By Morenike Taire
When, in 2016, Hilary Clinton lost in the presidential elections of the United States, I wept. It had nothing to do with her opponent or her credentials- not in the usual way; but simply because, in my view, she was far too invested and had made too many sacrifices to have that exalted job slip through her fingers when it mattered the most.
In 1998, long before the #MeToo age, the entire world was entertained by the goings on surrounding what had been known as the details of the Monica Lewinsky affair. What the world saw was the United States making a complete fuss over what everyone else regarded as a mere ‘locker room’ phenomenon. Bill Clinton, her president, had been extraordinarily successful as far as the rest of the world was concerned. He was good looking; he was powerful. He had a million women salivating over him. Who could really blame the poor man if he helped himself to one or three of them?
What America saw was different. She saw a threat to an institution- the greatest one in the land. She saw the man that held the most highly exalted position in the land caught not only abusing power but also lying under oath about it. The moral aspect- the adultery- was the least of his sins.
In all this, the world played guessing games regarding what the reaction of the FLOTUS, as Mrs. Clinton had been then, would be at the conclusion of the sordid affair. Most people were shocked that she did nothing.
In Africa, we had thought that tolerating randy men in and out of power was our thing; that she would hire a very good lawyer who would secure for her a clean divorce and plenty of cash. But the feminist community soon formulated a theory explaining away her attitude: Hilary Clinton had her career all planned out. She would be a lawmaker, then a mayor, probably, then POTUS. Nothing- not even a naughty husband, would be allowed to derail her.
It was five years before the release of Nigerian American author Chimamanda Adichie’s first published novel, Purple Hibiscus; a superbly crafted tale detailing the insidious nature of the devastation that domestic violence brings on people and families. It was subtle, it was simple, and it was real.
It was years before Adichie’s politics took preeminence over her art, the expression of the former by the author not being to the taste of many, on account of its extremism.
There is nothing extreme, however, about Hilary Clinton’s public persona, and her fluidity more than anything else may have cost her the presidency she had craved so badly. So careful are her views on civil matters that like our own President Mohammadu Buhari, she belongs to everyone and to no one.
In fact, she is the pet peeve of many extremists and feminists who watched as she continued to treat her political opponent with respect even as she warned against his sexists tendencies in the course of the presidential campaign. Still it came as a surprise to many that of all the people who disparage Hilary, it would be Adichie, who has chosen to wear her feminism not as a fact of life but as a badge of honour- as though it were something she earned.
In many ways Mrs. Clinton is more of a stereotypical African woman than the far younger, far less experienced and far less accomplished Adichie. She keeps her eye on the cookie, but in a manner so subtle that she rarely offends. She is even mannered and polite and most importantly, she has enough native intelligence to know that family must be seen as being the most important thing of all. According to her female aides, Hilary is as critical of other women as Adichie is, but she would not be in-your-face about it. One of her more popular quotes goes thus: If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle.Hilary knows how to use her femininity to her advantage.
Our Chimamanda, on the other hand, has pandered so much to sentiments she considers popular to her marketable audience that she has stopped caring what her unmarketable audience thinks or feels. It was to the former that she was pandering when at a PEN event in New York City last week, Adichie challenged Hilary Clinton’s twitter profile which defined her as “Wife, mom, grandma, women+kids advocate, FLOTUS, Senator, SecState, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, 2016 presidential candidate”.
The backlash will be felt more by Adichie than by other genuine feminists. One of the greatest insidious problems that confront the modern woman and society in general is the belittling of women’s work in the home and family, a situation that has resulted in the fracture of the moral fibre of society. That Adichie does not know this is befuddling, and it can only be hoped that the one good thing to come out of this would be women’s reassessment of themselves, their roles in society and the things that bring fulfillment at the end of the day.