Could Hillary Have Ever Been Elected? A Feminist Analysis

With the benefit of hindsight, it’s easy to see that the moment had passed Hillary by.

Yes, it’s true—as people said– that she lacked the gifts of a retail politician; that she was too much of a wonk, too policy-driven to simplify her message and make it clear.  And there was also Benghazi, the Russians who hacked her e-mails and planted hate messages on social media, the weaknesses of her campaign organization, the 30-year campaign on the part of the Far Right to besmirch her and damage her image.

But there was also a deeper issue; a mismatch between Hillary and her times—something that forced her to act in ways that denied her nature—something akin to the will of an alien God.

Make no mistake:  I voted for Hillary.  I was one of her active supporters.  I was shocked and deeply disappointed that she did not win.  But, deep down inside, I had doubts.


Strangers on a Plane

I met a woman on a plane who told me her life story.  She had been happily married—or so she thought—for 27 years.  Then she found out her husband was having an affair.  She told him she could forgive him anything, that together they could rebuild their life.  He wanted no part of it.  He had already hired a lawyer and planned his exit strategy.  Within a few months of the divorce he had married another woman, not much older than their oldest daughter.

Would that woman have voted for Hillary?  Not on your life.  I dropped an anti-Trump remark gently into the conversation, and she said, “Yes, but look at the choices.”  Meaning, she wouldn’t admit she had voted for Trump; but she would never vote for Hillary.

When, as far back as the Paula Jones incident in 1991, Hilary accepted the advice of her husband’s advisors to “stand by her man,” she appeared to be morally compromised.  Caught between her husband’s ambitions and her need to disavow his sexual peccadillos, she was unable to speak in her own voice.


Fast Forward

That contradiction caught up with her in last year’s Presidential election.  Feminists had trouble accepting her because she was not her own woman.  Anti-feminists (including some of the women who later voted for Trump) saw her as someone all too familiar; vulnerable, weak and submissive—like themselves.   They were looking for someone powerful—someone like Zeus, in “Leda and the Swan,” who would overcome their defenses and ravish them and force them to believe in the righteousness of his dominance.

Women who lived through men—i.e., women who achieved their comfort and status by subordinating their own desires to those of ambitious men—faulted her for having to do the same.  They recognized the vulnerability in their own positions, saw themselves reflected in her and were shamed by what they saw.

And men who had come up “the hard way” saw lack of character in a woman who had ridden a man’s coattails to her own success; ignoring, of course, both her contributions to that man’s successful career and her own subsequent history of contributions to the nation in the course of her long political career.


Beset by Contradictions

Hillary allowed the media to paint her into a corner.  On the one hand, she stood accused of enabling Bill’s behavior.  On the other hand, his campaign required her to act as the dutiful wife and devoted mother that the voters presumably needed her to be.    And, when later the philandering husband was cast as the First Spouse, the public had difficulty swallowing the contradictions.

The radical feminist Mary Daly, writing in the early 1970s, said:

“The machismo ethos that has the human psyche in its grip…fosters a basic alienation within the psyche—a failure to lay claim to that part of the psyche that is then projected onto “the Other.”  It is essentially demonic in that it cuts off the power of human becoming.”[1]

Hillary too was beset by demons.  She was never able to rid herself of the hegemony of the phallocracy. By allowing Bill’s behavior to pass as a version of “boys will be boys,” Hillary reaffirmed the legitimacy of the masculine norms which defined his behavior as a trivial violation.


Another Woman

Could she have acted differently?  It is easy to say that a stronger woman would have persuaded her husband to find a different solution, one which didn’t diminish her and tarnish her image.   But a stronger, more independent woman wouldn’t have hitched her wagon to a rising star in order to make her own career.

And that is the tragedy of Hillary and her times.  That she came of age in a time and place when the career path she chose made sense; and any other path she might have chosen, to forge her own destiny and come as close as she did to the Presidency would have likely been equally doomed to failure, for different reasons.


History is hindsight. 

It’s easy to see the truth in the rearview mirror.  But history can give us insights, nonetheless.  So, is it as simple as saying that a woman could not get elected? I do not think so.  But it would have to be a different woman, with a different history of choices.  A woman whose strength and courage allowed her to stand up to the media and her constituents; and, at the same time, a woman with the grace and polish to interact—as a woman– on the global stage and use her wisdom and anger as well-honed tools.   Does that woman exist in politics today?  Time will tell.




[1] Beyond God the Father: Toward a Philosophy of Women’s Liberation.  Beacon Press, Boston, 1973, p. 10.