Teddy Kennedy, Bob Kerry, Jerry Brown. Despite successful political careers, none of these men were ever taken seriously in their race for President. The reason? Maybe it’s that they lacked the necessary (x-chromosomal) accessory whose demure clapping and doe-eyed focus told the rest of us how to feel.
While no one would disagree that, unlike most democracies, the US places disproportionate emphasis on the woman who’s (supposedly) sleeping with its President, British author and feminist Germaine Greer argues that the role of First Lady is not only insulting to women, but also the democratic process. Writing in The New Republic (June 26, 1995). Greer argues that ‘no woman anywhere [should] be expected to relinquish her privacy and her own work, to diet and dress up and give interviews every day, simply because she has married a man who has a prospect of success in politics.’
Judging by the way that public reaction has sent former Eleanor Roosevelt clone Hillary Rodham scrambling for the hair bleach and pearls, Greer’s proposal might even be appealing to the First Ladies themselves. A trip to the Hillary Clinton White House Official Home Page, shows that this is a job where hostessing is a lot more valuable to the nation than working. While the site contains an area where the user can access HRC’s speeches on health care and other topics, they are buried at the end of the page, superseded in importance by both ‘The White House Tour of American Crafts’ and a biographical history of the First Lady that shows pictures of her posing with Girl Scouts and the Easter Bunny.
Not that this is anything new. As a noted in an episode of Under Scrutiny with Jane Wallace (Sept. 28, 1994) about the disappearance of Hillary Clinton from her husband’s political agenda makes clear, the traditional job of First Lady has always come with a heavy psychological price tag: ‘What is it about being First Lady?’ she asks a panel of guests. ‘We had Mamie Eisenhower, who everybody knows, in retrospect, could throw ’em back with the rest of them. We had Betty Ford with alcohol and drug problems. We had Jackie O. who had shock therapy in the White House. Nancy Reagan was arguably anorexic. This is not a great job.’
Original to Utne Reader Online