Hillary Rodham, Hillary Rodham Clinton, and the “choices” women make

Everyone seems to agree that it’s way too early to be talking and writing and pontificating and prognosticating about the 2016 election, and everyone also seems to be unable to stop themselves. Unsurprisingly, I find myself in that Venn Diagram that is a circle. So be warned, this is a post about the 2016 election.

Hillary Clinton is well and truly on the campaign trail now. According to Bloomberg, the biggest applause line in her stump speech comes when she talks about getting big money out of politics, even though she needs big money to keep her on the campaign trail and to give her a decent shot at winning. It’s “a campaign that regularly employs populist rhetoric while courting plutocrats,” write Jennifer Epstein and Julie Bykowicz at Bloomberg. And a chicken and egg dilemma: “Clinton can’t change the system unless she wins the election, a campaign official argued, and the only way to win the election is with the help of deep-pocketed allies.”

Still, this week, Jamelle Bouie writes at Slate, Clinton went “left of everyone” on immigration in her speech at a high school in Las Vegas, where she spoke to a crowd of DREAMers and came out strong in favour of “expansive immigration reform.” Bouie calls it “a line in the sand,” one that puts her to the left of President Obama, gives immigration activists their central demand — in theory, so far — and might allow her to pick up many of the Latinx voters who went for Obama in the last two elections. “The implications—in policy and in politics—are huge,” Bouie thinks.

But this week, I think the most important piece of writing about the Clinton campaign comes from Rebecca Traister, writing at the New Republic, about how Clinton’s husband is her biggest liability — and how, contrary to what many people think, that’s been true for many years:

There’s no doubt that Bill would theoretically like to support Hillary’s political career in return. In 2007, I heard him tell an audience at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg that his wife “helped me in every race I ran from 1974 to 2000. … She did 27 years for me, and I’ve done seven years for her. So I’ve got about 20 years to go before we’re even.”

But it takes a certain kind of social conditioning to become the person willing to abandon their own priorities in service to a partner’s, over and over again. It takes practice and an ingrained attitude to remain behind the scenes, to rein in one’s behavior on behalf of another, to absorb Wellesley’s motto—“Non ministrare sed Ministrari” (“not to be ministered to, but to minister,” or as Ephron joked, pointedly, “not to be ministers but to be ministers’ wives”).

While she was always by his side during his rise through Arkansas to Washington, the years in which Hillary’s own political career has flourished—from her entrance into the Senate through her exit from State—are the years in which their careers have been the least intertwined. When Hillary first went to the Senate, Bill—still hang-dogging it over Lewinsky—made himself scarce, living in Chappaqua, working on his memoir, building The Clinton Foundation. He didn’t cast any real shadow on Hillary’s Senate career.

And by almost every measure, that was for the best.

Traister writes about the most notable decisions that Clinton has made over the years in the name of Bill’s career: to move to Arkansas, to change her last name, to walk back her public role in shaping policy in his White House and notes that those choices, like all choices, were not made in a vacuum. As Katherine wrote in her piece on “choice feminism” yesterday, of women who “decided” to “opt out” of high-power careers to raise children, “there were a variety of “push/pull” factors that made these choices easier for them, more attractive, and, indeed sometimes the only viable choice they could make. When we valorize these women’s choices as entirely their own and inherently feminist, we stop asking why women make them.” The same goes for demonizing women’s choices as inherently un-feminist, of course.

And, Traister argues, we should focus a little less on women’s “choices” and a little more on the way that men and women are socialized to make these decisions — and on the men who benefit when women continually make the “choice” to put men’s needs and ambitions first. Instead of endlessly analyzing why women made those choices and asking if they failed feminism by making them, let’s turn the tables, and ask if men could be doing more to make those choices as unconstrained as possible:

I’m kind of sick of blaming Hillary for acting like the woman she was carefully trained to be. Today I feel a bit like blaming Bill for not being the kind of man the future demands.

You should read the whole thing. No one is smarter or more nuanced on Clinton than Rebecca Traister. If we must read analysis and diagnosis of the 2016 campaign this early, let it be of this calibre. I guess what I’m saying is, Traister for President.

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Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia. She joined the Feministing team in 2009. Her writing about politics and popular culture has been published in The Atlantic, The Guardian, New York magazine, Reuters, The LA Times and many other outlets in the US, Australia, UK, and France. She makes regular appearances on radio and television in the US and Australia. She has an AB in Sociology from Princeton University and a PhD in Arts and Media from the University of New South Wales. Her academic work focuses on Hollywood romantic comedies; her doctoral thesis was about how the genre depicts gender, sex, and power, and grew out of a series she wrote for Feministing, the Feministing Rom Com Review. Chloe is a Senior Facilitator at The OpEd Project and a Senior Advisor to The Harry Potter Alliance. You can read more of her writing at

Chloe Angyal is a journalist and scholar of popular culture from Sydney, Australia.

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