American Culture

The Compleat Scrogues' Guide to Women, inaugural edition: my pal Hill

By Ann Ivins

As the leading producer of estrogen around this here blog, I have at last succumbed to the pressure of popular demand, the necessity for a woman’s voice in this howling wilderness of maleness, and a deep-rooted desire to pontificate at will on any topic even vaguely related to women’s issues. So let’s go, boys. Something you don’t understand about the weaker sex? Cover your nads and fire away. Girl trouble? It’s your fault, and I’ll explain exactly how. Got a question about wimmin in general? Answer coming right up, buddy, and I’ll probably throw in a side of unwarranted personal assumptions and a basket of piping hot judgment, no extra charge. Order up! Let her rip! Wagons ho! Wait a minute: what the hell is the question? I need a question. And did someone just call me a ho?

My esteemed colleagues, on a sacred oath of guaranteed anonymity, paused in their collective beer-swilling and sports-watching to help a sister out. From among their cogent and timely queries (such as “why do women spend so much time getting ready to go anywhere?” and “why do some bras hook in front and others in back?”), one stood alone as worthy of address on this historic occasion. “Dr. Lenny Lilkins” asked:

How is watching politics different for women? Or is it?

That’s a big question, Doc. Not that I mind speaking for other people or even for an entire gender; “Presumption” is my middle name, right after “Instigator.” The political process, though, is such a vast and varied carnival, with so many tents, so many nausea-inducing rides, so many animal acts and geek shows and hoochie coochie dancers to distract the casual visitor, that I’d rather address a related and very specific issue:

How is watching Hillary Clinton this primary season different for women? Or is it?

Second question first: sure it’s different for women, in the same way that, say, hearing the lurid details of a botched vasectomy is different for men (judging from the usual reactions to my best party story, especially the “snip-then-he-fainted” part). That heightened sense of identification may well be why the gulf between women who love Hillary and women who hate Hillary is apparently unbridgeable. She’s us, or part of us. Hillary Clinton is closer to being the first female president of this enlightened nation than any woman yet; generations of mothers and sisters and rampant spinster aunts lived and worked for this time – and died never having seen the fruition of their labor. Love her or hate her: there she is, right up in your primary, and she’s not. Going. Away. Suck. On. That.

Yes, it’s different.

As for the first question, identification is the key, at least for this rapidly-aging and increasingly cynical feminist. Watching Hillary evolve throughout her career in the public eye has been a tour through the possibilities of womanhood in the latter half of the twentieth century. I know most of the women she’s been or appeared to be. I’ve been a couple of those women myself; I’ve formed lasting friendships with quite a few others, disagreed violently with several, even hated one. The Hillarys I Have Known include:

Gloria Steinem Cleaver Hillary

Picture it: Mary Tyler Moore, all grown up and married to a better-looking and infinitely more charming Lou Grant. She was energetic, capable, brilliant, a formidable career woman and all-around political powerhouse, speaking her mind, talking to the crowd, getting out the vote for… her husband? Not herself? Wait, she’s doing it for the cause! Mostly the cause! Let’s talk about issues, damn it, and kindly ignore the living lesson in compromise and gender politics behind the pearls and the smile. I liked her. She made me think about choices and the infinite variety of human relationships.

Bless Her Heart Hillary

Straight out of Peyton Place – behold the excruciating spectacle of The Silent First Lady of the Open Fly White House, much to the gleeful pity of every self-loathing Republican woman (and there’s another existential paradox I’ll never understand) who ever applauded the regurgitated bile of Phyllis Schlafly or Ann Coulter. There Mrs. Cinton stood, right behind her man, performing her assigned role to perfection and earning no real sympathy from anyone, friend or foe. I felt for her. She made me understand the soul-destroying subjugation of that role by forcing me to watch her play it.

Survivor Hillary

You know who I mean. You’ve met her, or women just like her; those forty- or fifty-somethings who run animal shelters, organize televised town halls, picket school board meetings, and generally get things done. Bitter about the divorce and the shiny new wife? Who wouldn’t be? Willing to fudge on the tax-exempt paperwork for a good cause? Wouldn’t you? Suspiciously quiet about the details of that “settlement” from her former employer? None of your damn business, anyway, and if you want that liquor license it’s better not to ask. The post-Billary Hillary. Senator Hillary. I didn’t know what to think of her. She wasn’t even from New York, was she? She made me grateful for small things (like not living in New York) and mixed blessings (like believing that whatever her methods, at least she was on our team).

Total Betrayal Hillary

She could have wrecked my car, shot my dog, stolen my identity. She could have slapped my kid or slept with my husband, and I might have been able to forgive her. Her, not him, because a girlfriend of twenty years or so is a rare and precious thing, never to be taken for granted or given up without a fight. Unless and until she participates in an utterly cynical betrayal of every shared value the two of you have ever held and, not incidentally, helps to promote the death and destruction of hundreds of thousands of men and women and children in an obscene parody of liberation and democratic ideals. She voted for the invasion of Iraq. I despised her. I despised myself for being so gullible. She made me ashamed to have ever believed in her.

And finally:

Crazy Mean Grandma Hillary

Maybe you don’t have one, but I did, and the likeness is terrifying. Mine lived on beef jerky, Schlitz and pure poisonous hatred of the majority of the human race, chain-smoking Winstons even after she had to slip her oxygen mask to do it. Nothing was ever her fault. No one understood her. No amount of praise, no expression of love could ever be enough, and if she cooked it, you had to eat it and by God, you’d better like it because SHE WAS GOING TO STAND RIGHT THERE UNTIL YOU CHOKED EVERY LAST BIT OF IT DOWN… sorry. Flashback over. But you get the picture. Watching Hillary cling with increasingly batshit desperation to whatever it is she thinks the Democrats owe her, after losing a game played by rules she should have rejected out of hand, after selling the shriveled remains of her soul just to get in the door, I am afraid of her. Could it happen to anyone? How many compromises, how much ambition does it take to turn a brilliant, talented woman into an irrational, grasping ruin of her former self? Could it happen to me?

I smell beer. And rage. Go away, crazy mean grandma. You go away now.

Is it different for women? You tell me. Next question.

13 replies »

  1. You’ve pretty much nailed my own trajectory of changing perception of Sen. Clinton. And I’m a guy.

  2. A woman’s greatest critic will always be another woman.

    …and you do it so well. 😉

  3. E:

    Please don’t hurt me. Please? (Although I found myself thinking of the coming transformation of Silda Wall Spitzer …)

    “Lenny Lilkins”

  4. Pingback:
  5. “Crazy Mean Grandma Hillary” — never thought of that.

    Here’s a question, Estrogen Answer Lady: Why do sweet, warm women often become bitter grandmothers, chewing over their resentments? (Unless, like mine, she was bitter early and became magnanimous in her old age.)

    Or am I just guilty of another male generalization?

    Aside to Euphrosyne: You sound just like my wife. She’s an ardent feminist who’s embarrassed to have someone like Her Royal Clinton-ness represent her sex.

  6. Ah, thank you. I must say I’m getting damn tired of both the “you are betraying feminism if you don’t support Hillary” blather and the “young women don’t support Hillary because a) she reminds them too much of their mothers, b) they don’t care about feminism, c) they think Obama is hot, d) whatever other obnoxious generalization the pundits want to make.” Well, okay, Obama is hot, but that’s not why I think a) he’d be a good president or b) he has a hell of a lot better chance of beating McCain. Although I would be totally okay with Hillary as a president, certainly more okay than with McCain, I respect that Obama has stood his principles and refused to play the shameful game of trying to out-Republican the Republicans that Hillary has pulled from the Iraq War vote to the whole W.Va. silliness, and that frankly way too many Democrats do way too much of the time.

    I also think it kind of sucks that the first woman to get this far in the presidential election process did so mainly because of her connection to a man. I mean, yeah, she has many valid qualifications, but there are SO many more women governors, senators, congressional representatives, etc. etc. that are so much more qualified but don’t have the same fundraising machine or media hype. My very first memory of politics is Shirley Chisholm’s campaign–I was only 3 years old, but it filled my heart with a baby feminist glow that Hillary never has. And I voted for Carol Moseley Braun in the last primary, even though she had already withdrawn from the race. Hey, she was on my ballot dammit.

    ‘Nuff rambling. But I am delighted by the advent of the new column, and I plan to dote on every post. Smooches! 🙂

  7. Hooray from one of those ol’ wimmin who worked so hard and waited so long. I still aspire to live long enough to see a highly qualified, intelligent woman President, whomever she may be. Great article – keep it up!

  8. Wow, a rampant spinster aunt. Must be rampant in a different way that I iusually think of the word. Probably not possible, anyway.
    Anyway, I spent about ten minutes debating whether or not I should comment on what purports to be a political website, another ten minutes reading the site, and another 8 seconds going what the WTF. People talk about any old crap on here. Anyway, re, your column, I hope to start many arguments, assuming I can find the time.(And to anyone else who might feel hammered flat by a response, just ask me about it. I may not be able to help, but I do know exactly where she comes from.)

  9. YourBrother: Not sure where you got the idea that we’re a “political Web site.” That’s part of what we do, to be sure, but politics isn’t the entirety of our mission by a long shot. It’s all spelled out on the About page.

    In any case, thanks for dropping by and having a look.