By Heidi Stevens
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Through the lens of how Hillary Clinton is described and how Clinton describes herself, columnist Heidi Stevens tackles titles. She says, “How much should your domestic life define you? And if feminism means granting women the freedom to make our own decisions, isn’t one of them the decision to craft our own identity and narrative?”
I’ve been on Hillary Clinton Twitter watch all week, after author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie needled the former first lady/secretary of state/U.S. senator/two-time presidential candidate for listing “wife” as the first word in her bio.
“The first word that describes you is wife. And then I think it’s mom, and then grandmother. When I saw that, I have to confess I felt just a little bit upset,” Adichie told Clinton during an onstage dialogue at Sunday’s PEN America World Voices event, where Clinton gave a lecture.
“Then I looked at your husband’s Twitter account,” Adichie continued, “and the first word was not husband.”
“When you put it like that,” Clinton replied, “I’m going to change it.” The crowd, according to Jezebel, erupted in cheers.
She hasn’t changed it.
Should she? I don’t know. I’m certainly not the gatekeeper of other people’s Twitter bios, but I think it’s an interesting point to ponder.
Bill Clinton’s Twitter bio, for the record, reads, “Founder, Clinton Foundation and 42nd President of the United States. Follow @clintonFdn for more on my work around the world.”
Barack Obama’s reads, “Dad, husband, President, citizen.” Michelle Obama’s reads, “Girl from the South Side and former First Lady. Wife, mother, dog lover. Always hugger-in-chief.”
They’re Twitter bios. They’re more cutesy than comprehensive. Silly trumps stuffy.
But I think what Adichie was getting at was our national need to soften and maternalize Hillary Clinton, and Hillary Clinton’s willingness to go along with it, however reluctantly.
At the 2016 Democratic National Convention, when Clinton became the first woman to accept a major party’s nomination for president, the headlining speeches emphasized her warmth and exceptional grandmothering and mothering skills, over and above her life of public service and policy acumen.
Was that her choice or her handlers’? We may never know, but I think that’s what Adichie was homing in on, not just for Clinton, whose presidential aspirations are most likely behind her, but for all women who hope to excel in their fields.
How much should your domestic life define you? And if feminism means granting women the freedom to make our own decisions, isn’t one of them the decision to craft our own identity and narrative? With mom at the beginning, middle, end or absent altogether?
Clinton answered Adichie with an anecdote about hearing Barbara Bush speak at Wellesley in the 1990s.
“She said, you know, at the end of the day, it won’t matter if you got a raise, it won’t matter if you wrote a great book, if you are not also someone who values relationships,” Clinton said, according to Jezebel.
But Clinton didn’t stop there.
“It shouldn’t be either/or,” she told the crowd. “It should be that if you are someone who is defining yourself by what you do and what you accomplish, and that is satisfying, then more power to you. That is how you should be thinking about your life and living it. If you are someone who primarily defines your life in relationship to others, then more power to you, and live that life the way Barbara Bush lived that life, and how proud she was to do it. But I think most of us as women in today’s world end up in the middle. Wanting to have relationships, wanting to invest in them, nurture them, but also pursuing our own interests.”
She cited Tammy Duckworth bringing her newborn daughter onto the Senate floor.
“She’s a mom, she’s a senator, she’s a combat veteran,” Clinton said. “She is somebody who is trying to integrate all of the various aspects of her life. And that’s what I’ve tried to do for a very long time, and it’s not easy.”
Those are my favorite kind of answers. The ones that consider the complexities of work and life and love and acknowledge, without reservation, that they’re tough to prioritize and balance.
Even in a Twitter bio.