Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Misogyny and Motherhood in US Politics

Misogyny and Motherhood in U.S. Politics

Like many Canadians, I spent the last two weeks (late July 2016) glued to my television set, watching the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. By the end of it, I was sick to death of hearing what a good parent Hillary Clinton was.
Hillary Clinton

I’m a Clinton fan. I am very impressed by her 45-year-long history of public service, starting with her work trying to ensure that schools were desegregated and that children with disabilities attended school.  I am even more impressed that she was US Secretary of State for four very difficult years.  I admire tremendously her organizational and negotiating skills. I can’t understand why as Secretary of State she didn’t separate her professional and personal emails (something that as a professional woman, I routinely do) but I don’t think that disqualifies her from the Presidency. 
I think Ms. Clinton has been given a raw deal in US politics (a raw deal that the Canadian press also picks up on with its insistence on reporting on her supposed “untrustworthiness” instead of all her accomplishments and commitment to the public good).  I think a lot of the hostility to her is outright misogyny; how dare she be so competent, how dare she be so self-confident, how dare she be so cool?  She had to counteract that image and present herself as warm and “human” during the Democratic convention.
So it didn’t surprise me when Michelle Obama started her long speech by talking about how Hillary was a good parent and grandparent, and cared so much for “our children and grandchildren”. But it did surprise me that her entire speech was woven around that theme.  There was a point where she could have switched to Clinton’s accomplishments, her organizational skills, her views on foreign policy, etc.
It also sickened me that Mrs. Obama had to present herself as just a wife and mother. Michelle Obama is a brilliant lawyer, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Law School, but she’s spent the last eight years suppressing her professional qualifications and her intellect, focusing on children, exercise, and a healthy diet. Perhaps she learned from Hillary Clinton’s faux pas in 1992, when Clinton mentioned in an interview that she hadn’t spent her time before the election baking cookies, preferring to focus on her professional career. That should not have been controversial, but it was (perhaps deliberately) misconstrued by the misogynist press as a denigration of housewives.
This nonsense about women politicians having to be good wives-and-mothers does not go on in the rest of the world, as far as I am aware. Recently Teresa May succeeded David Cameron as Conservative Prime Minister of the United Kingdom: When her opponent Andrea Leadsom claimed that she would be a better Prime Minister than Ms. May because she had children and Ms. May did not, she suffered a very quick fall from grace. And as far as I know the political fates of Angela Merkel (Germany), Michelle Bachelet (Chile), Dilma Rousseff (Brazil), and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (Argentina) have not been tied to their qualifications or lack thereof as mothers, whatever one might think of them.
Angela Merkel
Michelle Bachelet

People who study genocide know that being a good parent doesn’t necessarily make you a good politician or even a good person. By all accounts Rudolf HÓ§ss, the commander of the Auschwitz concentration camp, was a good father.  He did his job—killing Jews, Gypsies, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Polish anti-Nazis—during the day and then returned home in the evening to the bosom of his family. Lots of German women, many of them probably excellent mothers, joined the Nazi Party (see Claudia Koonz, Mothers in the Fatherland: Women, The Family, and Nazi Politics, St. Martin’s Press, 1987). So I’m prepared to believe that even an ignorant, racist, narcissistic egoist like Donald Trump might have been a good father (though despite his children’s’ testimonials, I rather doubt it.)
I’m really glad that in my several decades as a professor no one has ever asked me how good a mother I am. When I publish books or receive academic awards my son does not have to show up to testify that I am a good mother; who knows what he would say. As for chocolate chip cookies, the ones he baked as a child were better than any I ever made.  

Professional women should unite to defend Michelle and Hillary against the pressure to present themselves as “just” wives-and-mothers when they are so much else.

Here's a link to an article about how much negative press Clinton is getting, compared both to her former opponent, Bernie Sanders, and to Donald Trump.

No comments:

Post a Comment