During her two presidential campaigns, Hillary Clinton has consistently drawn greater support from women than men. Is this gender lag due to retrograde misogyny, or does Hillary project an uneasiness or ambivalence about men that complicates her appeal to a broader electorate?
As a career woman, Hillary is rooted in second-wave feminism, which began with Betty Friedan’s co-founding of the National Organization for Women in 1967, while Hillary was in college. Friedan sought to draw men into the women’s movement and to ally with mainstream wives and mothers. But after a series of ideological struggles, she lost her leadership role and was eventually eclipsed in media attention by the more telegenic Gloria Steinem, who famously said, “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”
Hillary has unfortunately adopted the Steinem brand of blame-men-first feminism, which defines women as perpetual victims requiring government protections. Hillary’s sometimes impatient or patronizing tone about men, which can perhaps be traced to key aspects of her personal history, may prove costly to her current campaign.
In his biography of Hillary, “A Woman in Charge,” Carl Bernstein detailed the abuse and humiliation regularly visited by her domineering father, Hugh Rodham, on her mother Dorothy. Hillary has tersely admitted the strict physical discipline inflicted upon her and her two younger brothers by their father, who maintained a drill-sergeant atmosphere in their Chicago home.
It is often mistakenly said that by staying in her marriage to the philandering Bill Clinton, Hillary was following the standard pattern of her generation. But it was her rebellious baby-boom generation that spread and normalized once rare and scandalous divorce. In preserving her marriage despite repeated humiliation, Hillary was embracing and reaffirming the painful decisions made by her own mother.