What would happen if one woman told the truth abouther life?The world would split open.
With the publication this week of Hillary Clinton’s book, What Happened, we see that Muriel Rukeyser was right.
One of the perpetual criticisms of Hillary Clinton has been that she’s “inauthentic.” The implication is that she’s presenting a front, that she’s not really the polite, sensible, pragmatic, public servant who’s devoted her life to improving conditions for women and families all over the world. No, she must be faking it. Underneath the practiced demeanor, she’s really scheming, too ambitious, too cut-throat. Why, even her marriage must be “political,” and that explains why she didn’t leave her husband after he had an affair. When she smiles or stays calm under pressure, that’s just an act. If you knew the “real” Hillary you’d know that she murders her lesbian lovers, sells children into sexual slavery in the basement of a D.C. pizza shop, cackles as she hangs condoms and heroin needles on the White House Xmas tree. She’s failing to be adequately “transparent” when, regularly accused of having some serious disease and of lacking the “stamina” to be President, she tries to take medicine and power through a case of pneumonia. She, unlike her opponents, may have released all her tax returns and medical reports, but what about every single personal email she ever sent? No, we never saw Sanders’ or Trump’s emails (or taxes, or Trump’s actual medical report), but, well, no one ever accused them of being inauthentic. Why won’t Hillary release every email she ever sent? Hmmmm? Why’s she hiding those? And she’s been so often accused of being inauthentic; where there’s smoke, there must be fire.
Of course, all politicians, to some extent — and, indeed, all public persons — are less than 100% authentic (yes, even Bernie Sanders or whichever politician you really like). They do all that they can to appear competent, in control, fair, and fit for office. They try not to let it show if they’re upset about a family matter or worried about an election. George W. Bush didn’t grow up dropping his “ing”s at Exeter, nor was his youth spent clearing brush on the ranchette that he bought when he began to consider running for office and that he sold as soon as his second term was over. What Mitt Romney says about poor people when he thinks he’s talking in private to his rich donors is quite different from what he says in public. John McCain has a temper in private that his former interns will talk about in whispers, but on Sunday morning tv he comes across as a nice old man. Donald Trump wouldn’t know the truth if it grabbed him in the pussy. Yet, we don’t hear those politicians accused over and over of being inauthentic.
And, if we’re honest, few of us are always 100% authentic, either. I dig my nails into my hand and stay calm when opposing counsel makes me want to scream. I keep my religion in the closet at work. You keep your voice polite when talking to your kid’s teacher, even when you think the grade wasn’t fair, because your kid has a whole school year to get through with that teacher. The person being interviewed for a job laughs at some jokes that they really don’t consider all that funny. We generally edit the parts of our life that we share on social media, focusing on our fun vacations, cute kids, and successes on the job and leaving out our bad hair days, failures, and lonely moments. The blurry shots don’t wind up on Snapchat.
But the charge that Hillary Clinton is somehow “inauthentic” — and it is almost never accompanied by any actual evidence, just the accuser’s gut feeling — goes beyond that. The notion that women are dishonest schemers, temptresses who will say one thing and do another, untrustworthy vessels, goes back to at least the Inquisition. See, e.g., Sylvia Federici. The Bible certainly has some nasty things to say about women’s trustworthiness. And, as one of America’s most ambitious women, Hillary has been subjected to the “inauthentic” charge more than almost anyone else.
In fact, a failure to be “authentic” is a charge often leveled against the colonized by the colonizers. People from the East are “inscrutable,” meaning you can’t tell what they’re “really” thinking. Native Americans are “Indian Givers,” who won’t keep their part of a bargain (rich, that). African Americans are “shiftless,” and “lazy” — they’ll stop working the minute you turn your back. The Irish would cheat you in a minute to get themselves a drink and the Italians will betray anyone not in their own mafia family. Perhaps the colonizers suspect that the smiles and agreeable attitude of the colonized are inauthentic — as, of course, they often are. If you can kill me or whip me or take everything that I have, I may smile and agree with you even though I hate every cell of your being. And no matter how much I smile and call you “Boss,” you may always be uneasy. It made Rudyard Kipling nervous.
But now, now that she no longer intends to run for public office or to hold any government position, Hillary Clinton has decided to tell it like it is. In the Introduction to What Happened, Hillary says, “In the past, for reasons I try to explain, I’ve often felt I had to be careful in public, like I was up on a wire without a net. Now I’m letting my guard down.” Anyone who’s ever been a “first” understands this pressure. Don’t screw up; walk that tightrope. If you take even one wrong step, you’ll screw things up not only for yourself but for all of the rest of us who may follow. We’ll all be judged by your one misstep. Donald Trump said, “Sadly, because president Obama has done such a poor job as president, you won’t see another black president for generations! ” Somehow, no one doubted there’d be other white, male presidents after Harding, or Bush, or, now, Trump.
And, Oh My Goddess. As if to prove exactly why Hillary Clinton often felt that she had to be very careful to control the image she portrayed, the reaction to her telling, in Muriel Rukeyser’s words, the truth about her life, has been for the world to split open. Liberal bro bloggers scream that they want the 2016 primaries to be OVER — in blog posts about the 2016 primaries. The demands for her to SHUTUPSHUTUPSHUTUP are unending. Men wonder WHY would she write a book, why won’t she just go AWAY? (After losing presidential elections, Al Gore and Mitt Romney went on to work on documentaries and Romney is reputed, today, to be considering a run for Senate. McCain lost to Obama and spent every Sunday of the next entire year on tv, talking, commenting on the job Obama was doing. John Kerry lost to Bush and continued in public life as a Senator and Secretary of State. It’s odd how it’s only the woman who must first apologize for ever having had the hubris to run and must then retire in shame with sackcloth and ashes.) Every single word that Hillary says about Bernie Sanders, Joe Biden, and Donald Trump is examined, tweeted and retweeted, analyzed ad nausea, and portrayed as if simple factual statements were mortal blows, catty swipes from her pointed tongue. Well, as Margaret Atwood said, “Women are afraid men will kill them. Men are afraid women will laugh at them.”
I think it may have been Philippa Gregory who pointed out that they didn’t burn women at the stake to control the women they burned. They did it to control the women they forced to watch the fires. The attempt to brand Hillary Clinton as, first, too inauthentic to allow into public life, and, then, when she comes out with, in the current phrase, no more fucks to give, and, as my generation had it, just tells it like it is, to burn her at the stake for that — well that’s not done to address Hillary Clinton. When the liberal bros go into hysterics about the nerve of her, they’re doing that for all the other women who might dare to be too ambitious. They’re doing it for the benefit of any little girls who might be watching. They’re doing it to teach us all a lesson.
Well, as we Witches like to say, “We are the granddaughters of all the Witches you didn’t burn.” There’s always going to be a crucial percentage of us you can’t keep silent and, in time, we’ll reach critical mass.
If women telling the truth about their lives splits the world open, let’s do it. I’m a gardener and I understand what has to happen to seed pods for next year’s crop to take root.
Picture found here.