“Bitches Get it Done”: Or, Why Hillary Lost

Hillary Clinton lost her bid to be the first female president in America. The pressing question for liberals, progressives, and feminists is a short but difficult one: how did this happen?

Clinton has been called every name in the book. Even if you couldn’t name a single one of her accomplishments, because of her long history of negative media coverage, you may think you know her completely: a bitchy she-demon, a liar, a crooked, conniving, uninspiring, “nasty woman.”

This bloated rhetoric of divisive politics coalesced to strike down the undeniably remarkable achievements of this single human woman. The name calling and the hate speech obfuscates the true importance of her public persona: a role model for the ambitions for young women. In the end, it’s always the future generation that really matters.

There has been extensive speculation as to why Clinton lost. But one important possibility we should keep in mind is the widespread and influential legacy of male domination in political and social life.

-webinfo-1-www.hawaii.edu-offices-op-images-gallery-mrc-desk.jpg

Mary Rita Cooke Greenwood, who everyone calls MRC (pronounced Marcy), knows all about women in prominent positions. She is no stranger to public service and the challenges that women face in taking and maintaining power. Greenwood was Associate Director for Science in the White House Office of Science and Technology during the Clinton Administration. She also served as President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In addition, she has been President of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity (NAASO)—now the Obesity Society; and President of the American Society of Clinical Nutrition.

A woman who came through the ranks in a completely male-dominated world of science, Greenwood smashed an enormous number of barriers. She held numerous prominent positions in the University of California (UC) system and became the ‘first’ in many offices. She was Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs, the first female in the UC Office of the President; the first female Chancellor of UC Santa Cruz; and the first Dean of Graduate Studies and Vice Provost at UC Davis. She was also the first woman President of the University of Hawai’i.

I spoke to MRC at the Democratic National Convention just as Hilary was being nominated.

Tell me a little about your time in the White House.

I had absolutely no intention of ever doing anything political. I had no interest in it. I didn’t know anything about it. I was an academic. I was good at what I did and was a pretty good committee chair. Or, at least, someone else thought that I was (I often thought I was flying by the seat of my pants). One day my assistant was holding her hand on the mouth of the phone. I asked who it was. “It’s the White House. Should I tell them you’ll call them back?”

“Maybe not.” It was the White House Science transition team. We talked for forty-five minutes and I thought: “well that was nice! They asked for my advice!” And that was that. Later they called me back and offered me the position.

A friend once explained it to me like this: you come into these important jobs with a basket of good will. You proceed to lose that goodwill, piece by piece, until you get to a certain point where you say: “I’ve done what I can do.” And let someone else comes in with their basket still full. Sometimes you can fill your basket a little.

A scientist has more controllable satisfactions: you have a good paper, you get your grant. Public service is much more ambiguous. I’m grateful that I studied complex problems.

Why hasn’t Hilary’s gender breakthroughs been part of the narrative of this election in the way that race was for Barack Obama’s nomination?

Well, of course, many of us think it is important. It is the case, however, that the media is not making the kind of noise about the first female president that there was for the first black president. Part of it is that this the opposition narrative of ‘the other.’ When you think about what Donald Trump’s response to the rise of Barack Obama—the whole ‘birther’ thing—was, clearly,  meant as a hook. He’s telling people: “He’s not one of us; he’s really one of them. And, worse, he’s a Muslim.”

With Hilary, there has been opposition to try to knock her down since she graduated from college. She gave a great valedictorian speech when she graduated from Wellesley. She was just a kid, a really smart girl who stood out. It started even then with the “let’s cut her down a little.” They criticized her when she was First Lady of Arkansas. They went after her. That was certainly true when she was in the White House.

I remember when I was working in the White House people in the media would say these hateful things about her. They didn’t like her hair: “had she dyed it? Did she cut it too short? She’s getting fat! Why is she wearing pants?”

On a side note: we were all actually very grateful when she started wearing pants. We were tired of wearing skirts in the White House and that was the rule when I first got there. You couldn’t wear pants and I was used to wearing pantsuits.

She is an incredible example of resilience. She has been knocked around, never all the way down (though they’ve tried) over and over (and over) again. And I think that it’s because of the narrative of ‘the other.’ That we can’t seem to celebrate the fact that the United States is finally catching up to the rest of the world and we’re actually letting a woman run for president (and, wow, she might even be our president!)

Do you think America is having a hard time dealing with the stark fact that clearly the most qualified person to be president is a woman?

I think that’s part of it. Part of it is this constant insidious desire of the 24-hour news cycle that they have to have a story. And if you don’t have a story you have to make a story. As they say: “you have to have an angle.” And I, myself, have been subject to the need of reporters to have a story, who are beholden to someone else so the story they are going to tell is going to be the story than the other person wants told. Having been the first female in many, many roles in my life you know that you’re a target.

It makes better news to talk about what’s wrong with Hilary than what right with Hilary. And so, that’s a lot of what we see.

Do you think America has an almost instinctual resistance to women in power?

Well, I thought they were getting over it. Even in higher education there are many more female presidents than there were when I became chancellor at Santa Cruz. There were only two at the time, me and one other person.

But when you have a person like Donald Trump who talks about and tweets about women entirely on how they look and clearly would never consider his wife taking over his job. The unfortunate fact is, that there are a lot of people who feel the same way.

When I was at Santa Cruz there was a man on the foundation board, a man I generally got along with on in so many other ways, a member of the RNC.  Simg4042_1191l.jpgomething I’ve learned in politics: get along with everyone (if you can). But he said to me, in the middle of a perfectly reasonable conversation: “anytime a woman gets made the head of a business, I drop all my stock.” I asked why and he told me that it was because he knew the company was going to lose money. And it so happens that when a woman takes power often the opposition is so strong that it actually ends up damaging the whole institution.

I think we should be celebrating. It’s about damn time. A whole bunch of other countries have elected female leaders that are not even as competent as Hilary and have done well.

What would this have meant to you growing up?

Oh, it would have been a beacon of hope. I never planned my life. I just took opportunities as they came.  Growing up I saw so few examples of women in higher positions that there wasn’t anything lighting the path forward. Heck, I would have been happy if there was a female principal of my high school let alone the President of the United States.

How do we achieve gender parity?

We don’t stop doing what we’re doing. We don’t quit. Because it’s getting better than it was. Is it getting better as fast as we’d like? No. Could we do more to make it happen faster? You bet. Young women need to be taught to believe in themselves. They have to see women succeed. Some of the things that have been effective are close mentoring programs for young women. Successful women, just doing their jobs and being examples and role models are so important.

The role of men here is also important. In my scientific career, I didn’t have a single female mentor. Some men did everything they could to help me and further my career and I am grateful to them. Others tried to seduce me and take advantage of their position. And then there were those who did everything to hurt my career. They would do things like steal or discredit data. Guys tend to believe other guys if they said something like: “she doesn’t know what she’s doing.”

Men have to play an active role in advancing gender equality.

When women take on public positions do you think they are faced with exponentially more scrutiny?

Women have to be fully recognized for the contributions they make. There has never been a presidential candidate who has had the depth of experience and the clarity of vision and the ability to stick with it through difficult circumstances. But we don’t celebrate that. We criticize her for it. We go back to when she was first lady or even first lady of Arkansas and find something we don’t like. We criticize her for her clothing, for her hair, for wearing not enough makeup, for wearing too much makeup.

We go back to when she was first lady or even first lady of Arkansas and find something we don’t like. We criticize her for her clothing, for her hair, for wearing not enough makeup, for wearing too much makeup.

When Carly Fiorina dropped out of the Republican primary and all the men stood on the debate stand wearing the same suit and the same red tie did we criticize any of them for their clear lack of fashion sense? Look, I have a huge wardrobe from my time as President of UH. Mainly because I was the public face of an institution and they took notice of what women were wearing. I wore a blouse for a major talk I gave. I wore that same blouse maybe one other time that same year. When a photographer took a photo of me in that blouse I got multiple comments about how I needed a new wardrobe. A male Vice Chancellor could rotate between three of the basically the same dress shirts and no one would bat an eye.

When women love the work they do and they’re really good at it, they often learn to live with the crap or a find a way to handle the crap. The way that I learned to handle it is through humor. If I could get away with it, I’d tease the guys back. But you have to be careful that they don’t start thinking you’re a bitch.

But, hey: bitches get it done.

One thought on ““Bitches Get it Done”: Or, Why Hillary Lost

  1. Wow – great post! Having worked under MRC when she was Chancellor at UC Santa Cruz, I have to say this is a refreshingly candid set of comments and very true to the spirit she demonstrated at that campus.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s