Michelle Obama’s emotional speech at the Democratic Convention moved millions of women around the world. She made us all apprehend Hillary Clinton’s unique role in history, the first woman to be nominated to be the president of the United States. Turning Hillary’s huge achievement into a personal experience, Michelle Obama said, “and because of Hillary Clinton, my daughters, and all of our sons and daughters, take for granted that a woman can be president of the United States.” Various phrases and metaphors are used to describe Hillary’s path – “role model for young women,” “breaking the glass ceiling,” “feminist triumph,” “feminist Christmas,” “making history,” etc. – all focusing on what is truly a unique accomplishment.
Since she is such a role model for women, both in the United Stated and around the world, all aspects of her life should be considered. Perhaps she is a source of inspiration in more than one way.
The transformation: Hillary Clinton is not simply a career woman who struggled through until she reached the top. In spite of her political aspirations before Bill Clinton became president, she was first known to the general public as the First Lady, and only later as an independent political figure. Clearly she was always engaged in public activity, wishing to implement her social views. But still, she was the president’s wife. When she was First Lady, many argued that she was too influential. Regardless whether that was indeed true, the argument in itself illustrates the limitations of being FLOTUS: as gifted and charismatic as she may be, her influence can never exceed a certain scope.
So in this respect, Hillary exemplifies not only professional success but also the courage and determination required to make this transformation. She is a role model for women who want to take a new road, fulfill their professional dreams as well as being someone’s spouse. Most women, I believe, find it very hard to imagine themselves as president of the United States, but they can easily relate to this side of Hillary.
A couple of presidents: If Hillary is elected, for the first time a couple, both the husband and wife, will have held this distinguished position. This unique situation may have various political implications. In addition, it may shape a general idea of being a couple in the modern age. The difficulties of their mutual life have been discussed extensively, in both dignified and vulgar manners. But beyond the details: their shared ideology and mutual goals are apparently stronger than personal obstacles. This is utterly remote from romantic ideas of a passion uniting a man and a woman, and closer to partnership, friendship, perhaps solidarity. Their marriage serves the careers of both of them.
There is nothing new about marriage as a tool for promoting interests. The history of Europe was often shaped by matrimony between royal families. But the Clintons’ bond is a modern one: the woman isn’t forced into the marriage, the marriage isn’t about connecting countries but rather individuals with shared political and social values, the man and the woman are equals — they may both be presidents of the United States! — and they are, of course, free to divorce. Hillary and Bill Clinton may end up as models for a long lasting marriage, founded on mutual aspirations.
If she is elected, a former president will hold the position of spouse of the president! This further emphasizes the temporal nature of this position. Being the “wife-of” or the “husband-of” someone is a phase one goes through, not a defining role. I guess nothing serves feminist ideas better.
Motherhood: In her speech at the Democratic Convention, Chelsea Clinton described Hillary as a devoted and loving mother: “Regardless of what was happening in her life, she was always, always there for me.” No matter how busy she was, motherhood was an important role for her.
Change is coming, I thought as I heard this. In 2007, when Hillary was competing to become the Democrat candidate for the presidency, she practically disguised her life experience as a woman and a mother. Now her daughter believes it is wise to inform voters she was a wonderful mother. She no longer conceals how motherhood shaped her; now she fully acknowledges it is part of her, the person that people will vote for.
Talking about “breaking the glass ceiling” is meaningless if womanhood is unacknowledged. This leads us to the very fundamental questions of feminism: does equality mean similarity? Are successful men the only role models for professional success? Should women shape and change our perception of a career?
Hillary Clinton’s most important contribution to feminism may be her embracing of womanhood. The enormous achievement is the nomination of a woman, spouse, partner, mother and grandmother.