The Subtle Sexism Of the Hillary Clinton Retirement

So we all know Hillary Clinton is planning to leave her current post as Secretary of State now that President Obama has won a second term. Her days flying all over the world in a cargo plane and texting are grueling and she needs to leave to totally plan her presidential campaign spend time stateside. Cabinet secretaries often bail on their posts during a second term. It’s common and understood.

But since Hillary Clinton is a high-profile woman her retirement is going to get the subtly sexist treatment. In the New York Times, Gail Collins details Clinton’s interest in just doing nothing while watching home decorating shows. I don’t think Collins is trying to further the idea that women are ultimately obsessed with lounging around the house watching reality shows. According to the story, Hillary actually raised the subject of doing nothing for the next year. She is, after all, a human being and probably does enjoy just watching reality television. In this way, Collins is just writing a human interest story faithfully recording Clinton’s own statements.

The home/public sphere dichotomy that marks sexism is on full display here as the media laps up the answer to the question “what does Hillary Clinton do in ‘her’ domain at home?”┬áBut Defense Secretary Leon Panetta is also likely retiring soon — where’s the softball story about how he plans to watch Springer? If a journalist brought it up, Panetta would probably explain his retirement plans.┬áThe fact is that no one would even write that story because Leon Panetta is a serious government leader and people don’t really care about his non-professional life. And our acceptance of this story and failure to question the absence of the corresponding Panetta story just reinforces the problem.

It’s a fine story, and I’m just as interested in Hillary’s retirement plans as the next person. But sometimes sexism — like that old cliche about jazz that “it’s about the notes you don’t play” — is more about the articles you don’t write.

1 comment for “The Subtle Sexism Of the Hillary Clinton Retirement

  1. Liberal Observer
    November 12, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    This argument has merit but I’m not sure I buy this. Hillary Clinton is a beloved public figure whose personal life is well-understood by the American public in a way that few other public figures’ is outside the president; in no way is she analogous to Leon Panetta. That definitely accounts for the interest in her home life.

    Think of it this way: If Labor Secretary Hilda Solis told a reporter she wanted to retire and crochet lace doilies, would anyone care enough to report it? Meanwhile, if Bill Clinton let slip to a reporter that he just wanted to sit at home, eat a Big Mac and watch The Price Is Right, wouldn’t every late-night host joke about it?

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