Janesville48°

Powder-room politics feed on victimization

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Kathleen Parker
November 1, 2007
— Will women vote for Hillary Clinton only because she’s a woman?

That question keeps getting bounced around, and I’ve recently revised my answer from “no” to “yes.” That is, yes, women will vote for Clinton because she’s a woman—if men target her as a woman.


Translation: Gentlemen, if you don’t want another Clinton in the White House, do not say unkind things about her persona, demeanor, appearance—even if bull’s-eye true. Not even in your own kitchen with your own wife.


Women have radar for anti-woman sentiments—and all guys have them to some degree. Blame Mom, if you haven’t already. And no one has benefited more from being a victim than the candidate formerly known as Hillary Rodham Clinton.


The truth is, Clinton might not be a senator from New York if not for her victimization as first spouse. How soon we forget the circumstances of her rise to power. It may be arguable that Clinton is a good-enough senator—that’s not the point—but it is inarguable that she won the office in 2000 because women rallied around her.


Overall, women voted for Clinton over Republican Rep. Rick Lazio 60 percent to 39 percent. In upstate New York, typically a Republican stronghold, women voted for Clinton 55 percent to 43 percent.


And that rally had as much to do with Clinton the Victim as Clinton the Candidate. Throughout their White House years, the worse Bill behaved, the better Hillary looked. All women, without exception, could relate to her position and could admire her classy handling of the situation.


Polls during the campaign indicated that women identified with Clinton’s struggles and “saw some of themselves in her,” according to Clinton pollster Mark Penn.


Today we have a different Hillary Clinton. Now a consummate politician in her own right, Clinton has a record and a position (or two or three) on national issues that transcend her domestic life. Criticism of her policies isn’t just appropriate but necessary.


But she should lose the presidency for legitimate reasons, not because men find her unappealing.


When Clinton’s campaign recently played the victim card after a debate in which the other top Democratic candidates “piled on,” they misspent her gender equity. The men weren’t piling on because she’s a woman but because she’s the leading candidate, as Clinton subsequently acknowledged.


Invoking sexism was a risky strategy that almost worked, but not quite. Enough women navigate all-male boardrooms without needing special protections. They and others in more traditional roles were surely insulted by the implication that a woman running for president needs special handling. They’ve come too far to bat those lashes.


But. Let men criticize Clinton personally, and a funny thing happens. Contaminating the air is a slight whiff of misogyny that women recognize and recoil against. When men speak derogatorily about Clinton’s looks, all women feel a little bit wounded. What woman can withstand such scrutiny, after all?


Women may attack each other—I’ve been known to observe the shrillness of Hillary’s voice—but when a man does it, something female kicks in among even the least girly of us.


Bottom line: What women have in common with Hillary Clinton will always exceed what they have in common with men. This is powder-room wisdom. Two women can disagree on the most controversial issues at the table, but when they head to the ladies’ room, inevitably together, they see eyeball to eyeball real fast over the most basic, and ultimately most important, matters.


Hair, for instance. But also, seriously, children, family, life, love and those mysterious creatures—men. Women may cut each other’s throat for a man’s affections, but most will also come to a sister’s aid when men behave badly. It’s human nature to empathize with the pain of those most like us.


Similarly, what men have in common with Bill Clinton exceeds what they have in common with women—even if they are contemptuous of his narcissism and lack of self-control.


Many of us witnessed this in our own kitchens during the Monica Lewinsky scandal. The deeper Ken Starr cut into Bill Clinton’s very private life, the more men felt sympathy for and aligned themselves with the president. In the locker room, schadenfreude has its limits.


Will women vote for Hillary just because she’s a woman? Only if men attack Hillary as a woman.


So be nice, boys, or you may end up choking on the words “Madam President.”



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