Response to Zelda Bronstein

Response to Zelda Bronstein

Zelda Bronstein finds it odd that feminists like me, Anna Quindlen, Ellen Goodman, Katha Pollitt, and Blanche Weisen Cook would be delighted to have a First Lady like Hillary Rodham Clinton after twelve years of Nancy Reagan and Barbara Bush. I find it odd that she finds it odd!

So accustomed were we to presidents’ wives who ran the White House with the aid of astrologers or refrained from influencing their husbands on the issue of reproductive choice that we were thrilled to see a woman of our own inclinations in the White House. There she was, juggling family and career, being the main breadwinner, refusing to hide her considerable brain, and telling her husband exactly what she thought. It was about time that the White House looked like America. Ours was an emotional reaction that grew even more emotional when we saw the media try to destroy Hillary Clinton for being exactly like us. We were inclined to be generous to the president’s wife because we knew how much guts it takes to publicly refuse to be a female eunuch. We knew because we had walked in her high-heeled shoes. Our feet hurt, and so, we assumed, did hers. Sick of a so-called feminism that found endless reasons for women to trash other women, we wanted to show our sisterly support.

When I said that Hillary didn’t shrink from policy issues, I meant the health care issue. And when I said “politically naive,” I meant that both Clintons underestimated the power of the insurance companies and other corporate giants who support the status quo. Both Clintons promised things they couldn’t deliver and lost a lot of respect in the process. But that Hillary Clinton had taken on an almost-impossible task was also clear. She still deserves respect for putting health care on the national agenda—even if she failed. Her successor will succeed—eventually. HMOs have now become so greedy that they are inviting the regulation that will eventually bring them down. The wheels of politics grind exceedingly slow. But Hillary Rodham Clinton’s efforts will not be entirely in vain.

HOW CAN feminists both bash Hillary Clinton and support her? Politics is the art of compromise. The left, feminists included, usually winds up out of power because of an inability to compromise. Being in power means compromise. Being in opposition allows for the luxury of nit-picking. I fervently wanted to give Hillary Clinton the support I have not always been given by feminists. I wanted to set an example of sisterhood. While I was anything but uncritical of her either in the Nation or in the longer piece I wrote for the Sunday Times of London, I thought it was important to present my criticisms in the spirit of affirmation. I know how hard it is for any woman to be public without mouthing platitudes of nineteenth-century femininity. I know how hatefully misogynistic the media can be. I know how horrid women—feminists included—can be to other women. I know how dire is th...