Hillary Clinton has always been a divisive figure in American politics. But love her or hate her, she's now a two-time Presidential candidate. Perhaps some of her divisiveness comes from the struggle many ambitious women experience: The complex push-and-pull between who she is, who she wants to be and what society expects her to be.
(I should caveat this by saying that I am not a psychologist or trained to analyze people I have never met. What follows is purely my interpretation of what I see.)
Clinton has traveled a long way to get to this point, and the path still seems unsteady. She seems to have an "authenticity problem." She is often perceived as aloof, perhaps hiding something and closed-off.
I think maybe she comes off this way because she's navigating a strange road between being the politician she is and being a woman as society and her advisers (and possibly she, herself) expect her to be. She has sometimes struggled with her image as a "woman in politics," but it's what she is, complete with all the baggage that comes with it.
Clinton was going to be a divisive figure from the start. Despite a successful law career, she was introduced to the world in the context of a potential First Lady. Let's be real: In 1992, people had expectations about what a First Lady was supposed to look like and do, and it was a very feminine role filled with serving tea and wearing designer ball gowns. Decorate the White House for Christmas. Talk to the wives of diplomats, not the diplomats themselves.
Clinton was not one to sit back and do what was expected, though. Her foray into healthcare reform was highly criticized. She was trying to get into real policy work, which was not typically part of the First Lady's portfolio. She did it anyway. Meanwhile, a lot of the country discussed her clothes and haircut.
A few years later, she shifted gears. The idea of the Hillary Clinton we know now writing It Takes a Village seems incredibly strange to me. In my mind, it's indicative of her trying to fit into the expectations of First Lady while still having a voice. Shouldn't she have been writing policy or legal briefs about issues on which she had incredible expertise? Instead, it feels like a forced attempt to remake her image as a more motherly First Lady.
Fast-forward to 2015, and almost no one questions that she has the experience necessary to run for President. But she's still an incredibly divisive person. She has a contentious relationship with the media. There are constant rumors of discord in her campaigns and paranoia in her actions. She has trouble balancing "tough" and "shrill". (I'm pretty sure male politicians wouldn't be referred to as "shrill.") People still talk about her haircut and her clothes.
I find myself sympathetic to Clinton -- not because I agree with her political views -- but because I identify with the battles I imagine she's fought externally and internally as a career-minded woman.
I see the pull between who I am, who I want to be and what I think society wants from women. My career has determined where my husband and I go, and in nine years together, that's been from Texas to Oklahoma to North Carolina to New York. Oh, and I'm 30 and don't have children, and I have no plans for them. I have all kinds of career plans, though. I can see the disapproval on some people's faces when they learn that.
It's easy to imagine how Hillary Clinton faced similar attitudes. She may not have been determining where they lived, and she did have a child, but I think she had to feel the pressure to be a classic southern wife and mother in 1980s Arkansas. Instead, she was a wife and mother with a pretty successful law career. And, certainly, there was pressure to be a more traditional First Lady when she moved into the White House.
I can see how she might get defensive about her choices -- I know I get that way if I think someone is questioning mine. Feminism was a few decades behind where I grew up in rural Texas, and that stuck with me, so sometimes I still think something is wrong with me for not being happy following a more "traditional" path. If others validate that inner struggle by raising an eyebrow at my choices, it makes me angry and frustrated. Perhaps this is part of what we've seen from Clinton over the last 20-plus years.
So, Hillary, I'm going to have a pretend conversation with you, like you once said you did with Eleanor Roosevelt.
As you embark on this campaign, please unapologetically and completely be yourself. If that is a tough, ruthless politician, just do it instead of trying to balance external (or internal) standards of what women should do. But, let us see you as human, too -- if you struggle, don't hide it.
Everyone needs to see that it's not easy. No hiding behind email servers or campaign spokespeople when something comes out wrong. Trust me, the people who won't vote for you aren't changing their minds, regardless of what you do, so you might as well be who you are.
I'm not sure what I think you'd say back to me, but I really hope it would be that your conversations with Eleanor have helped you develop a thick enough skin to be yourself on this campaign regardless of what you think Americans want or what anyone tells you.
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