Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
October 4, 2007

AdDressing Willy

Bill-Clinton-First-Lady

I’m a little confused by the two articles in the new New York speculating on the “possible look” of a Clinton II White House.

According to Ariel Levy, we’ve entered the era of post-feminism in which America is ready to elect a “first couple.”  If that is the case, however, and it was Hillary who successfully erased the traditional script of what defined a political wife and spouse, then I don’t see the constructive logic of this photo-illustration.

But then, Jennifer Senior, in the lead article, takes almost the opposition position, projecting how the gender roles of the Former and Mrs. President Clinton (or the Former and Mrs. President Clinton, or President Clinton and Mr. Clinton) would, in fact, be turned “upside down.”

She writes:

One could even go as far as to say that Bill Clinton is already leading the life of an ideal First Lady. His foundation focuses on just the type of causes associated with presidents’ wives—fighting childhood obesity, urban renewal, stemming the spread of poverty and aids—and his most recent book, Giving, about the virtues and pleasures of philanthropy, is a First Lady topic if ever there was one. Certainly, as a candidate’s spouse, Bill is doing a better job at lending a traditional feel to Hillary’s campaign than she ever did to his (or Judith does to Rudolph Giuliani’s, for that matter, or Elizabeth Edwards does to John’s, or Michelle Obama does to Barack’s). Like campaign wives of yore, his approval ratings are considerably higher than hers, and one of his many functions on the trail is to blunt her corrugated edges. In his afterlife, Bill Clinton has become nonpolarizing, almost benign; if you look at recent photographs, you’ll notice he’s almost always off to the side, hands clasped behind his back, head tilted in the traditional posture of feminine fascination, looking on as someone else speaks.

Carl Jung theorized that people don’t become whole until they’ve had a chance to express both the masculine and feminine parts of themselves. And maybe that’s what we’ve been witnessing in the Clintons for the last seven years. Hillary has stopped baking cookies and joined the Armed Services Committee. And Bill, as he notes in his introduction to Giving, got out of the “getting business” of politics and into the nurturing business of philanthropy. “My wife,” he writes, “was my first role model for what it means to be a public servant without public office.”

Of course, this kind of passage makes Bubba’s treatment a bit more understandable.

Still though, I’m suspicious, and I can think of at least one other reason why Bill has been so emasculated.  On the second page of the article, there is a giant pull-out quote that reads, in this approximate type size:

“He understands that

he can’t wander

the West

Wing willy-nilly,”


says Mike McCurry.

“If he were here a lot, there’d

be some kind of

speculation, always, about the

role he’s playing.”

Actually, the really strange thing about the Senior article is how intensely it advocates for keeping Bill Clinton almost constantly on the road during a Hillary administration.  And not just away, but far away — preferably (I’m not kidding) in Africa.

So, coming around again, what if New York Magazine — taking into consideration what a puritanical culture we live in, not to mention how spinelessly undefended the Democratic party tends to be — is simply trying to inoculate the country (and the Clinton campaign?) against any lingering and polarizing concerns with Bill Clinton’s sexuality?

After all, what better way to defend against the specter of Bill wandering the West Wing with his willy (suddenly slipping back into the “getting” business) than to give him a sex change?

Your read?

(photo-illustration: Darrow.  New York.  October 8, 2007)

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