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Lipstick on America's politcal (dog) collar


Sarah PalinThe American presidential campaign gives us much to reflect on. The faces of three very different women show us a lot about modern political discourse.

Hillary Clinton stands out. Once she became a qualified presidential candidate, rather than the humiliated wife of a president, she was cut off at the knees. Even a black man was preferable to a middle-aged woman wearing a beige pant-suit who reminded too many men of their mothers.

She must have expected sexism: it had happened before. When first-term President Clinton appointed 'my wife' to do a serious job, reforming the health care system, neither the media nor the self-appointed elites were willing to make the best use, or any use, of the proffered 'two for the price of one'.

By the end of 1994, Hillary Clinton had been sidelined by her husband's own administration. She wrote in her memoirs, 'I underestimated the resistance I would meet as a First Lady with a policy mission'.

Too punchy, too confident, too ambitious, too female — because being seen to have real power and authority, as a woman, invokes the Furies. Her failure 14 years ago led to her becoming a 'lightning rod for political and ideological battles ... and a magnet for feelings ... about women's choices and roles'.

Once wronged by her man, sympathy kicked in, and turned off again when she sought to lead in her own right.

Michelle Obama, on the other hand, enjoyed a short honeymoon as a beautiful, sassy, smart and loyal presidential aspirant's 'first wife'. But once Hillary was scuttled, and once the Democrats rallied behind her husband's campaign, the same media that lauded Obama's poise and style confected 'offence' at her comment  that she was "for the first time in my life proud of my country'.

As a future great man's intimate and domestic support at the Democratic Convention, Michelle was safely bookmarked.

Then John McCain anointed a former beauty queen and 'hockey mom' with negligible political experience, fundamentalist religious and right-wing political opinions (pro-Iraq, killing moose with machine guns, drilling tundra parklands for a few years more oil, but anti-choice — did her pregnant 17-year-old really have one?) as his vice-presidential nominee.

This small-town 'beauty queen' in her 40s, with big hair, great legs, short skirts and killer heels, delivered a strikingly well-written speech to the Republican Convention in which she ad-libbed only once: that the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull terrier is — boom-boom — 'lipstick'.

I support all women who aspire to politicking as women, rather than honorary blokes, and say no more about Sarah Palin, but have much more to say about her leader, McCain. He is no feminist. He said teenager Chelsea Clinton was 'so ugly' because 'Janet Reno is her father'.

According to The Real McCain, by Cliff Schechter, this crude bully went further in front of three reporters in Arizona: '[I]n his 1992 Senate bid, McCain was joined on the campaign trail by his wife, Cindy, as well as campaign aide Doug Cole and consultant Wes Gullett. At one point, Cindy playfully twirled McCain's hair and said, "You're getting a little thin up there." McCain's face reddened, and he responded, "At least I don't plaster on the makeup like a trollop, you c***." McCain's excuse was that it had been a long day. If elected president of the United States, McCain would have many long days.'

Hillary, Sarah, Michelle and Cindy (note, women are immediately recognisable by their given names, men by the patronymic) and 'Condi', too — all fill political roles. In modern western politics, such women are acceptable if they look 'youthful', wear plenty of makeup, never look tired, occupy subsidiary political roles (political 'wife', trophy 'vice president', presidential gofer) and are firmly attached to powerful men to whose authority they defer.

An 'old' political woman (50 plus — political men still apparently 'get heat' in their 70s), experienced in formal executive authority, in her own right, is acceptable only in a subordinate role, 'attached', and therefore safely feminine.

The big Western representative democracies seem unready for a Golda Meir. For a time, women like Imelda Marcos, Corazin Aquino, Eva Peron and Benazir Bhutto — women within powerful men's hierarchies — may rise, but can never be even honorary men.

And as to the honourable man who uses his women as props, perhaps paraphrasing both the man himself as well as Barack Obama, you can wipe the lipstick off a pig, but he's still a pig.

Q. 'In a world without women, what would men become?'

A (Mark Twain) 'Scarce, sir. Mighty scarce.'

Moira RaynerMoira Rayner is a barrister and writer. She is a former Equal Opportunity and HREOC Commissioner. She is principal of Moira Rayner and Associates.

Topic tags: moira rayner, michelle obama, sarah palin, hilary clinton, lipstick on a pitbull



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Existing comments

read this about women - proves our point about women in their 50's xxx

Rose | 07 January 2009  

One can only agree with Moira in the case of Hillary's attempt to reform the US health system, that she was singularly unsuccessful. The sad outcome of Hillary's endeavour, was seen in her joining the health insurance moguls in an about-face against her own reformist principles. In this instance the lipstick was abundant but where was the pitbull? Let's hope it materialises when she adopts her new position as Secretary of State, and becomes the world's most powerful woman.

Claude Rigney | 07 January 2009  

Great analysis. It is remarkable what Hillary has achieved - an outstanding woman from whom further greatness is anticipated. Tragically women in the Philippines who promise so much before election have been hounded by the corruption-inducing environment into sad failures in power, especially the present incumbent.

By the way, Ms Aquino is Corazon I believe, literally "heart",

Mike | 09 January 2009  

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