Clothes may not make the man, but apparently they do make the woman. In America, it seems that no matter how successful, intelligent or high-ranking a woman is, she will ultimately be measured by her looks. At least that’s the message gleaned from a recent interview Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan:
Interviewer: Okay. Which designers do you prefer?
Clinton: What designers of clothes?
Clinton: Would you ever ask a man that question?
Interviewer: Probably not. Probably not.
Depressingly, this is not the first time that Clinton — whose resume boasts titles such as Secretary of State, former New York Senator and former 2008 Democratic presidential candidate — has faced sexist commentary objectifying her body rather than respecting her work. As the Guardian asked, “She’s hoping to become the most powerful woman in the world — so why does Hillary Clinton wear such uninspiring clothes?” Fox News talked about her “nagging voice,” and when the Huffington Post ran a caption competition for a photo of Clinton with her mouth open, the obnoxious entries started rolling in. News cycles have devoted extensive coverage to her pants, her ankles, her skin and, perhaps most notoriously, her cleavage. During the 2008 elections, the Women’s Media Center compiled a compelling video montage of the pervasive sexism that women like Clinton have had to endure.
Hillary Clinton has made some important people in Israel angry. But she has made a whole bunch of other people, especially women, really happy. I, for one, am grateful to Clinton.
I’m referring, of course, to her now viral comments that she is “worried” about Israel democracy, and about the status of women. Both issues should give all of us pause, and she gets a special kudos for linking the two issues, something no public figure had effectively done until now.
Clinton’s democracy concern stems from a series of troubling legislation that has recently been discussed and in some cases passed in the Knesset, led by several key Likud and Yisrael Beitenu parliamentarians. The bills that have been tabled over the past few months include: the Defamation Bill that, as the Forward explains here, would make life difficult for journalists reporting on activities of Knesset members; the Supreme Court Justice Appointment Bill, which gives Knesset Members increased powers in the process of appointing Supreme Court justices; the NGO Bill, which prohibits “foreign governmental bodies” from donating to “political” NGOs in Israel — followed by the tax bill that also proposes enormous taxes on foreign donations, and the Basic Law — The Judiciary, which aims to restrain NGOs from bringing lawsuits to the High Court of Justice.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, former First Lady, Senator, presidential candidate and current Secretary of State, is arguably one of the most powerful women in recent history, and yet she still comes under fire for her choice of clothing, from cleavage-gate to her pantsuits to her haircuts and figure and beyond.
Her most recent critic is television personality Tim Gunn, who stated during an appearance on the George Lopez show that due to Clinton’s choices, she seemed to have “gender” confusion and mocked her “cankles.”
This naturally enraged many a commentator, but perhaps the best comeback came from none other than reigning fashionista Lady Gaga, who guest-hosted The View on August 1. Gaga called Gunn “a bully” and said that she thought the Secretary of State has “more to worry about than her hemline.” (“I don’t,” she added self-deprecatingly and charmingly.)
The ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish newspaper Der Tzitung has decided to rewrite history by photoshopping Hillary Clinton out of the photo of U.S. leaders receiving an update on the mission against Osama bin Laden. Why? Because the idea of a woman in the Situation Room was “too scandalous.”
Apparently Der Tzitung’s policy is to never publish a photo of a woman because it could be taken as “suggestive.” So is this image of Hillary Clinton in long sleeves and a high neckline suggestive? Or, as Rabbi Jason Miller wrote in The Jewish Week, “Perhaps they just don’t like the idea of a woman with that much political power.” Jezebel points out that Audrey Thomason, the counterterrorism analyst way in the back, was also photoshopped out of Der Tzitung’s version of the image.
This “photoshop of horrors” is wrong on so many levels. First and foremost, it’s untruthful and goes against every principle of journalism, which is not only about being “fair and balanced,” but about being accurate. Rabbi Jason Miller explains that it is also a violation of the Jewish legal principle of g’neivat da’at, or deceit. Additionally, it violates the White House’s copyright permissions which explicitly state “The photograph may not be manipulated in any way” in the caption on Flickr.
President Obama’s decision to bomb Libya apparently has something to do with gender.
The New York Times reports that Obama was waffling on whether to attack, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was in favor, but having trouble convincing the president. It was only when she recruited two other women to form a coalition that Obama made the decision to act. “The change became possible,” the Times writes, “only after Mrs. Clinton joined Samantha Power, a senior aide at the National Security Council, and Susan Rice, Mr. Obama’s ambassador to the United Nations, who had been pressing the case for military action….Now, the three women were pushing for American intervention to stop a looming humanitarian catastrophe in Libya.”
This coalition of women is apparently up against a coalition of men. Under a headline “Obama agenda: The women vs. the men, Andrea Mitchell reported that “In the end, it became the women foreign policy advisers against the men. ….This is a rare instance, by the way, of Clinton going up against Defense Secretary Bob Gates and the National Security Adviser Tom Donilon among other men in the White House who were much more cautious about this.” The Times concurred on this assessment, adding that counterterrorism chief, John O. Brennan, “had urged caution.”
Despite what you think you know about the 2008 presidential election, the recently released book “Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election That Changed Everything for American Women” (Free Press) by Salon.com senior writer Rebecca Traister, proves there is still much to learn. Allison Gaudet Yarrow asked Traister about her thoughts on the bitterness toward women during the election and about Jewish women’s duty to feminism.
Allison Gaudet Yarrow: Your book chronicles how the 2008 election reinvented women and power. What changed?
Rebecca Traister: Our sense of how women could behave in public and political life. Suddenly so many more models for public femininity are possible.
Why do American women want our female leaders to be better versions of ourselves, but when they’re not, we’re their harshest critics?
Guggenheim Fellowship recipient and writer of fiction about women, strip poles and sexual guilt, Mary Gaitskill read a story at Franklin Park bar in Brooklyn on April 12 in which cuckolded political wives Silda Spitzer and Elizabeth Edwards become the Eves to Ashley Dupré’s and Rielle Hunter’s Liliths, and in doing so they take a muted sort of revenge by way of compulsory pedicures in Queens.
Gaitskill prefaced the reading of her story, “The Astral Plane Nail and Waxing Salon,” which was originally published in New York magazine, by asking the packed room who had heard of the myth of Lilith. A few tentative hands rose. For the rest, she quickly sketched a figurative picture of Adam’s first wife, created from dirt like him, an equal and therefore rightfully unwilling to obey. Gaitskill’s austere gaze warmed when she engaged and audience and read her prose aloud.
Great writers make careful use of lore that came before them, and that’s just what Gaitskill’s story does with Lilith, though it likely won’t satisfy Jewish women who have worked to free Lilith of her seductress chains.
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