I looked forward to an analysis of the substantive aspects of Hillary Clinton's career and her current pursuit of the Democratic presidential nomination. I wanted to learn more about her views, how they have evolved from her college years at Wellesley to her tenure as First Lady of Arkansas and Rose Law Firm partner, and from her years as First Lady of the United States to her work as the junior senator from New York. I thought that this book might give me greater insight into Hillary Clinton, the would-be (might-still-be) Democratic nominee for President.
Instead, I got essay after essay analyzing her hair, her body, her dress, her mothering, and her marriage, apparently all of which are of greater consequence than her policy views. I learned about "Cleavagegate", which was apparently on par with Britney Spears' indiscretions. I yawned through speculation as to her "real" personality, apparently divined by examining her choices of pets and hobbies. And worst of all, I was disappointed by the tedious discussion of whether or not her actions were in line with "feminism" - in quotes because the definition of feminism differed widely based on each author.
It's no wonder that Hillary Clinton can't win the approval of women like these essayists - as Katie Roiphe put it: "...the women most like her, the demographic most similar in their education and achievements, that have the most difficulty with her."
I realize that I'm in the minority among women writers. I don't call myself a feminist, and I find it tiresome to judge others based on an ever changing rubric of acceptable feminist choices. Other women love to deconstruct and dissect in this manner as an academic pursuit, not necessarily with the intent of criticizing their subjects. Perhaps another reader would find such discussion fascinating; I did not.
Many essayists labeled Hillary Clinton unknowable, lamenting that she very rarely allows a glimpse into what makes her tick, makes her human. Marie Brenner's essay recalled Clinton's demeanor days before the news of Monica Lewinsky broke: "Her face was a mask of gloom and disconnection." As with her show of emotion in New Hampshire, these rare cracks are seized upon by journalists for endless speculation. It's difficult to blame her for not being more transparent, as it seems doubtful that the scrutiny would decrease.
But it's the nearly unrelenting focus on the frivolity that makes me cringe. Perhaps if there were a select few essays that discussed these points, I wouldn't have grown so weary of them. But twenty-plus pieces covering coifs to cleavage is at least twenty pieces too many; it makes the book as a whole difficult to take seriously.
The essay that I most enjoyed was the one by Dahlia Lithwick, titled "Can You Forgive Her?" Instead of a post-feminist criticism of Hillary Clinton herself, Lithwick's piece examines why others are loathe to accept and support her, pointing out the inconsistencies and injustices. I believe she gets to the heart of the matter in this assertion: "We may be judging Hillary harshly because that's the standard to which we are holding ourselves." Lithwick goes on to comment that: "As long as we use other women and their choices as feminist Rorschach tests - templates for having it all and failing - we will see their choices as rebukes of our own."
In other words, perhaps we ought to stop picking apart Hillary Clinton and start coming to terms with our own limitations and shortcomings, perceived or real.
I may have expected too much from this book. Being familiar with only two of the writers beforehand (namely Deborah Tannen and Leslie Bennetts), I didn't have much insight into the approaches that they would take toward their subject. In retrospect, I ought to have realized that these essays would be light on policy.
If your interest in Hillary Clinton veers more toward the personal than the political, you'll find this book utterly delicious. But if you want to learn more about Hillary Clinton, the candidate, I'd advise you to stick with the Sunday morning pundits instead.
Julie is a former Air Force officer and professional project manager turned web writer. She spent four years at the Pentagon and five years in New York City, and her suburban life in Colorado seems pastoral by comparison. She's no political pundit, but she is an objective thinker in a sea of partisan propagandists. She writes for The Mom Slant, Cool Mom Picks, and is co-founder of The Parent Bloggers Network.
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