Feminism originated as a struggle for equal rights. It started with voting rights, then expanded to include the dismantling of laws and customs that assumed women were incapable of running their own lives, and so had to be subjected to male overseers. The goal was to achieve for women their autonomy in world with a level social-economic-political playing field. In short, feminism was about achieving the liberal democratic good of individuals with autonomy, human rights, and the equality of opportunity to rise according to their abilities.
Shifting social mores, technological innovations, and an expanding economy laid the groundwork for the triumph of what is called “equity feminism” starting in the 1960s.
But that was the same time feminism took a sharp turn away from classical liberalism into the illiberal precincts of cultural Marxism, identity politics, grievance-mongering, progressive political advocacy, and New Age silliness like the mythic “women’s way of knowing.” The result today has been the transformation of equity feminism into a subsidiary of a progressive ideology that cares more for political and personal power than equal opportunity for all women. Hillary Clinton’s career exemplifies this change.
Feminism’s great weakness has been the way it hides the socio-economic advantages that always have made some women better off than many men. Clinton exemplifies this flaw. She was born and raised in the affluent, virtually all-white Chicago suburb of Park Ridge, Illinois, and attended Wellesley College, then Yale Law––pathways to achievement unavailable to millions of men at the time. As a result of these advantages, she had a promising political career as a left-leaning, feminist Democrat. But then she committed the cardinal feminist sin: she abandoned D.C. to follow Bill Clinton to Arkansas, letting what feminists deem the bourgeois-patriarchal construct of romantic love, the age-old mechanism for subordinating women, trump her own career.
From that moment on, Hillary’s success was a secondary effect of Bill’s, a byproduct of happening to marry a brilliant, if amoral, politician. She became one of feminism’s bêtes noires–– the mere appendage of a powerful man, not that different from those Mad Men -era women who achieved wealth and social status not because of their own talents and drive, but because of whom they married or slept with, precisely the behavior feminism opposed as a disguised form of prostitution, the patriarchy’s technique for controlling the threat to its power that talented women posed.
Hillary’s subsequent behavior as Bill ascended from governor of Arkansas to president of the U.S. laid bare another big lie of feminism: rather than a principled doctrine that aims to improve the lot and secure the rights of all women, it too often is the instrument of personal careerism and opportunism, a tool for acquiring wealth and power. The litany of scandals Hillary has left in her wake––the billing records of Rose Law firm, the sketchy cattle futures bonanza, the Whitewater skullduggery, and now her exorbitant speaking fees and cadging of millions from foreign governments––all revolve around money-grubbing and influence-peddling for personal aggrandizement.
But the scandal that best exposed Hillary’s sacrifice of feminist principle to personal ambition was the “bimbo eruptions” that afflicted Bill from Little Rock to D.C., culminating in the sordid Monica Lewinsky scandal. Despite being publicly humiliated by his serial adultery, Hillary not only stood by her man in subservient Tammy Wynette fashion, but viciously attacked Bill’s various paramours, women whom real feminists would have defended as sister victims of a perjurious sexual predator using his political and economic power to exploit them sexually. But Hillary knew her own political future depended on her connection to Bill, so humiliation was the price she was willing to pay for that ambition.
By the time she left the White House, Clinton was a political celebrity, famous not for any real achievements but for the “halo effect” of her marriage to Bill. For liberal New Yorkers, that and liberal orthodoxy were enough to get her elected to the Senate, where she had an undistinguished career, notable mainly for voting to approve the 2002 authorization for the Iraq War, then turning against her own vote after it had developed into a political albatross during the 2003 primaries. She also publicly slandered General Petraeus in 2007 for political gain, when she said his accurate report on the success of the “surge” of forces in Iraq required the “willing suspension of disbelief.” Like many other ambitious Democrats, she saw the unpopular war in Iraq and the party’s hatred of Georg Bush as the instrument of her own political ambitions.
Unfortunately for Hillary, the 2008 primaries revealed her to be a terrible campaigner, especially when compared to the facile charisma of Barack Obama. Watching her dismal performances both then and now, one can see that whatever her talents, electoral politics is not one of them. In her public appearances before any audience other than the Emily’s List choir, she comes across by turns as mean, shrill, cynical, contemptuous, and arrogant, as we saw in her recent press conference about her suspicious private email account.
One can also see that lacking any critical self-awareness, she has developed a monstrous sense of entitlement and self-regard rivaling even Barack Obama’s. She cannot control her contempt for the people or the political machinery of the republic, both of which she considers beneath her. She refuses to accept responsibility for her own mistakes, preferring to shift blame to the “vast right-wing conspiracy” or a hostile media. She desires power not to do good or even advance her leftist agenda, but to validate her aggrieved self-love, delusional estimation of her talents, and vaunting ambition. She wants to be president not because of what she has done or will do, but simply because of who she is.
Identifying Hillary’s betrayal of genuine feminism is important because the only argument for making her president is the “breakthrough” of having the first woman president, which some believe will be a triumph for feminism no matter how bad a president she turns out to be. Her sex, that is, is the only thing recommending her, in contrast, say, to Margaret Thatcher, who succeeded spectacularly despite her sex. Unlike Thatcher, Hillary has no achievements, no political skills, and no ability to connect with the people and make them like or trust her. She can’t even compete on that score with Sarah Palin, who at least governed a state, and shows more feminist moxie and independence than Hillary ever has. Everything she has accomplished is simply the result of marrying the right man, who by chance ended up being one of the greatest politicians in American history.
Despite all that, if Hillary is the Democrat’s candidate, expect a lot of banal blather about how her victory will be an “advance” for all women, along with a large dose of “war on women” snake oil every time her many flaws and failures are mentioned. But in the awful event she does get elected, it will not be a milestone of feminism, if one understands that ideology to center not on elevating well off progressive Americans, but on improving the lot of all women. From that perspective, George Bush––who liberated millions of Afghan women from a misogynist, brutal religious ideology that sanctions genital mutilation, honor killings, and polygamy––is a greater feminist than Hillary, whose foundation has accepted money from countries like Saudi Arabia that legally discriminate, sometimes brutally, against women.
But too many women, mostly those from Hillary’s social class, have bought into the same phony feminism, which hides privilege, careerism, and illiberal progressive politics behind claims of sympathy for the downtrodden and demands for “social justice. ” But in the end, electing Hillary president will be a setback for equity feminism and its ideal of an equal opportunity for women to rise as far as their own talents, abilities, and hard work take them. All a second Clinton presidency will prove is that money, connections, and ruthless opportunism all trump sex when it comes to making it in America.