Interesting to find this picture circulating on Twitter soon after Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination. Of the millions of extant photographs of Hillary—whether taken from throughout her public career or in the company of her husband former president Bill Clinton—, the choice of this particular image to punctuate news of her unprecedented political achievement was almost shocking.
It pictures Hillary with her late mother Dorothy and daughter Chelsea, taken on the day Chelsea married. Standing to one side of her aged mother, Hillary is the embodiment of conventional femininity and maternal pride. She is simply a mother and a daughter, occupying a place in the generations celebrating a classic rite of passage. Sartorially, the lady politician famous for her pantsuits has disappeared: if anything, her fancy dress wears her.
How far we have come, the picture telegraphs, particularly in light of Mrs Rodham’s story. She managed to surmount a hard loveless childhood to raise and inspire a daughter who has bent tradition to become the symbol of something new in American history. Mrs Clinton’s own ambitions, coupled with those of her husband, long ago catapulted them to the heights of political celebrity, a journey synonymous with radical social mobility. The Clintons have grown dramatically more wealthy. And who knows what the future holds for Chelsea?
Though a quintessential American success story, the Clintons are no longer representative of most Americans. In that regard, Chelsea’s fancy wedding in Duchess County, New York, encapsulates everything that a segment of the American public dislikes about the Clintons. The private and public lines of Hillary’s destiny are awkwardly entwined, as controversies over her email server make clear.
If this were a photograph of Kennedy men, taken back on the day of Jack’s wedding, say, how different our reactions would likely be. Ah, yes, we would say: here is Jack getting married, perpetuating the Kennedy dynasty. We might not pause to criticize the expense of his suit or the nature of his political ambitions.
Bill’s absence from the picture: yes, he may be absent. Should Hillary become president, increasingly she will be writing her own story, and, as this photograph’s appearance on the internet suggests, the visual culture of the presidency, and women’s sense of their place in the nation, will also change. The story line is being written even now, of the power lines that have gotten American women to where they are.
Photograph by Barbara Kinney
Judith Shulevitz, How to Fix Feminism (NYT)