Aug 14, 2009

A Change Too Late: the Challenge Hillary Clinton & We All Face

During Hillary Clintons much publicized trip to Congo, she was asked by a student in Kinshasa what her husband thought about congo’s trade deal with china. The nurse ratched-like always-cool-under-pressure ice queen reacted most unusually. She snapped at the hapless guy, “'You want me to tell you what my husband thinks? My husband is not the Secretary of State, I am.” With this the nation’s media went beserk and blogs, podcasts, columnists, etc have laughed and jeered so much that I suspect even George carlin’s shows never have generated as much entertainment as ol’ hilly did. The American media has always hated her; it was as if only by denigrating her credentials, could one show solidarity towards obama. Fox TV anchors are having a field day with most of them going overboard using & this as an opportunity to dissect feminism, demanding apologies, perceiving the seeds of her crumbling marriage and reading signs of early dementia. At least one of them must be true. After all Hillary rodham, the fullbright scholar from Wellesley, the first woman to propose a radical healthcare plan and a highly successful NY senator, couldn’t be all perfect, could she?

I have observed that whenever a woman asserts her intelligence or independence to the world, it has to be couched in terms of an apology. The sense of wrong, pretended or real, is as much for those virtues that came to her instead of the spouse or brother, as the burden of lifelong success that such virtues usually promise.

Currently, as secretary of state, Hillary is focusing on rehabilitating the condition of women in Africa who have been raped, infected with HIV and left to die in the unending civil wars that plague the continent. She has to fight ignorance, fear, poverty, taboo, militancy before she can make any difference. But before that she has to fight her personal battles of womanhood – that insidious, murky, crippling institution of male chauvinism that survives by virtue of trivializing its women. Pls note, this is not an affront to men; just a sad legacy that many of us still content with frequently.

In order to truly emerge as secretary of state in her own right & not the wife of the ex-prez, she must lash out as she did at the African student for sometimes u have to speak louder for the hard of hearing. Perhaps, what makes this whole issue so ignoble is the idea of pitching a perfectly matched gifted couple against each other. A Rhodes scholar and one of the finest minds on international affairs, bill Clinton is more than a match for ol’ hilly. But no, it has to be either her or him. Media pundits now intuit that she snapped because of the publicity that bill garnered by negotiating the release of the two American journos from north korea.

If such is the dogma the modern woman has to fight, what role do we really seek for ourselves? One of insulation and segregation or the more challenging role of integrating our positions within the society that polarizes us? The hubby thinks sexual harassment is the worse a woman can face in the workplace. I disagree. Fighting the bastion of male domination & trivialization of female roles is a far greater menace. It is subtler, more powerful, infinitely more demoralizing and definitely far more widespread.

Women’s empowerment won’t be delivered at the end of a gun or through economic sanctions or even overt criticism, unless it can supplant accepted cultural practices with an independent order that recognizes merit over gender and virtue over beauty and incentivizes powerful women instead of laughing away their efforts. Are we really getting there or merely comforting our daughters with a dream?

2 comments:

Anrosh said...

and i am sure you know there are companies who want to hire you , if they know your husband is a better catch.

And the worst part is when a husband and a wife is in the same field and you are working for competitors your boss will nudge you saying - your husband should not know this. even if you get out and go to a different company where you think this time your boss wouldn't know your husband, it is only a matter of time.

instances like hillary only show the bias and prejudice still exist. how much more bigger fight does a common woman who is trying to climb the corporate ladder have to fight ?

a similar story existed of prof. desai and prof bhagwati - both economists at columbia university, ny.

but one thing for sure - men do have a large networking base and help each other out than women. this came from a very powerful women (top 100) on wall street.

if women have walked several strides so far, we will only be walking further, isn't it ?

drift wood said...

anrosh,
i agree about the wider networking base, but thats also because men have been working longer, still enjoy more uninterrupted runs, and are freer to indulge more wholly in their careers than women are.
as far as firms hiring people for the sake of their spouses, i really had no idea. this is one conspiracy theory i am gladly unaware of. :)