Sunday, November 13, 2016

Tina Brown on the woman in the woods

The black mood of women feeling battered and bereft after Hillary Clinton’s loss was suddenly pierced on Thursday by an image that brought the tears all over again. It was a snap on Facebook taken on the hiking trails surrounding Chappaqua by Margot Gerster, a grieving Hillary supporter who was out walking with her little girls. Suddenly, she wrote, there was the sound of rustling. Then, appearing like a mirage in the clearing, was Hillary herself with Bill and their dogs, doing “exactly the same thing” as Gerster. The former president obliged Gerster by taking the photograph after she and Hillary had exchanged “a few sweet pleasantries” and hugged.

Nothing I have seen in the last 15 months of the campaign has resonated with me as much as the image that Gerster posted. It shows Hillary wearing what looks like no make-up, her hair uncoiffed, dressed in a baggy black parka, brown leggings and boots, and holding the dog leash twisted in her hand as her poodle mix snuffles among the carpet of leaves at her feet.

Only 24 hours after delivering the poised, dignified concession speech that masked her own heartbreak and tried to mend ours, it’s as if she had finally been returned to the world as she really is: an approachable woman in late middle age, hiking the trails with her dogs and her husband in the solitude of a beautiful fall morning, trying to cope with her pain. The sight of it, so comforting in the warmth of its ordinariness, was a visual rebuke to the distortion and the cruelty of the attacks she has endured....

... While commentators sniggered, millions saw the all-American success they dreamed of. They rooted for the guy who had it but was despised by the elites for having it. There are more tired wives who want to be Melania sitting by the pool in designer sunglasses than there are women who want to pursue a PhD in earnest self-improvement. And there are more young women who see the smartness and modernity of Ivanka as the ultimate polished specimen of blonde branded content they want to buy.

In the entertainment era, even political candidates must be able to entertain. Which show would you rather watch? The Clintons round a table debating the right approach to solar energy, or the show about the rivalries between the Trump women who vie for the attention of a capricious patriarch? Four years is a long time. Even though she won the popular vote by what is expected to be more than two million ballots, Hillary was not destined to shatter what she has called, with agonizing ruefulness, “that highest and hardest glass ceiling”. So what do we want, and what do we expect from a woman leader who can win?

The killer rap on Hillary was that she was never authentic. I would argue that, born into a generation that had to break down so many cultural walls, and wounded by a marriage that always required her to cover up pain, she had PTSD on behalf of us all by the time she ran for president. Yes, even the complacent young people, who believed until now that they were living in a post-gender world.
If you want to see “authentic” women leaders who can really entertain, you have to go now to the generation in their 40s who do not have the battle scars of the women who were “firsts”. It’s no good bringing up Angela Merkel. Germany is not the US. After the trauma of Hitler, theirs is an anti-charisma culture that actively distrusts pizzazz…

If you want to go global, cross the channel and look at the two wildly popular women at the top of politics in Scotland: First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish National Party is as direct as she is fearless. After the US election result, she doubled down on her distaste for Trump and condemned “diplomatic silence in the face of attitudes of racism, sexism misogyny or intolerance of any kind”.

In opposition to her is another winner: Ruth Davidson, the kickboxing, working class former territorial army member and open lesbian who, with her salty wit and irreverent debate style, has single-handedly made the once irrelevant Scottish Tory party a rising force. Maybe being around men in the army made her impervious to misogynist trolls. “Nice. Classy. Do you kiss your mother with that mouth? Bet she’s really proud of you,” she tweeted to one who told her that what she needed was a good ****.

The new media narrative is that the Clinton era is now over and done. But perhaps this last chapter of Hillary’s life can be the most rewarding. On the job, she was always the first up and the last to go to bed. Heaven for her is poring over a briefing book with her hair tied back in a scrunchy, cracking down on the work. Imagine the agony she must have endured while being deprived of the thing she loves doing most for 15 long months. Instead, she was forced to take up the grandstanding and gladhanding that you’ve never been good at. She still has an important role to play, and she began it in her concession speech by telling the young girls who, like my daughter, adore her, never to give up.

Hillary, now you can be the woman you really are, the woman in the woods. More important to the rest of us, you can be the Queen Maker. A friend told me how, very late on election night, she crept into her 10-year-old daughter’s room as she always does, to tuck her in and remove her open laptop from the bed. She saw on the screen that her daughter had been in the middle of writing a letter before she fell asleep. “Dear Madame President,” it began,  “I want to tell you the things that are important to girls like me …” The letter was unfinished.