Thursday, March 08, 2007

How Slate Celebrates the International Women's Day

Elsewhere the attention is aimed at reducing wartime violence against women and girls who are not participants in the wars. But on Slate we get an article on what Hillary Clinton and Katie Couric could learn from each other to somehow become more acceptable to those who don't like powerful women:

No one has ever accused Hillary Clinton of being too perky or showing too much leg. Even so, the presidential candidate could learn a lot from Katie Couric. The bright-eyed former morning-show host made her debut as the anchor of the third-place CBS Evening News on Sept. 5, when she took over for Bob Schieffer, and Dan Rather before him, and Walter Cronkite before them. Her tenure has been a bumpy one and in that, a useful test of the public's willingness to accept a woman as a figure of national and international prominence.

Television news anchor and president of the United States aren't such different jobs, after all, and not just because until now they've been the exclusive province of old white men. These are the people who tell us what's happening in the world, what it means, and what we're going to do about it. They must be calm, personable, and handsome under lights. Diplomacy, intelligence, and genuine leadership abilities a plus.

It's not simply that both jobs are traditionally male. It's that both demand a certain stage presence—an intangible sense of authority, divorced from direct, measurable accomplishment. Ideally, an anchor serves as a kind of chief executive of his or her broadcast, prioritizing news stories on-air and leading a corps of reporters and producers behind the scenes. He or she is also the public face of a network, acting as an ambassador to advertisers, viewers, and affiliates. These people—like voters—have an instinct about who should be telling them the news of the day: what that person should look like and how his or her (which is to say, his) voice should sound. Couric's rocky start can illuminate two questions for Clinton: how we'll handle a woman with such authority and how a woman who wants such authority should handle herself.

Of course, the two women come at these jobs with very different liabilities: Katie seems too soft, Hillary too brittle. But they've both staked claims in the same middle ground, taking pains to appear strong but not mannish, ballsy yet maternal. Both are bottle blondes (perhaps in an effort to mute their tough streaks). Both have gone on "listening tours" around the country, have undergone ambitious style makeovers, have opened their private lives to public scrutiny. And Couric and Clinton also share the occasional counsel of Matthew Hiltzik, a major New York City publicist who specializes in managing the public images of powerful and difficult women. (Despite these efforts, Couric and Clinton still ruffle feathers: Both are subjects of unauthorized biographies by Ed Klein, neither our era's greatest feminist nor our greatest historian, but a man with good taste in material.)

I thought I was joking when I told someone that the next two years will be all about Hillary Clinton's wardrobe choices and why she is too little or too much a woman. But I wasn't joking. And the proper response to a country which doesn't like women in power is to try another color of lipstick or a different feminine emotion. Ok.
Link from Evan Derkacz.