August 12, 2009
Snarking about what passes for front-page news
Okay. So. The kerfuffle involving Secretary of State Clinton “snapping” at a Congolese student who asked her what former President Clinton thought about something. (Here’s one article on the subject, with a rather unfortunate title, that I picked up off of Yahoo’s front page this morning.) Um… why is this an issue? Because it feeds into the popular narrative of Secretary Clinton as a termagant ball-breaker? Let me tell you something about having people ask what your husband (or boyfriend, or male partner) thinks of something you do in your professional life or the public sphere in general: that shit is irritating. It puts me in mind of one of the arguments against giving women the vote: the idea that a woman would just vote the way her husband (or father, or other male authority figure) told her to, effectively giving him multiple votes. (It also puts me in mind of the question Radical Vixen has to field on a regular basis, in reference to her sex work (site generally NSFW): “Your husband lets you do that?”) It’s a reminder that as much as a woman might have achieved, as much as she is working toward, she is still considered less than a man to a large portion of the world population. Questions like “what does your husband think about that?” — however innocently they might be posed — nevertheless carry that baggage, and are likely to provoke anything from eye-rolls to frustration.
Personally, I think Clinton responded in a diplomatically appropriate way (and I certainly appreciate that between nerves and translation, what the student intended to ask might have differed significantly from what was ultimately asked), particularly given some of the points Liss addresses here. In the end, I hate that the State Department is having to justify her response, and that that is what’s making the front-page news. Is that really the only majorly newsworthy aspect of Secretary Clinton’s trip? (The answer to that question, of course, is a resounding no…)
(ETA: Check out Tami’s post on the subject; she said it better than I!)