane Dough’s Laura Donovan took on Andrew Sullivan, who had disparaged Hillary Clinton as a “non-feminist.” His argument was that she rode her husband’s coattails and that’s how she got into politics. Margaret Thatcher, by his estimation, had the more legitimate start in government.
I’m not going to get into their career origins here (they’re both accomplished, both smart — let’s move on). But while Sullivan’s argument focused on Clinton and Thatcher’s professional development, a few of our commenters focused on Clinton’s personal background. And what I saw was something I’ve read many times before: “Empowered” has come to mean “perfect.”
That’s women’s empowerment I’m referring to, by the way; it’s usually assumed a guy is living an “empowered” life. And the standard for empowerment has grown so steep that it’s nearly a threat now. It’s no wonder that the phony Stay-At-Home Moms vs. Feminists ‘battle’ ever began.
One The Jane Dough reader wrote in about Clinton, “A feminist wouldn’t stay married to a man who constantly cheated on you and sexually harassed other women. This would exclude Hillary.” Another person wrote that she felt “betrayed by Hillary Clinton because she enabled her philandering, sexist husband.” Color me skeptical, but if Bill wanted to cheat, I’m pretty sure he didn’t need any “enabling” from Hillary to make it happen. And what, she was going to leave him and then it’d all stop? Please.
While I love our readers and commenters (really — please keep writing in), this is simply untrue — and it’s a notion that’s been eerily pervasive. Bill’s shortcomings are somehow Hillary’s shortcomings because she tolerates them? An “empowered” woman wouldn’t let this abide, right? Also, she’d only do house chores if she felt like it and never feel insecure about anything. Ever.
It’s this eerily rigid fantasyland that turns people off feminism. But why? Being human doesn’t mean being “submissive.”
Further to this point, let’s consider the recent accusations of sexism in the HBO movie “Game Change.” In it, VP contender Sarah Palin is shown buckling under the weight of a presidential campaign; she’s unprepared, she misses her family, and her off-the-cuff remarks derail the McCain message. But how is this depiction sexist? She was a terrible candidate — what’s wrong with saying that? Missing your kids, getting frazzled during an interview — those are normal things that can (and do!) happen to smart, accomplished people. But to show her as anything less than a stone-cold political operative smacked of sexism by many estimations. And that’s wrong. (And if we want to talk about diminishing Palin’s status, we can look to Arlen Specter.)
Why do we need our feminists to be perfect people? We shouldn’t. So what if Hillary Clinton stayed with her husband after an embarrassing public scandal? Does that make her a less admirable person? Perfection is not a prerequisite for empowerment. We’re all flawed. Get over it.