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Monday, September 17, 2007

Some radical brand advice for Hillary Clinton

Ten years ago, in my “sociology phase,” I wrote a book, Women and Soap Opera: A Cultural Feminist Perspective (Greenwood Press, 1997), which argued that soap operas are empowering for women because they allow women to express high emotionality, something that is taboo in a masculine-oriented society. (Implicit in the argument was the notion that society is still predominantly tilted in favor of men.) This is the perspective of cultural feminism: that women can become empowered by enjoying traditionally female ways of expressing themselves, and by taking on traditionally feminine roles and responsibilities.

In my view, Hillary Clinton is running for president of the United States on precisely the opposite assumption: that women can become empowered by erasing the difference between themselves and men, by participating fully in masculine society, and by rejecting any kind of role definition that is masculine or feminine. In fact, if I had to think of a “brand symbol” for Hillary, it would be the pantsuit: a traditionally male outfit reshaped for women to wear. This is liberal feminism: the concept that women and men are fundamentally the same, not just equal, that there are no inherent differences between them.

Now, I could be wrong, but I suspect that Hillary Clinton is deeply wedded to the idea of gender neutrality. This is something that fundamentally defines her. And she has risen to the elite of American life by envisioning herself as able to do anything that a man can do. But ironically, her very gender neutrality is, I suspect, something that turns people off about her. As much of a front runner as she is, she is equally disdained by those who “just don’t like her,” and I suspect that her refusal to assume a traditional gender role is part of that dislike. Remember when she said that she wasn’t some woman standing by her man baking cookies? That was a huge turnoff for a lot of people who think there is something very nice about a woman standing by her man baking cookies.

I am not saying that she shouldn’t run for President—not at all! What I am saying is that she should embrace her femininity, or at the very least show the world that she has a feminine side. She has already embraced some traditionally feminine issues/causes, such as childcare and healthcare. But she is still refusing to inhabit the female gender. She should get on television and be emotional, even shed a tear or two. I’d like to see her be a guest on more daytime television, on The View. I’d like to see her be a personal role model for women who want to achieve everything that men can, but as women not pretend men. Now THAT would be a radical turnaround for Hillary—and whether the polls show it or not, it would be a move that I think would push her into the White House.