In last night’s CNN debate, the final question went to Senator Hillary Clinton and she was asked, “diamonds or pearls?” This took me back 13 years to when her husband, then President Bill Clinton, was asked on MTV “boxers or briefs?”
It’s interesting to contrast the two questions and what they say about gender politics. Although entirely inappropriate, the boxers or briefs question fit right in with Bill’s President-as-sex-symbol image. This image has precedent in John F. Kennedy, one of Clinton’s heroes. Rather than diminishing his stature, it actually added to his aura. His reply “mostly briefs” was followed by something along the lines of “I can’t believe she asked that.” This last comment made it clear that the question was beneath his dignity. So he single handedly answered the question (adding to his macho image) and flagged it as inappropriate (reminding us that he is due a certain amount of respect).
Unfortunately, I don’t think Hillary’s boxers or briefs moment went quite as well. She answered the question with a chuckle, making no attempt to suggest that the question was inappropriately trivializing her candidacy. That was mistake number one. But even if her answer had addressed the essential foolishness of the question, the damage had already been done just by the asking. We don’t want a glamour puss in the White House. We don’t want someone among whose top priorities is “what will I wear today?” The fact that the questioner was a woman was even more disturbing. In a Presidential race, women of all people, should know that fashion is not a topic of importance and that questions about it only serve to stereotype female candidates.
Whether we like it or not, in this society, macho equals power. If a male candidate is a sex symbol, it only adds to his allure. The same cannot be said for women. For a woman to convince the American public that she is ready to be Commander-in-Chief, she has to avoid any suggestion that she is preoccupied with femininity. It may not be fair but I believe that is current American sentiment.
On a side note, it is interesting that her answer only confirmed Obama’s and Edwards’ accusations that she flip flops and is indecisive. Her answer to “diamonds or pearls” was “both.”