When weighing her bid for the White House, Hillary Clinton repeatedly said that she wanted to have time to spend with her soon-to-be granddaughter. Of course, in saying that, Hillary was presumably playing us, as her inevitable entry into the race had to have been decided even at that point. But maybe she had more than a desire to leave us hanging on the edge of our seats in saying this. Perhaps the image she has cultivated as a benevolent grandmother and supportive mother have served a political purpose as well?
If you Google “Hillary Clinton” and “unlikeable” in the same search, a barrage of hits will come up. It’s no secret that Hillary has been criticized as unlikeable. It may have even cost her the last election (shame, because I really like her). But this time around, she is determined to not make the same mistakes. After her departure from the Secretary of State position, she answered people’s questions about what she was going to do with her time by saying that she was looking forward to watching crappy TV and spending time with her dogs. When daughter Chelsea became pregnant, she announced it on Twitter, declaring “Grandmother-to-Be” as her best title yet. And now, political commentators are speculating that her foray into grandmotherhood could be great for business, as it were.
In an interview in the Washington Post with Jill Greenlee, scholar and author of “The Political Consequences of Motherhood”, Greenlee discusses the ways in which motherhood (and in this case, grandmotherhood) affect political entry/success. According to Greenlee, “being a mother fulfills one of the strongest social mandates placed upon a woman, and that appeals to voters.” Conversely, she states, motherhood responsibilities may make voters question their elected officials’ ability to juggle being a good political and balancing responsibilities at home. (Funny how men never have to contend with this question). The anxieties about women managing elected office and motherhood, however, have not stopped Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from appointing women to half of his Cabinet positions because, quote, “it’s 2015.”
When it comes to Hillary, she believes that motherhood/grandmotherhood may be helping her in the polls. The countless articles about time spent with granddaughter Charlotte and stops along the campaign trail to allow for facetime with the grandbaby may soften up this portrait of Hillary as ‘unlikeable.’ She states: “[I]n 2008, Hillary Clinton struggled to find a balance between presenting herself as a tough, strong, competent leader and to also display the feminine characteristics that we expect to see from women. By focusing on her experiences as a mother and grandmother, she can very naturally invoke those feminine characteristics in a way that is comfortable for most voters.” While the benefits of cultivating this image may be clear in the case of Hillary, Greenlee suggests that we will still have to look at these trends on an individual basis for other female politicians. “At the end of the day, we still have a lot to learn about how motherhood shapes women’s paths to elected office. In a time when we simultaneously have more women than ever running for office and an increasing focus on family and motherhood in politics, it’s more important than ever to explore these issues.”
So for now, the jury is still out on the link between motherhood and any definitive trends in politics. But the call for an interdisciplinary approach to looking at the applications of motherhood in society is clear. Mother Studies, anyone?
To find out more about the book #TheHillaryParadox go to Joanne Bamberger’s website. Readings will take place throughout the United States. For those local to NYC and Westchester there is a panel discussion moderated by Joanne Bamberger, author and editor, and 3 panelists, Helen, Linda Lowen and Nancy Giles.
This blog post was written by MOM’s social media intern Jenny Nigro.