Of Iron Butterflies and Bridge Women

In a way, I'm going to miss her.

Like Richard Nixon before her, we won't have Hillary Clinton to kick around anymore. Our national walking Rorschach test is going home to lick her wounds and think about how close she came.

Don't get me wrong. I'm glad Clinton lost the nomination. This is a woman who voted for the Patriot Act, voted to go to war in Iraq, voted for the bankruptcy bill, voted for a Constitutional amendment against flag burning and then -- in a shining moment of cowardice and complicity, voted to go to war with Iran.

This is the woman who, along with her husband and an exalted sense of entitlement, treated the Democratic Party as a personal lap dog.

This is the woman who became the defense industry's favorite candidate. For someone running on change, look at her team of advisors. No, she lost for good reasons, even if she won't admit it.

Maybe the old-school starry-eyed feminists who believed that women would be kinder, gentler, softer, more nurturing leaders are going to be upset. But one look into the beady eyes of Margaret Thatcher should have ended that fantasy many years ago.

Still, the penis-vs.-vagina conflict played a huge part in this campaign. Like Thatcher, who picked a war with some tiny hard-to-find islands off the coast of Argentina to show how macho she could be, Clinton clung to the old "If I don't vote for this, I'll look soft on defense and Republicans will attack me" train of thought.

At a historical moment when most Americans want nothing more than to get out of Iraq and end the country's confrontational us-against-the-world stance, Clinton, by trying to appear "strong," appeared warlike. Embracing the Bush-Cheney conservatism that have come close to destroying the country made her tone deaf to the moment. She deserved to fail.

But we also owe Clinton a huge debt of gratitude. Her accomplishments this year have been revelatory.

For one thing, her awesome grit and determination has provided a model for women that will last us for many years to come.

Then, by coming so close to the nomination -- 1,923 delegates out of a needed 2,118! -- she showed that women must be taken seriously as presidential candidates. And that women can raise big money, too.

Every so often, her charm, her presence, her wit, her laughter (and maybe, too, her infrequent tears) showed us how graceful a woman can be under pressure.

We must also thank Clinton for becoming the point person for chauvinism. She drew out all the sniper fire. She revealed the sexists for who and what they are.

Now that we've seen how ugly it can get, many women hope Clinton will be a leader in working to obliterate sexism. As Anna Holmes, editor of the blog site Jezebel, said in The New York Times on Sunday, "If she can't break the country's highest glass ceiling this election season, the least she can do is take a good hard crack at other ones."

Back in the 1970s, in the early days of second wave feminism, I floated the idea that certain women seemed to fall into the category of "iron butterflies." These women, of all races and nationalities, were attractive -- sometimes astoundingly so -- and competent, but they lusted for real political power in patriarchal societies that denied it to them.

Instead, they used their charms to identify and marry powerful men; they became powers behind the throne. Mao Zedong's wife, actress Jiang Qing, was a good example. So was beauty queen Imelda Marcos and dance hall girl Eva Peron. I also put the matriarch Barbara Bush into that category. Clinton, who started out as an iron butterfly -- a woman who married the most alpha male she could find and rode him all the way to two terms in the White House -- has broken the stereotype.

When I was wrestling with my personal Obama-or-Clinton decision a few months ago, I realized that Clinton was not an iron butterfly but a "bridge woman." By virtue of her age, she was torn between her desire to marry or to become the man she wanted to marry.

With too much talent to remain an iron butterfly for long, she did both. Although in the beginning, her Fifties instincts told her to stand by her man, her deeper self, when freed of the White House, turned her into a very credible two-term senator for the state of New York and then a serious presidential candidate.

Maybe Clinton should have dumped her cheating husband back in 1992. Maybe she would have had the career she was meant to have, as one of the brightest young lawyers of her generation. Maybe she would have become a presidential candidate on her own. Maybe she wouldn't have been tied down by old-school conventions; maybe she would have even won.

What now? Clinton as vice president? No, wouldn't that still put her in the position of standing by her man, even if the man is Barack instead of Bill?

Instead, Mr. Obama, put her on the U.S. Supreme Court. She can fight for women's rights from there, and it will be nice to see Scalia, Roberts, Thomas and Kennedy choking on their right-wing bile.

A collection of Joyce Marcel's columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through joycemarcel.com. Write her at joycemarcel@yahoo.com.

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