Her election platform includes introducing paid maternity leave, minimum wage increase and childcare allowance, as well as free nurseries. These are reforms that can considerably improve the lives of the least earning women and their families.
You kept your maiden name, you work and are too liberal – what exactly are you doing in Arkansas, and don't you see that you harm your husband's career? This question, in several more tactful forms, had been asked throughout the entire interview with the governor's wife.
It's 1979; Hillary Clinton is 32 years old. She has a long, dark ponytail, is wearing big glasses, a pink two-piece skirt suit and a white polo shirt while on her face is an Olympian calm. Her answers are not very riveting, for that was always Bill's domain. However, she gives substantive arguments and is exquisitely kind.
She kept her maiden name because she married at the age of 28, when she already had legal experience, and she didn’t want anyone to think that she established her career as a result of Bill's position. She supports the Constitution's amendment that guarantees equal rights to women, even if conservative Arkansas is against it. And, according to her, the energy used by her opponents to protest it could be better used to help abused children or to create kindergartens and nurseries. Today, Hillary Clinton's present arguments are not revolutionary but are rather setting a foundation. But 37 years ago in the very religious, poor and backward American South (it was popular to say in Arkansas “Thank God for Mississippi,” because without Mississippi, they would not be the next to last but the last ones in the federal statistics), Mrs. Governor was someone from another planet.
She was a radical leftist among traditionalists who believed that God gave men and women different roles, and rebelling against it was like a fight with the law of nature bound to fail.
It bears certain irony that today Hillary Clinton has to convince the more radical part of the electorate that indeed she is a feminist.
A Too Progressive Wife
Hillary Rodham was born in Chicago in 1947. She was a typical postwar baby boomer kid – brought up in a suburban house in a family where the father worked and the mother took care of her three children. She got involved with politics in high school, as a volunteer in the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, an extreme right-wing radical. She started to change her political views at university – first at the liberal female Wellesley College and afterward at Yale. It's there that she met Bill Clinton, a student a year ahead of her from Arkansas, who did not hide his political ambitions. She did not agree to marry him right away in fear of having to give up her ambitions.
During her studies she was an intern at a leftist law company (among their clients were the Black Panthers, a radical Afro-American movement, and among employees – former communists) and she dealt with immigrants' problems. After obtaining her degree she found employment at the Children’s Defense Fund and was preparing President Nixon's impeachment.
Even Bernie Sanders could envy 30-year-old Hillary's CV. Additionally, influential mentors from the Democratic Party had predicted a fast political career in Washington for bright and extremely hard working Hilary Clinton. Yet, as she wrote in her biography, she decided to listen to her heart instead of her head. She packed her stuff in 1975 and went to Arkansas, to be with Bill.
At first it seemed that they could come to terms with their ambitions. In 1977 President Jimmy Carter had nominated Hillary Rodham to be a member of the Legal Services Corporation board, an organization giving the poor free legal advice. She was only 30 years old and the first woman to occupy this position.
At the same time, she became partner at a prestigious law firm in Arkansas, where, until moving to the White House, she was earning more than her husband. In 1978, Bill, at the age of 32, became the youngest governor in the country.
The Clintons were very popular for two years until Bill lost another election; nasty critics claimed that his wife was too “modern” for Southern standards.
Clearly Hillary decided that she wouldn’t fight a losing battle, because when in 1982 Bill was sworn in as a governor for the second time, she stood next to him not with a mousy storm of dark locks wearing glasses but as a neatly combed blonde wearing contact lenses – and with her husband's name. Bill won four consecutive state elections. And afterward the most important one – the presidency.
Two for One
Maybe Hillary changed her hairstyle according to voters’ expectations, but her views hadn’t yet. When Mr. and Mrs. Clinton were moving into the White House, they were supposed to be of new quality in American politics: young, dynamic and based on partnership.
Hillary did not want to deal with choosing the porcelain for the eastern, private wing of the presidential residence – as a first lady she received an office in the western, governmental wing. She represented the U.S. abroad. In 1995 she gave a memorable landmark speech at the U.N. Conference on Women.
“It is no longer acceptable to discuss women’s rights separately from human rights. It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned, or suffocated, or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls. It is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution for human greed – and the kinds of reasons that are used to justify this practice should no longer be tolerated. It is a violation of human rights when women are doused with gasoline, set on fire, and burned to death because their marriage dowries are deemed too small. It is a violation of human rights when individual women are raped in their own communities and when thousands of women are subjected to rape as a tactic or prize of war. It is a violation of human rights when young girls are brutalized by the painful and degrading practice of genital mutilation. It is a violation of human rights when women are denied the right to plan their own families,” she said.
“Let it be that human rights are women’s rights. As long as discrimination and inequities remain so commonplace everywhere in the world, as long as girls and women are valued less, fed less, fed last, overworked, underpaid, not schooled, and subjected to violence in and outside their homes – the potential of the human family to create a peaceful, prosperous world will not be realized.”
It was Hillary who finally prepared a radical – as it turned out later, too radical and poorly carried out – health care reform. It obligated employers to provide health insurance to its employees. She thought of the project like she did of her ambition, in an all or nothing way, and did not try to gain political supporters; additionally the right carried out mass attacks with the “Hillary wants to take away patients' freedom of choice” slogan. It was defeated in Congress. For the first time in 40 years the Democrats lost the majority in the House of Representatives, and the popularity of both Clintons went down. They learned their lesson – and moved toward the center of the political spectrum.
The '90s are the triumph of the so-called Third Way. After the fall of communism in 1989, Francis Fukuyama announced the end of history: liberal democracy won, now everybody together aimed for a bright capitalist future. Neoliberalism of the '80s (whose shortest definition gave Gordon Gekko in “Wall Street”: “Greed is good”) reigned in economics, and the parties of the broadly understood left – Democrats in the U.S., SPD in Germany, the Labor Party in Great Britain – decided to follow the trend, progress and achievements and to come to terms with the free market. In the case of Bill Clinton, the neoliberal turn created social care reform – social benefits were cut in half. Especially affected by this were the weakest citizens: single moms and minorities. Usually it would be difficult to blame Hillary for her husband's decisions, but Bill said himself in his election campaign that the Clintons’ marriage in the White House is “two for the price of one.” And in her biography Hillary writes about this reform as an achievement of her husband’s administration.
In 2000 Hillary Clinton became the senator of New York. After two terms Bill's political career was ending – finally Hillary could take care of hers.
If you analyze her voting history (including the votes in favor of free abortion for poor women) then in the Senate, Mrs. Clinton was one of the more leftist Democrats. However, one vote – the one supporting the war in Iraq, overshadowed all the others.
Why did Clinton back George W. Bush's pointless initiative, whose catastrophic effects, including the creation of the Islamic State group, can still be felt today? Maybe she believed that intervention was necessary: in the end she has been known to have more provocative views than most of her colleagues in her party. Or maybe it was pure pragmatism due to intensifying patriotism following Sept. 11, where Americans demanded punishment for the guilty ones – even if, as in the case of Saddam Hussein, the fault was not very clear. That same pragmatism made her dye her hair in the '80s and move toward the center in the '90s.
This time it did not pay off: Clinton lost primary elections in 2008 to a young, inexperienced senator from Chicago, who apart from charisma had the advantage of having voted against the war in Iraq.
International Stove Politics
Four years (2009- 2013) as secretary of state is another argument in favor of Hillary Clinton's feminism as well as her pragmatism. Because on one hand, Mrs. Secretary of State has dealt with things that had never, even when women occupied this position, been a subject of interest in American foreign policy. But on the other hand – she again compromised.
Hillary's doctrine, as her program was called, assumed that women’s rights are as much national security matters as are the number of aircraft carriers or Patriot missiles.
“The United States has made empowering women and girls a cornerstone of our foreign policy. Because women's equality is not just a moral issue, it's not just humanitarian issue, it is not just a fairness issue. It is a security issue, it is a prosperity issue and it is a peace issue. Give women equal rights and entire nations are more stable and secure. Deny women equal rights and the instability of nations is almost certain. The subjugation of women is therefore a threat to the common security of the world,” she said at the TED Women’s Conference in 2010.
And in her biography “Hard Choices” she explained: “’Women’s issues’ had long been relegated to the margins of U.S. foreign policy and international diplomacy, considered at best a nice thing to work on but hardly a necessity. I became convinced that, in fact, this was a cause that cut to the heart of our national security.”
Hillary Clinton also dealt with such trivial issues such as … stoves. If similar issues landed on Henry Kissinger's desk, he would most likely have ridiculed the person who brought it, and for sure fired her or him.
In the meantime, primitive stoves kill nearly 4 million women and children yearly in developing countries, and they horribly pollute the environment.
Gathering wood for fuel is dangerous itself – thousands of women and children are being raped when they wander off from their villages. In 2010 Clinton inaugurated Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves and promised that until 2020, the U.S. will donate $50 million toward this aim.
"It was classic Clinton, very practical; it's modest but makes a massive difference – but it took a woman to get it,” summarized The Guardian in the article “Clinton is proving that a feminist foreign policy is possible – and works.”
It's she who fought to acknowledge rape as an instrument of war and to persecute rapists. And she insisted on introducing U.N. resolution 1888, which obliges peace missions to protect women and children from sexual violence.
And since we mentioned the U.N. – it was she who contributed to the creation of U.N. Women in 2010, an organization dealing with sex equality and empowerment of women. Clinton convinced Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile, to be the executive director.
Finally, at one of her speeches she affirmed that women's reproductive rights “for many years were for me personally and professionally important and – apart from fighting sex inequality in other areas – it will be the key issue for the foreign politics of this administration.”*
During her entire professional career Hillary Clinton fought for women’s rights at home and abroad. She was an object of nasty sexism but she also overcame it. The Clinton Foundation has spent millions of dollars for women’s rights and family planning promotion, and the fight against the issuance of the young girls married.
In her election platform the former secretary of state plans to introduce paid maternity leave (it's still unpaid in the U.S.), minimum wage increase, child care allowance and free nurseries – reforms, if they go into effect, which will considerably improve the lives of the least earning women and their families.
So why does she have to prove now that she is a feminist? Especially to women one or two decades younger?
Firstly, the problem is Bill. In a heated article, “Hillary Clinton's Faux Feminism,” publicist Liza Featherstone convinces us that the former secretary of state built her career on her husband's back and therefore even if she will become the first woman president she is not a good example for little girls.
“But who wants to advise our daughters to marry an ambitious, egomaniacal man; stay with him no matter what; and be the first lady for many years? Eventually it will be your turn. Is this a career plan? “
Secondly is her reaction to her husband's betrayal, precisely the language she used when talking about his lovers. In the '90s Clinton got away with it; however, today his relationship with an office junior would be deemed sexual harassment. In the end how can you speak about equal relations between the president of the U.S. and a 22-year-old intern?
Hillary backed her husband, publicly suggesting that he was the victim attacked by harpies. One of them she called white trash, another she promised to destroy, the result of which, her critics point out, her affirmations that every victim of sexual harassment deserves to be listened to sound untrue.
Thirdly is her foreign politics. Critics say that she could have and should have done more for women, and that when the U.S. interest demanded it, she winked at their discrimination in the Arab countries, especially in Saudi Arabia.
She is also blamed for her combative nature – it was she who incited the president to intervene in Libya and Syria and to be more active in Afghanistan, thus her hands are stained with the blood of women and children who got hurt over there.
“Maybe the women and girls of these countries (Afghanistan, Libya and Syria), including those whose lives have been destroyed by U.S. bombs, can take comfort in knowing that a ‘feminist’ helped craft U.S. policy,” joked the leftist magazine, Jacobin.
Wall Street Servant
Further on: Hillary's feminism is like that in Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg's bestseller “Lean In”: she helps white, educated women to go higher, but leaves the rest of them to paddle their own canoe. And there is something about it.
In addition to being criticized by the left for the social benefits reforms, Hillary Clinton is also charged with having connections to Wall Street (millions that she earned from giving speeches for Goldman Sachs and other banks) as well as to Wal-Mart, the supermarket chain known for paying its employees the lowest salaries and discriminating against women.
In 2001, a record 1.6 million of them filed a suit, claiming that they were paid less than the men on every post and were slowly promoted, despite being better workers.
Clinton, at that time juggling work at the office with the post of Arkansas governor, was at the end of the '80s and '90s the first woman on the Wal-Mart board of directors and is known for having said the following: “I’m always proud of Wal-Mart and what we do and the way we do it better than anybody else.” She never broke off relations with the company and they supported her election campaigns.
“If feminism only concerns itself with the women at the very top of our society, condoning horrific abuse of those without power, it's not feminism at all. It's just elitism,” summarized Featherstone.
Lastly, Hillary has a problem with so-called “intersectionality,” the key word of the young, more leftist female voters. Intersectionality is a concept that suggests that social identities such as race, class and sex are too interconnected to be able to prioritize any one of them.
To put it more simply: a rich white married woman in her sixties has different interests and different problems than a 25-year-old black lesbian earning minimum wage – the fact that they are both women is not enough. Clinton's sex therefore is less important than the fact that she belongs to the privileged class and neither understands the problems of less privileged women, nor will she act in their best interest.
More important than breaking the symbolic last glass ceilings in the U.S. are reforms such as free education, raising taxes for the wealthiest citizens and introducing free public healthcare. But this is something that Hillary's contender, Bernie Sanders, has been fighting for for years.
“In the U.S. feminism is often understood as the right of women – and wealthy white women most of all – to share in the spoils of capitalism and U.S. imperial power. Feminism means confronting patriarchy but also capitalism, imperialism, white supremacy and other forms of oppression that interlock with and reinforce patriarchy. It means fighting so that all people – everywhere on the gender, sexual and body spectrum – can enjoy basic rights like food, health care, housing, a safe and clean environment, and control over their bodies, labor, and identities,” wrote Kevin Young and Diana C. Sierra Becerra in Jacobin.
“In many ways, the progressive debate over Hillary Clinton is all about the limits of pragmatism: How much compromise can be excused by good intentions? When does realism become a complacent acceptance of the status quo?” asked Michelle Goldberg in The Nation.
It is precisely Clinton's pragmatism that today makes young Democratic voters choose 75-year-old Sanders, who during his long political career would rather choose being faithful to lost causes than choosing rotten compromises. Aside from the young voters, popular comedian Sarah Silverman also declared recently that she is more convinced by incorruptible Sanders than about-faced Clinton.
Hillary herself in this campaign constantly repeats that she is “a progressive who gets things done” while suggesting that Bernie can afford to enthusiastically preach his fantasies about equality and justice because nobody yet told him to “check.” But Hillary has heard that many times.
Her female defenders, on the other hand, add that a woman in the White House, even if her feminism is not beyond reproach, is not only a symbolic breakthrough.
“Seeing women in positions of authority changes cultural norms and expectations in important ways. We know that much of the sexism women experience today is the result of subconscious misogyny, not intentional discrimination. There aren’t newspaper ads advertising women’s or men’s jobs ... but there are lots of people, who simply by virtue of seeing a female name on a resume presume the applicant is less competent. All those assumptions work against Clinton, just as they work against every woman in America. It happens by normalizing female power, female competence and female influence — including having women in charge, especially in the highest political office in the country,” urges The Guardian publicist Jill Filipovic.
During one of the debates, Hilary Clinton admitted that she finds it difficult to get support from young women, but she respects their views. “I have spent my entire adult life working toward making sure that women are empowered to make their own choices ... Even if that choice is not to vote for me,” she stated.
*Editor’s note: This quote, though accurately translated, could not be verified.