I'm not one for worshipping at the feet of icons, but, if I was, I might consider starting with Gloria Steinem. From her first fuck-you to the objectification industry to her work for political rights and even to her outspoken support of Hillary Clinton, even when I don't agree with her I'm interested enough to listen (and, for me, that's high praise indeed). So when I happily settled in last night with my glass of wine and my feet up to savor the Financial Times interview with her, I expected to be intellectually challenged. I didn't quite expect to read about how the interviewer, Chrystia Freeland, started crying. But at least that was after all the interesting stuff about Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama!Steinem, by the way, is totally in the Obama camp now, even if she's disappointed at Hillary's loss, but she's possibly a little overly-optimistic, telling Freeland "Women are more than smart enough to see that McCain's policies are a disaster." When asked if she's part of the coterie of supporters pushing for Hillary to be VP, she says no, because "It's not an independent position, to put it mildly. I would rather see her as the president of the Senate." (I'm pretty sure she meant Majority Leader, though, as President Pro Tempore might be third-in-line for the Presidency but isn't considered the most powerful Senator). But it's when talking about why she supported Clinton (and why she thought other people should support Clinton) that really got my attention.
Clinton's eight years as the president's wife should be seen as valuable, Steinem explains, because "what we have done so far is only count the kind of experience that men also have. What we need to be able to do is count all human experience. So I would like to count the secretarial positions as good training places to take over the jobs of the bosses."
It's an interesting point, but I am not sure it's a valid comparison. Was Clinton's time as first lady equivalent to secretarial work? Certainly not — most people agree that she did some level of substantive policy work in her time there. On the other hand, that work wasn't likely equivalent to the work of a Senator (especially when she was sidelined in the wake of the health care reform debacle) or a Governor. The fact that she didn't acknowledge that was part of the problem for a lot of people, including Freeland. Could Clinton have legitimately argued that being First Lady — the kind of First Lady she was, not the kind Laura Bush is — even as it wasn't a policy position per se, was more substantive national policy experience than, say, a state Senator? I think she could've, but she ended up trying to sell her proximity to Presidential power as actual political power instead, to her own detriment. On the other hand, Steinem acknowledges that sexism, and even the rampant sexism in the political media that she finds so abhorrent, were not singularly to blame for Clinton's loss. She says:
"Here's an analogy: It doesn't make sense to say, 'Is cancer heredity or carcinogens?' because it's both. But it would be good for the country and for our political and physical health to get rid of misogyny and get rid of carcinogens."
As for the sexist media jumping on the Clinton love-train after her departure, she says "Women are liked better when they lose." I think, though, that she misses an important component to that. Supporters of Barack Obama — like his wife, Michelle — weren't exactly going to fall all over themselves praising Hillary Clinton during the primary because that's now how politics works regardless of gender. But with the competition won, it freed a lot of people who didn't like her policies, her politics or her to acknowledge Hillary Clinton's larger legacy to the political process despite their problems. I don't think that it's a reflection of society liking a woman better once she's been brought down a couple of pegs. That her campaign's eulogy has become more of a living hagiography is a legitimate reflection of how much she did do for the system. That her contributions are acknowledged — even by those people that didn't want her to win for reasons having nothing to do with her sex and even more so by those whose reasons did — is a good thing, I think. Oh, and Steinem made her interviewer cry by talking about cancer. At least she was cool about it. Crying in public sucks, but crying in front of Gloria Steinem had to feel like betraying your gender. Lunch with the FT: Gloria Steinem [Financial Times] Michelle Obama: I'm Still Me [Creators.com]