Hillary and the Feminine Gaze

Susan Faludi discusses women writing about Hillary:

Edited by Susan Morrison
HarperCollins, 254 pages, $ 23.95

Let’s imagine this book’s concept—30 well-known women writers talk about how they “feel” about Hillary Clinton—applied to 30 male writers and a male presidential candidate. Adjusting for gender, the essay titles would now read: “Barack’s Underpants,” “Elect Brother Frigidaire,” “Mephistopheles for President,” “The Road to Codpiece-Gate,” and so on. Inside, we would find ruminations on the male candidate’s doggy looks and flabby pectorals; musings on such “revealing” traits as the candidate’s lack of interest in backyard grilling, industrial arts and pets; and mocking remarks about his lack of popularity with the cool boys on the playground (i.e., the writers and their “friends”). We would hear a great deal of speculation about whether the candidate was really manly or just “faking it.” We would hear a great deal about how the candidate made them feel about themselves as men and whether they could see their manhood reflected in the politician’s testosterone displays. … And we would hear virtually nothing about the candidate’s stand on political issues.

Susan Morrison, the editor of Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary (who’s also the articles editor of The New Yorker, and former editor in chief of this newspaper), defends the absence of political analysis in the book thusly: “There’s plenty of Hillary Studies literature out there that parses the candidate’s stands on policy issues, her Senate votes, and her track record as first lady. This book isn’t aiming at that kind of op-ed territory. Rather, it’s an attempt to look at the ways in which women think about Hillary (and why they think so much about Hillary), how they make their judgments about her, which buttons she pushes in them and why.”

Actually, the op-ed territory is awash with exactly the same sort of trivializing dissection. Hillary Studies pundits are obsessed with the candidate’s hairdos, outfits, cookie-baking comments, supposedly “cold” personality and even, most recently, her failure to apply “The Rules” style of dating in her politics. The ratio of trenchant political commentary to personal pot-shotting on the subject of Hillary Clinton in the larger media realm is precisely echoed in the pages of this book, which seems intended to reprise the op-ed fixations, not to bury them. The result is a good deal of convenient psychologizing, self-absorbed meanderings and unearned snipes—and a handful of efforts to take a respectable step back from how-do-I-personally-feel-about-Hillary thumb-suckery.

Thanks to its more insightful contributors, Thirty Ways does provide grist for thought. Among those writers who thankfully manage not to dwell on themselves are Katha Pollitt, who considers what the torrent of sexualized epithets about Hillary Clinton suggests about male hysteria; Deborah Tannen, who draws on actual interviews she conducted with actual women to diagnose the double bind that all female professionals face; and Leslie Bennetts, who argues that Clinton’s many self-appointed psychoanalysts have woefully “missed the point” by asking all the wrong questions: “The real problem is our own schizoid relationship with female gender roles—and the fact that we don’t even recognize the true nature of what’s bothering us.”

What would you have said had you written for the book? I think I’d be disqualified for not finding her a vivid topic in my personal life. Perhaps that’s a good effect of the very strong women philosophers I know and have known.

Many thanks to Feminist Law Professors: Have a look at their discussion.

Pretty Thin Men


Apparently the models above represent the new ideal male model.  And what do they say?  Incipient annorexia.

Should mothers start worrying about their sons?  Sisters about the brothers?  Lovers about their beloveds?

The question “Why not” might lead us to consider whether it is elements in our culture that link fashion models to women’s desirability, but not men’s.  Largely disregarding cultural influence, evolutionary psychology tends to connect men’s desirability to signs of power and women’s to signs of fertility.  On such a view, annorexia is presumably fertile youthfulness badly misconstrued, which for men would create the clearly unattractive appearance of powerlessness.    

So perhaps the new look in male models will give us a test of the origins of annorexia; can culture lead men to starve themselves?

For my self, having found supermarkets sometimes problematized by the recent presence of male agression in the aisles, I am not looking forward to battling men over fashion magazines at the hair dressers’.   Somehow I don’t think that’s where this is going.

What’s more, I noted on accidently looking in at the new “aesthetics center” when I visited my doctor at the Women’s Health Care Center (!) that there was not a man in sight.  (Do prostate specialists partner with aesthetic clinics?)  I can report depressingly that just glancing through the list of what they could do rattled my self image.