This post is not about Hillary Clinton and the fact I would like to see her become president of the United States.
This post is about what it means to be construed as harsh, cold, even intimidating, when you’re a woman in leadership, and how folks are likely to continue to hate you even when you finally show the emotion they’ve been dying to see.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about. Evidently Clinton choked up last night when at the end of a grueling day of campaigning there in New Hampshire and after an even more grueling evening of policy talk with a roundtable of undecided voters, mostly women, one of the women asked Clinton how in the world did she pull herself together each day to go out and face the rigours of the campaign. Word on the street is that one of the reasons why a lot of Americans have not connected with Hillary Clinton is because of what they perceive as her icy, stoic, emotionless persona.
Mind you, everything is not personal. But this is personal to me.
I don’t know a woman in leadership (not one, doggone it) who has not been accused – by supervisors or by fellow employees, but subordinates, if she’s in the military, by students if she’s a teacher, by church members, if she’s a minister — of being hard, cold, unfeeling, and intimidating. Make a decision, and stick by it. Grade the paper, and stand by your grade. Refuse to laugh at jokes that aren’t funny. End your sentence without a lilt in your voice. Look people in the eye when you talk to them. Have a firm handshake. Don’t show any cleavage. Be candid and forthright in your dealings with people. Be darn good at what you do.
Folks don’t like to see a woman get too powerful, too fast, and be too smart.
Everything is not personal. But this is personal to me.
It’s the story of my life and every woman I know who has ever done anything others thought she could not and should not be doing.
Of course, choking up in public can cut both ways. The American public is uncomfortable with a woman who refuses to show emotion. But cry in public, whether you’re male or female, and you’re apt to be seen as weak. People in this country have made it clear that they dislike emotion in their leaders.
Remember the most famous presidential tears of all time which ended a campaign right there in New Hampshire when Edmund Muskie wept over a newspaper attack on his wife during the 1972 campaign?
Oh yeah, let’s not forget back in 1987 when then Democratic Congresswoman Patricia Schroeder choked up when she announced she would not run for president. Says Shroeder twenty years later, she’s still paying for that gaffe. Of course, no one ever thought of Pat Shroeder, who kept an annoying smile forever plastered across her face, as intimidating and harsh.
Now, now Hillary, I know what makes you choke up at the end of a day of holding it so beautifully together. It’s called exhaustion. Not a campaign season of exhaustion. But decades of exhaustion. Exhausted from an accumulation of nicks, bruises, and blows to the solar plexus that come with being the object of everyone’s fantasies, mythologies, and deepest fears. Exhausted from being the brunt of every conservative man’s fear and every liberal man’s joke. Exhausted from being the brunt of every conservative woman’s hatred and every liberal woman’s scorn.
Out of nowhere, at the end of a day of campaigning when your feet hurt, your throat is sore, your mind has turned to oatmeal, you can smell the fumes from your own body, and despite the fact that you’ve just finished doing what you thought was a pretty good job explaining your platform to a group of undecided voters and despite the fact that what you’re really thinking is how wonderful soaking in a nice warm tub would be right about now, surrounded by candles and quiet music, a little wine nearby (for the stomach sake) – and out of nowhere someone asks a question you didn’t need to be asked. Not at that moment. A question no one ever thinks to ask your male colleagues. If they are asked, no one will penalize a man for not offering a straightforward answer.
No matter how good you are at what you do, no matter how well you’ve just answered the questions about the economy, war, healthcare, taxes, education, and the price of tea in China – what the public really wants to know about you as a woman at the end of the day is, “How do you keep it together?” How do you balance it all? How do you get up and face the day knowing that millions of us American still think you’re a b—-?”
You’re apt to come undone. It’s happened to the best of us.