A recurring concern in the current presidential race has been what successive Bush-Clinton-Bush-Clinton presidencies would mean for American democracy.
But those making this point seem to forget that there is a fundamental difference between being a powerful man’s child and being his partner. Perhaps this confusion shouldn’t surprise us, given the historical tendency to define both as male property. But isn’t it time we moved on?It isn’t that surprising that two young, talented, ambitious people should be attracted to each other in their twenties and then both go on to have great success in their forties and fifties. But when this happens, it’s always the woman in the partnership who is singled out for criticism, her achievements minimized, and her success deemed to be based solely on the talents of her husband.
Bill and Hillary are just one example of this kind of ‘power couple’ in which the woman always gets the raw end of the deal. Cherie Booth has been vilified as the wife of PM Tony Blair, and Yoko Ono and Courtney Love have experienced similar treatment in the male-dominated world of music.
Rather than being praised for their glass-ceiling-busting achievements in rock music, art, politics, and law, the women in these couples have been turned into public hate figures, and blamed for the woes (or even the deaths!) of their husbands.
Of course, dynasties like the Bushes in the States, the Bhuttos in Pakistan, or the Benns in the UK, pose a threat to democracy, social mobility and meritocracy; George Dubya was an alcoholic, drink-driving C-student who wouldn’t have had a shot at the presidency if he’d been from Anyfamily, USA. Hillary, on the other hand, is clearly a stronger candidate than many of the men who have run for the country’s highest office, and neither she nor Bill were born into power and influence. They both worked for it.
I’m not saying that Hillary hasn’t enjoyed the benefits of living and working at the heart of the American Establishment, or that her candidacy doesn’t raise questions about the ‘American Dream’, but it’s important to recognize the gendered nature of these debates, and to call out the sexism of comparing a wife to a son or younger brother.