Granny for President!

Note: As some of you will have noticed, for the last two weeks my blog was shut down. It’s now… not shut down! As of today I’m resuming posting, though the piece below was written a couple of weeks ago, before I realized I had been muzzled. Subsequent to today, all blogs will again have their previous immediacy. 


In the just published Epilogue to her year old memoir, Hard Choices, which focused on her years as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton reinvents herself. Rather than providing a pertinent postscript to her original volume, Clinton chose this time around to speak in a different voice – an altogether feminine one.

We know why. We know that she and her advisors made a deliberate decision to soften her image, to embrace her womanly side rather than shy away from it. They presume that in order for a female to win the White House she will have to shed some of the masculine, or more typically leader-like characteristics that got Clinton to where she is in the first place, and instead don the mantle of femininity.

Like the good student she famously is, Clinton has shed her old skin nearly entirely. Her Epilogue is nothing as much as an ode not only to her role as a mother and grandmother, but also, if you can believe it, to her role as a wife.

She writes adoringly – yes, adoringly – of husband Bill, who spoke on the night of the 2012 Democratic convention. “I had to smile when I saw him take the stage in front of the enthusiastic crowd…. He still loved the excitement of a great political moment…”I was full of pride for the former president I married….”

She writes adoringly of memories of daughter Chelsea: “When Chelsea was born I was full of nerves…. I was unprepared for the sheer wonder and responsibility of parenthood. I prayed that I would be a good enough mother …. It was magical and terrifying all at the same time… When Chelsea was little, Bill and I read to her nonstop….Goodnight Moon was a particular favorite.”

But mostly, by a wide margin, Hillary Clinton writes adoringly about granddaughter Charlotte. When Charlotte was born, she and Bill sat quietly, “holding hands, trying to process the rush of emotions. I looked over and saw a tear in Bill’s eye.”

In the weeks subsequent, Bill and Hillary “spent as much time as we could visiting and helping” the new parents. She watched glowingly as Bill carried Charlotte “around our house, stopping at nearly every book on the shelf to explain the plot and how much she will enjoy reading it one day.”

Every day with Charlotte, Clinton writes, is “a miracle.” Charlotte’s every gesture “sweeps” her off her feet. Charlotte, she continues, “has already helped me see the world in new ways.” And so it goes. The topper though is the connection between Charlotte and her grandmother’s decision to run for president. It is Charlotte who has made Clinton think “deeply about the responsibility we all share as stewards of the world.” It is Charlotte who, instead of making her want to slow down, has “spurred” her instead to “speed up.”

It is no accident that while Clinton writes freely and gladly about being a wife and mother, the role she focuses on is that of grandmother. A lot of words have been spilled about why even in the second decade of the 21st century so few American women are in positions of leadership. This applies across the board – in business and politics, in the military, even in the larger nonprofits. I have written about the virtues of androgyny – adopting an androgynous style of leadership – as a way for women who want to be leaders to get around the double bind of being perceived as either too feminine or too masculine. What Clinton clearly has concluded is that tethering herself to Charlotte is a way for her to be seen as very much a woman – but as a particular kind of woman. An old woman – or, at least, a relatively old woman. To be a grandmother is, to put it bluntly, to be generally perceived as past your feminine prime. As a woman you are no longer threatening in a way you might have been twenty years earlier.

Call it a double standard. No man running for president would dream of going on about being a grandfather as fulsomely as has Hillary Clinton about being a grandmother. But, if it helps get her to the White House, who cares? Certainly not Hillary, or Bill, or Chelsea, or, presumably, Charlotte.


Barbara Kellerman teaches Women and Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School and the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. Her most recent books is, Hard Times: Leadership in America.


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