Book Review: Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary: Reflections by Women Writers, Susan Morrison, ed. (2008)

May 23rd, 2008 11:59 pm by Kelly Garbato

The Pantsuit Makes the Woman?

four out of five stars

Whether you love Hillary or hate her, no doubt you’ve got a strong opinion about the woman. But the emotions evoked in you by Hillary Clinton probably speak less to Hillary’s character than to your underlying attitudes about strong, independent, self-reliant women. So goes the premise of THIRTY WAYS OF LOOKING AT HILLARY: REFLECTIONS BY WOMEN WRITERS. (And, um, pretty much anyone who’s been overwhelmed by the misogyny and racism permeating this year’s election cycle, natch.)

In THIRTY WAYS OF LOOKING AT HILLARY, thirty prominent female journalistas wax poetic on what Hillary means to them. No aspect of Hillary’s life and character is too mundane or sacrosanct: everything from Hillary’s infamous pantsuits to her marriage to Bill (or “secret pact,” as some paranoid pundits might call it) and her every-changing coif goes under the microscope. As a result, some of the pieces are rather fluffy (Mimi Sheraton’s “How Hungry is Hillary?: Reading the Culinary Clues” and Susan Orlean’s “Political Animals: Is Hillary a Cat Person or a Dog Person?” spring to mind), but it’s all in good fun. In this vein, Patricia Marx’s satirical “From the 1965 Eyrie Yearbook” is especially entertaining; it reads like a transcript of an SNL segment. (Hello, Amy Polar!)

Most of the thirty essays, while entertaining, are far from frivolous. While many of the writers tackle seemingly trivial topics (pantsuits, hairstyles and surnames, oh my!), these are usually circuitous routes to grander points; the way in which changes in Hillary’s wardrobe correspond to her increasingly moderate (pandering?) political positions, for example, or what Hillary’s favorite books reveal about her child- and adulthood. The pieces of Hillary expounded upon by each individual author also say a great deal about that author; in “Hello, My Name Is…,” Cristina (no “H”!) Henriquez speaks eloquently about her conflicting identities as an Panamanian woman born and raised in America.

While I expected that most of the thirty essays would touch upon the misogyny that’s colored this campaign season, not all of the writers deal explicitly with the anti-woman backlash that Hillary inspires in so many men (and not a few women). However, there are a few great pieces on the subject, including an essay by the always-awesome Katha Pollitt (“Hillary Rotten: Sexist Sticks and Stones”) and must-read from Leslie Bennetts (“Beyond Gender: The Revenge of the Postmenopausal Woman”). Though I’m not familiar with all of the contributors, most seem somewhat feminist-minded, with the sole exception of Robin Givhan (“The Road to Cleavagegate: What Do We Want Female Power to Look Like?”). Givhan, you might recall, is the Washington Post reporter who “broke” the Cleavagegate “story.” (Scare quotes because it’s neither breaking nor a story. “This just in! Hillary Clinton, the female Senator from New York, HAS BREASTS! More on this shocking development at nine!”) She spends much of her essay defending her own misogyny, arguing that it’s perfectly a-ok to judge Hillary – and, by extension, all women – on her physical appearance. What’s next, repenting to the Fashion Gods for wearing scrunchies and headbands after 1991? I don’t agree wholeheartedly with every sentiment expressed in THIRTY WAYS OF LOOKING AT HILLARY, but Givhan’s was the only essay that truly strikes me as out of place.

The other twenty-nine essays, on the other hand, represent a diverse and enjoyable read. At the end of the book, I found myself wistful for ’70s Hillary, in all her radfem blamer glory. 2008 Hillary, not so much.

Full disclosure: I voted for Kucinich in the primaries. I’m not crazy about Hillary or Barack, but I’ll most likely vote for the Democratic nominee in November. Unless it comes out that Barack eats puppies or Hillary is a closet Ann Coulter fan. And, for the record, I’m disgusted with the misogyny and racism emanating from either side of the Dem aisle.

P.S. Dear Mimi Sheraton – If your Boca Burgers resemble “miserably limp, grassy-tasting little disks that might be produced by Rubbermaid,” then you’re doing it wrong. Unless you’re rubbing defrosted Boca Burgers on your lawn, ain’t no way they come out tasting like grass. As for the so-called “limpness,” the only time I’ve cooked up a limp Boca Burger is by over- or under-cooking it in the microwave. Grilling and pan-frying them, not so much. So stop hating on the Boca Burgers when it’s clearly the cook’s fault. (Yeah, I’m a vegan. What of it?)

(This review was originally published on Amazon and Library Thing, and is also available on Goodreads. Please click through and vote it helpful if you think it so!)

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