LOS ANGELES – So now she’s an old hag.
I can’t tell you how many emails/articles/postings I noted this week aimed at taking Hillary apart, not because of her positions on the issues, not because of her integrity or electability or even her ambition, which is what I used to complain about, but because she is, supposedly, looking old and unattractive.
Seasons greetings. Sexism season, I mean.
Anyone who’s ever spent time on the campaign trail knows, as Dr. Howard Dean emphasized four years ago, that it’s lousy for your health. Ask Rudy about that. When I did it 20 years ago, I felt older than I do right now. And looked worse.
Anyone who’s ever covered a candidate knows that someone whose picture gets taken about a hundred times a day looks good in some, great in a few, and less good in more than one. When things are going well, they run the picture of the candidate looking buoyant, smiling broadly, on top of the world. When things are going less well, or the person doing the piece is on the attack, you get the one with the deep lines, long face, wrinkled clothes, the look of the loser.
All the anti-Hillary books have the ugly Hillary on the cover; for my book, I used one that people accused me of photoshopping (I didn’t). Same person.
That the good pictures, and the bad, could have been taken hours or at most days apart, and generally reflect nothing more than the trials of the trail, is intentionally lost in the reality that a picture is worth a thousand words, even when it isn’t.
So how is Hillary doing? Or rather, how is she looking?
Has she started aging badly in the last two weeks?
Is 60 suddenly too old to be president? Since when?
I’ve been canvassing the pictures and they’re a mixed bag. In some of them she looks composed and cheerful, in some of them she looks determined and fired up, and in some of them she looks, well, tired. And her age.
Which is most certainly not too old to be president, or almost anything else, even a mother if you’re willing to go to the extremes of fertility treatment.
So why the hag attack? Ronald Reagan never got called a hag, even when he was more than a decade older than she was, and forgetting the sort of details that Hillary is usually criticized for remembering?
She needs Nancy Pelosi’s botox doc, noted one of the nastier messages I got, forwarding one of the nastier articles. Does she? When the first woman Speaker took over nearly two years ago, there were almost as many articles about her impeccable looks and style -- read, her unlined skin and Armani’s -- as there were about her platform and policies. Actually, the platforms on her shoes got as much attention as the ones she stood for.
In the case of Pelosi, who for the record is older than Hillary, the line was that she looked too good, cared too much, tried too hard; that she should look her age, not a decade or two younger, and dress less well, not like a woman on top of the world. Imagine: just because she was.
Those who have covered women candidates, or covered the coverage of them, know well the importance of such things as clothes and lipstick, and the disproportionate attention given to how a woman looks, compared to all those middle aged guys in rumpled suits. But the issue of aging takes it to a new level.
We live in a society in which men and women are viewed very differently when it comes to aging. We’re accustomed to thinking of men in their fifties and sixties as being at the top of their game and on top of the world, oftentimes with women half their ages on their arms. We’re accustomed to thinking of women that age as being old, done, past their prime. The boon in the anti-aging business, focused heavily on women, the success of books like Nora Ephron’s, about the lengths she has gone to in dealing with her neck, reflect the ambivalence many women struggle with when it comes to aging gracefully.
Does aging gracefully mean you look your age or you don’t, that you embrace your maturity, and everything that comes with it, or judge yourself and your peers by the difference between how old we are and how old we look? Not easy, in a world where men with grey hair do better, in everything, than similarly coiffed women do.
I’ve long believed that, whether you agree with her on the issues or not, the Hillary Clinton candidacy is a test of more than her positions and qualifications for the presidency. It’s also a measure of how our society, the media included, judges women, especially women who are smart, ambitious, and over 45.
If she’s an old hag, there are a lot of us around. If we start seeing our fate as tied to hers, whether we’re the ones tying it together or not, it just might be enough to propel her to victory. Hags for Hillary. Why not? Happy holidays.
Susan Estrich is the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California. She was Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the first woman President of the Harvard Law Review. She is a columnist for Creators Syndicate and has written for USA Today and the Los Angeles Times.
Estrich's books include the just published “Soulless,” “The Case for Hillary Clinton,” “How to Get Into Law School,” “Sex & Power,” “Real Rape,” “Getting Away with Murder: How Politics Is Destroying the Criminal Justice System” and "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women.”
She served as campaign manager for Michael Dukakis' presidential bid, becoming the first woman to head a U.S. presidential campaign. Estrich appears regularly on the FOX News Channel, in addition to writing the “Blue Streak” column for FOXNews.com.