WASHINGTON, D.C.--What role Hillary Clinton will play in the upcoming election and an Obama administration is still unclear, but if her appearance last night at Rep. Carolyn Maloney's (D-NY) book signing is any indication, she's currently being cast as a Helen of Troy, launching a thousand feminist critiques.
Maloney, speaking in the garden at the Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, said the idea for her book, Rumors of Our Progress Have Been Greatly Exaggerated, came when she attended a rally for Clinton in New Hampshire. There, she saw a sign saying, "Iron my shirt, Hillary Clinton."
"'Hillary Clinton, make me a sandwich,'" Maloney recited to several hundred guests, the vast majority of them sporting a double X chromosome. Men were so scarce in the garden they could be counted. I saw fourteen. "'Hillary Clinton castrates.' 'When I hear her voice, I hear take out the garbage.'"
Next to Maloney, Clinton laughed. Without the stage and an American flag backdrop of a campaign rally, she looked diminished: petite, strained, swallowed by a phalanx of aides and Secret Service. Nevertheless, when she had entered the garden, the audience had turned and swelled around her, as if pulled by the orbit of a much stronger planet. A few lifted cell phones to snap her picture and some squealed, but overall the impression was not one of fame junkies. Instead, as they ushered her to the podium, the audience looked as if they might have been trying to protect her.
"If that's how they're treating Hillary," Maloney continued, explaining her impetus for writing the book, "how are they treating the rest of us?"
Guests throughout the party echoed the theme. A former New Yorker who still hadn't quite gotten over her disappointment about the Mondale-Ferraro ticket said, "If not Hillary, who? And when?" Another woman said she was irritated with Obama -- he was young, she pointed out. He could've waited. Many of the guests wanted to see a woman in the Oval Office, and Clinton's defeat seemed a symbol of all the inequities, frustrations, and disappointments they'd experienced in their own lives as women and feminists.
"The equal rights amendment still hasn't even been passed," pointed out one of the male guests, a thirtyish mathematician who'd volunteered once a week at Clinton's campaign headquarters. Primarily he simply liked Clinton, he said -- but he also thought it would have been neat to elect a woman.
This is not to say these Clinton supporters are not voting for Obama. Many of them, in fact, wore buttons proclaiming their intentions: Hillary supports Obama and so do I.
They're not even necessarily focused primarily on Clinton. After she left, with an eye-popping smile and a wave at people she recognized, the audience stayed to eat cake and celebrate the birthdays of Pat Schroeder an Eleanor Smeal. We all sang in a fine soprano key, and the women shared a microphone to congratulate each other and encourage the audience to go to hillaryclinton.com, take action, write our congressmen [sic], and vote.
They may have been saying more than that, but it was difficult to hear even a hundred feet back. In what seemed a metaphor too good to be true, the technicians had never come to set up the sound system, and the former seat of the National Woman's Party had to make do with borrowed equipment from NOW.