Did Hillary Pass the New York Times’ Feminist Test?

Hillary Clinton enough of a feminist, hillary clinton and feminists

All together the essays I read showed a range of ages and opinions circling one idea – “Is Hillary a good enough feminist?” Funny. I didn’t realize Hillary was running for Feminist. I thought she was running for President.

Sharing usually gives me a warm fuzzy feeling, but in this case my friend shared an article with me from the New York Times Room for Debate section and I wished she had kept it to herself. It involved that famous woman in a pantsuit, Hillary. The title made me cringe “Is Hillary Clinton’s Feminism out of Style?” I twisted inside. Okay, I took the bait. Click.

Room for Debate showed profile pics of each essay author and they were all female faces calling me to partake of the debate. “You’re a feminist, right?” “It’s safe here, see we’re smiling.”

The sirens smiled too. As I opened each essay I felt I was about to receive a shot of Novocaine. Why did I get so bent out of shape? I know quite well that questioning the feminism of a presidential candidate is reserved for women only. I should be used to it by now, but I’m not.

All together the essays showed a range of ages and opinions circling one idea – “Is Hillary a good enough feminist?” 

Surprisingly, one of the essays in this debate forum was titled, “Her Brand of Feminism Doesn’t Speak to Me.” I asked myself, “Have we branded feminism?”

I didn’t realize Hillary was running for Feminist. I thought she was running for President.

Brand. Images of multinational corporations form in my head when I see that word. We have barely noticed that the word brand has slipped into our lexicon to assist us when we describe ourselves and our beliefs. It’s shocking. Brands sell products. They are trademarked. A brand is also burned into the skin of an animal to mark ownership. It can’t be undone and it never changes.

Remember the phrase “corporations are people” from the 2012 presidential debate? It was more insightful than many care to believe. Corporations have become so dominant in our lives since the 1980s that we now apply corporate nomenclature to our social movement philosophies and even our own personal identities. Corporations aren’t people but they certainly have co-opted our language and thinking.

Even Sheryl Sandberg trademarked her feminist-light philosophy of working in a corporation: “LeanIn.” I watched feminists applaud the Lean In idea of giving your whole self to the corporate job. Welcome to the age of the corporate control over your humanity.

Feminism is about equality. If we make feminism, with certain rules, a prerequisite for the presidency then where are Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley on this topic? Oh, Sanders did write a paper in college about women having rape fantasies, so there is that. But, where are the essays dissecting his position, background, and (here’s another corporate word people use) messaging on feminism? Or do we give him a pass and say “Oh that was so long ago.”

If a feminist belief system is required of a president, it is only fair we should measure Hillary’s work and beliefs and background on feminism against her counterparts. I haven’t seen this comparison yet.

Maybe it’s because we can’t really compare Hillary to any of the others.

We have never seen a First Lady become Senator and then Secretary of State. We can’t compare so have to come up with something to in order to say, “No, I can’t vote for her.”

A line as big as the San Andreas Fault emerged in America in the 1960s and jolted all of us out of conformity: Feminism. And Hillary lived on both sides of the fault line; pre-women’s movement and post-women’s movement America.  She had to deal with changing opinions and national mood swings over the decades. Some women came to feminism early, others much later and some not at all (or so they think).

Feminism is a philosophy and we carry it through life and relive it, reform it and renew it.

As a child Hillary always knew that she would keep her last name when she married. And, as First Lady of Arkansas she was known as Hillary Rodham to the disapproval of many in Arkansas who challenged her, to her face, on why she didn’t use her husband’s last name. But she liked her name and “…she clung to it tenaciously.”  The name Rodham was a serious wedge issue so when Bill ran for president she made the decision to use Hillary Rodham Clinton so as not to cause a distraction. 

As soon as Hillary entered the White House as First Lady she was planning on implementing health care for all Americans, and the first of many controversies erupted. Was her name Hillary Rodham Clinton or just Hillary Clinton? It was so compelling that the Wall Street Journal and NBC polled Americans on their preferred name for the First Lady.  Not to be told how to refer to herself, she kept Hillary Rodham Clinton through two terms as First Lady and while running for Senator.

I don’t recall a resounding national feminist voice protecting her on this controversy. She was alone with it.

By the time she ran for President in 2008 the controversy over why she used her husband’s last name had finally become a discussion for debate among feminists! Why did she change her name, they asked? It’s so un-feminist. It’s hard to go back decades in time, sense the pulse of society, and then judge someone as to why, as a married woman, she may have changed her last name.

All things come around again. So for the 2016 campaign Hillary has even dropped the “Clinton” and is using just “Hillary.” Running for office as a woman comes with extra questions that can’t be ignored. If you do, watch your poll numbers drop.

Is she a Rodham or a Clinton? Is she a good enough feminist? What’s her brand?

When a question that keeps coming up that involves a person’s behavior I like to turn it on myself. It’s a game I play. If it bothers me so much maybe it has roots in a deeper place.

Am I a good enough feminist? Honestly? Probably not. I’m full of contradictions because I live and I breathe. What’s my brand? I don’t have one, I’m human.

If we apply a feminist standardized test to presidential candidates, then let’s apply it to all of them.

So let’s have this debate – “Is Bernie Sanders’ Feminism Out of Style?”

Jennifer Hall Lee is a filmmaker who lives in Los Angeles. She has spent many years working on Hollywood films,  in visual effects, and used her free time (when she had it!) making her own films. Her latest film, “Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation” is being distributed nationally and more public screenings are upcoming including the Feminism in London Conference! Jennifer was recently named Global Ambassador for the Global Media Monitoring Project. To schedule an interview with Jennifer or book her as a speaker, she can be reached at jennifer@feministstories.com.

Image via Wikimedia Commons/Veni Markovski/CC License

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