A behaved woman never made history

Since reading Hillary Clinton’s memoir I’ve been giving a lot of thought to ‘difficult women’, writes Louise O’Neill.

A behaved woman never made history

It’s been interesting to see how Hillary Clinton has been treated since she lost the 2016 Presidential election.

Criticised for failing to effectively convey her message to the public (even though only 4% of media coverage during her campaign was about policy, the rest focused heavily on — deep breath — her emails), for using a private email server while secretary of state (even though she was far from the first to do so, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice also used private accounts), and for voting in favour of the Iraq War (as John Kerry and Joe Biden also did).

She didn’t connect with disenfranchised working class voters, we were told. (Read Ta-Nehisi Coates’ blistering essay The First White President which dismantles these claims and explores the role white supremacy played in the election).

But wait, people hated her because she only cared about the 1%, not like Donald Trump, that salt of the earth, self proclaimed billionaire. No, you’re wrong, the real reason for her loss is that Hillary was just a bad candidate.

A bad candidate? There has never been a person who has been more qualified to become president than Hillary Clinton and, besides that, her opponent was an openly racist, former reality television star who bragged about sexually assaulting women and was allegedly colluding with a foreign country to interfere with the election.

Forget about women and people of colour needing to be twice as good as white men to succeed; clearly, we need to be perfect while they can be Donald ‘Grab-Em-By-The-Pussy Trump’ and over 60m American people will vote for them.

Since reading Clinton’s memoir, What Happened, I’ve been giving a great deal of thought to ‘difficult women’, the roles that women are expected to play, and what happens when we step outside of those narrow parameters.

While it’s clear that Hillary, like any politician, had regrettable blemishes on her past record, that wasn’t the only rhetoric that her opponents used against her.

Clinton has long been

portrayed as a scheming Lady Macbeth figure, manipulating her husband for her own gain, willing to ‘unsex’ herself in her frantic attempts to seize power.

Time and time again, she was asked why she wanted to run for office, as if the very idea of a woman who believes that she can do a better job than her male peers is something so utterly unnatural, that it needs to be interrogated thoroughly to find the root cause.

Because men are ambitious, but women are pushy.

Men are firm, women are forceful. Men are commanding, women are shrill.

Hillary was too sharp, we were told, too driven, too independent. Too much.

Many women understand what it’s like to be made feel as if you’re ‘too much’, as if your spirit is something that needs to be contained; that you must shrink yourself to fit into whatever box society has deemed appropriate for you to occupy, no matter how uncomfortable.

And women who dare to challenge those cultural norms? The difficult women? They must be swiftly punished.

Sylvia Plath, a once-in-a-lifetime poet, relegated to anecdotes about her suicide.

Yoko Ono, the sorceress who ‘emasculated’ John Lennon, and broke up the Beatles.

Courtney Love killed Kurt Cobain and don’t you know that she’s not responsible for Hole’s best loved album, Live Through This? Kurt wrote it for her.

Sinéad O’Connor, tearing up a photo of the Pope on American television because the Catholic Church was covering up sexual abuse and she was torn apart for her audacity.

Like a 20th century Cassandra, O’ Connor seems always doomed to tell the truth, and never be believed.

Monica Lewinsky on her knees in the Oval Office, the slut. Never mind that she was 22, he was the most powerful man in the world, and that the power imbalance in their relationship was eye-wateringly uneven.

Monica was to blame for

Clinton’s infidelity, or wait, maybe it was Hillary who was responsible for failing to keep her man satisfied? So many women to vilify, so little time!

Then there was Amy Winehouse, cast as a pathetic addict rather than a tortured artist like Cobain or Jim Morrison before her.

Hunted to death by a ravenous media while the rest of us watched for sport, dressing up as her for Halloween in beehives and blood soaked ballet pumps.

Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, Whitney Houston — as Sady Doyle posits in her book Trainwreck, we appear to have a voracious need to make an example of women who step out of line.

In today’s civilised society, we no longer burn these witches at the stake, no, instead we publicly humiliate them, publish photos of them at their most vulnerable, write salacious opinion editorials about how ‘crazy’ they are; how desperate, how needy, how no man will ever love them.

And let that be a lesson to any young woman watching.

See what happens when you break the rules? See what happens when you dare to put your head above the parapet? Just be a good girl.

Keep your legs crossed and your mouth shut. Know your place.

I want to tell you that this is nonsense, designed to keep us in our place.

There are still far too many glass ceilings to be shattered; still so much work to be done to achieve true equality.

And I’m calling on you now, all of you difficult women, all of you women who have been made to feel as if you are ‘too much’; I am calling on you to rise up and speak out and to demand to have your voices heard.

I am calling on you to take up more space in the world, not less because I believe that you are the ones who are going to change the world.

And, just remember, my friends — well behaved women never made history.

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