Brand building through storytelling

The Hillary I’ll be watching


hillary cover

I seldom buy magazines anymore, but I couldn’t pass up last week’s New York. It lured me at the newsstand with no popping colours, no stacked boldface coverlines, just the face of a woman roughly my age, shot at such close range that I could see every fold around her eyes. She looked both familiar and arrestingly new, both battered and triumphant. There she was at last, the Hillary Clinton I’d been waiting for. A superstar, the cover said in a master stroke of counterintuitive copywriting. But I bought the magazine for what Hillary’s eyes were saying: Okay, so I won’t be president in 2008. But I know my own powers as never before. What next?

I was hoping to vote for Hillary Clinton—by absentee ballot, as I do every year from my home in Toronto. Unlike Canadian elections, in which I cast my vote with a sense of civic duty, American presidential races never fail to stir my emotions. The wrong Canadian prime minister is a letdown, while the wrong American president is a world catastrophe.

This particular American election has aroused, perplexed and enthralled me like no other. Other Americans (and Canadians, for that matter) could say as much. Yet for me the fascination is unnervingly personal. As an American daughter of the baby boom, I grew up watching housedress-clad women push vacuum cleaners while men drove off to their jobs in the wide world of achievement. On TV, I saw attack dogs and fire hoses trained on Black students who simply wanted the same educational opportunities as their white peers. My teachers insisted we were lucky to live in the land of the free and the home of the brave. How could I believe them? My teachers, all women, would never be principal.

I couldn’t conceive of an election in which the contest between a woman and a Black would transfix the whole country (I remember when southern Blacks were risking their lives just by registering to vote). On one level, I’m awestruck to have seen the day. Yet I also feel challenged by the sheer act of witnessing the race between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

I have always seen Hillary as the more convincing candidate—not because she’s a woman, or even because she’s “experienced,” as her supporters have tiresomely put it. Of her party’s two greatly gifted front-runners, she strikes me as the one more rigorously tested by life. She’s scrappy, seasoned and incredibly determined, as all prominent women of her generation (and mine) have had to be in order to scale the barriers in their path.

She reminds me of women I’ve known at the top of corporate life—the much-heralded “role models” who steel themselves every morning for a world in which they’re still viewed as interlopers. The Hillary I’ve watched until now had the same defensive look, and this always troubled me. In 2008, a woman still needs the armour of a rigid suit chosen for its supposed inoffensiveness. I didn’t want to face the truth. Even more unsettling was the impossible standard that still confronts women leaders. When Hillary cried in New Hampshire, her detractors cast her as a stereotypical female manipulator. Yet when she stayed in the race until the very last minute, she was portrayed as selfish and divisive—both deadly sins for a woman (we’re supposed to excel at sacrifice and conciliation).

Sometimes I seethed at the unfairness of it all. And yet, in spite of myself, I didn’t much care for Hillary. She disappointed me. The underlying disappointment, of course, was that we’re not yet as modern as we think we are.

Hillary is poised to start turning that around. She has become in defeat the woman she could not be while her victory seemed inevitable, or at least dimly conceivable—a woman freely and fully herself while stretching the bounds of possibility before the assembled cameras of the entire world.

There must have been moments when she asked herself, “What if the worst happens?” Well, now she knows, and it must be a relief. She has always been aware of the visceral, irrational hatred she inspired in her enemies. The new, liberating discovery is the passionate loyalty she has won among her formidable coalition of fans. I hope, for her sake and Barack Obama’s, that she will not be on the ticket as vice-president. She has more interesting places to go. I look forward to watching her journey.

Click here to read New York‘s enlightening and provocative cover package on Hillary Clinton.

Posted by Rona

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