Last week it was brought to my attention that if Hillary Clinton is elected as President of the (Fucking) United States, there is no way that Bill Clinton will find himself picking out china patterns or tending to the vegetable garden. Before we dive into the nitty-gritty, let me say this: we’re not talking about who you will or will not vote for this year. I don’t even care, unless it’s Trump. What we are talking about is that even though it’s 2016, America is still so deeply steeped in sexism that we, the general public, can’t handle the idea of a powerful man doing “useless girly” things.
It’s tempting to jump in on Hillary for this (because don’t we jump in on her for everything else?). After all, she’s the one who made sure to clarify that Bill most certainly will not be tending to any “woman’s work” in his role as First Gentleman. But you know, I’m not going to do that, because Hillary isn’t actually the aggressor here. Hillary, in fact, is simply responding to the expectations that have been set before her by the populace. As Jill Filipovic explains, Hillary is responding to the message that Americans sent to her loud and clear, way back in 1992:
During Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, she was routinely compared to Lady Macbeth and denounced as a “rogue feminist.” Attacked for her thriving legal career, she defended herself by saying that she “could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession”—and was swiftly pilloried (she published her oatmeal-chocolate-chip cookie recipe in Family Circle magazine in part to defuse the controversy).
So no, Hillary isn’t the one who is pissing me off. But, AMERICA… America is making me very angry.
Why, you ask? Because for all of our talk, we still can’t walk the walk of celebrating men who perform tasks we think of as “women’s work”:
The public now also seems uncomfortable with the idea of Bill Clinton, once the most powerful man in the world, doing what’s always been seen as women’s work. Articles questioning the place of Hillary’s husband in a second Clinton White House abound, taking for granted that the usual duties are beneath him: It would be an insult to have a man of such experience and intellect using his expertise to promote a lightweight issue such as children’s health, or doing something as frivolous as deciding between gold-rimmed plates and silver-detailed ones. Even the Clintons say they’re unsure what moniker they would use: First dude? First mate?
Of course, these articles fail to mention the fact that when HRC was first lady, she was coming off a rather powerful career of her own. Back in their Arkansas days, Hillary joined the Rose Law Firm in Little Rock and became the state’s first professional first lady (she also became partner at that firm in 1980). President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the board of the Legal Services Corporation in 1978. She was twice named on the list of “The 100 Most Influential Lawyers in America” and represented a variety of Arkansas businesses. Throughout her husband’s tenure as governor, Hillary chaired committees, co-founded the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, served on the boards of the Arkansas Children’s Hospital, Legal Services, and the Children’s Defense Fund, and wrote a weekly newspaper column. In other words, she hustled. And still, all we wanted her to do was leave healthcare alone and pick out some nice flowers.
Guys, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t keep spouting out that gender is made up, and social norms are fictions—if what we really believe, deep down in our insides, is that it’s absolutely nuts to imagine a man doing something we’ve historically ascribed to women. We can’t celebrate our baby-wearing dads, dads who know how to put their daughter’s hairs in ponytails before school drop off and cook dinner that night. We can’t keep pretending like we think it’s cool that more men are talking about their feelings, exploring their emotional sides, and then make it clear that Bill Clinton can’t actually be expected to be “that” kind of man.
Plus, it is exhausting that we cheer for men who figure out how to loop a hair band three times around their daughter’s pigtails. I don’t know if you’ve ever toted a baby around in a carrier, but I sure have, and I’ll be the first to tell you that being able to do so isn’t something I’ve ever been applauded for. You know what will really happen if Bill Clinton does sashay into the Oval and start picking out china? We’ll perpetually applaud him for it, even though Hillary can’t get a golf clap for anything from us.
I’m sure there are some of you who are all, “But wait. Bill Clinton is a former President! That’s why he can’t pick out china and go visit elementary schools! He’s important.”
To that I say, oh hell no. I don’t care if he had been Leader of The Entire Planet, homeboy can still make sure the drapes match the interiors, give interviews about the importance of a well-balanced school lunch, oversee the White House chef (and make sure Lady H is getting the food she likes), and make sure he’s coordinating his ties with Hillary’s suits because he can handle it. She was a powerful First Lady who more than took one for the team while Bill was playing Most Powerful Dude in the Free World, but we didn’t care about that. In fact, we didn’t like her until she decided to take a seat, like a lady should (tell us about it, Jill):
By the time her husband was embroiled in a sex scandal, Hillary had scaled back her domestic policy objectives, advocating for Bill as the House impeached him and the Senate voted to keep him in office. She also campaigned, often behind the scenes, for the rights of women and children. Her approval ratings soared.
You know what it would be like if I were President and my husband was First Dude? I would be walking around, being badass and making powerful decisions while also being like, “Oh [husband]! Don’t forget! Field trip with the local school today!” or like, “Love you so much, but I think the garden is suffering. Can you check on that?” Or maybe “Boo! You’re the best! Think you could pick out some new bed linens this week?” Because you know what? That would be his job, and that stuff matters. And powerful women have been filling that role for a long, long time… and dudes gotta take their turn. Even awesome, super smart ones that I might be married to.
By virtue of running for office, Hillary is challenging gender roles like nobody’s business. The level of sexism that is consistently leveled at her from all sides is astounding, and she keeps rolling ahead. She’s challenging our apparently very ingrained perceptions about what a woman should and shouldn’t do. If Hillary gets elected, there is no reason for Bill to not do his part to shake up gender roles as well:
If he really wants to challenge gender divides, Bill Clinton should take on these traditionally female obligations. He would send a powerful message: There’s no such thing as “women’s work” and “men’s work,” “women’s issues” and “hard issues.” And the aesthetic, domestic and social labor women have long done in the White House—indeed, the labor they have long done in many houses, with smaller budgets and fewer flower arrangements—is valuable, too.
I know plenty of women who work outside the home, and plenty of women who work inside of it. Let me tell you this: maybe you scoff, but running a household isn’t fun and games. It’s not easy, and you deal with a lot of bullshit while you’re doing it. My husband works twelve hour shifts at a hospital in a really intense unit and regularly complains about the men he knows who insist that their wives have it “easy” because they’re staying home with the kids (as if staying home with the kids is a treat 24/7) and cleaning the house. How powerful would it be to see a man, a former US President at that, giving interviews about running the house? COME ON.
If she is about one thing, Hillary Clinton is about improving the lives of women, full stop. So why don’t we expect Bill to be?