three — admitted to feeling “so overwhelmed by my mother’s answer that I’m a bit out of words. I’m just so proud to be her daughter.” “I must say that Chelsea has always been and continues to be such an enormous support to me,” murmurs Clinton, when I bring this up, “and I’m so incredibly proud to be her mother. Now that we’re able to share the joy of her children, my grandchildren, and I can see her as a mother herself...” The line goes silent; Clinton, for one rare moment, is lost for words. “I’m so grateful for that.” Meanwhile, her husband’s gratitude that she decided ‘to stick it out’ is enough to make him tear up in the documentary: “God knows the burden she paid for that.” It’s a burden Clinton won’t play down. And that in itself has been used as a stick to beat her with over the years. When running for Senator from New York — a position she served in from 2001 to 2009 — Clinton tells me she remembers “all these women saying, ‘How could she [have stuck by him]?’” In the run-up to her presidential bid, her team would hear the same sentiment — “I can’t support her because she didn’t do what I would have done” — echoed time and time again, often followed by: “But if Bill Clinton ever ran again, I’d vote for him.” It didn’t seem to matter that, although once a teenage Republican (Clinton’s father was a tobacco-chewing Republican, her mother a Democrat), her motivations and dedication to issues such as women’s rights had been unwavering. That the commencement speech she made as a 21-year-old Wellesley College student in 1969 — a speech that ended up being excerpted in Life magazine and becoming her “first brush with notoriety and fame” — proved her to be as confident and galvanising a public speaker then as she is now. Or that as First Lady, a 47-year-old Clinton defied both internal administration pressure and external pressure from the Chinese to soften a 1995 speech made at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, in which she popularised a refrain that hardly seems provocative today: “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” “It’s the fact that she’s always played ‘the woman card’,” explains a female friend when I tell her I’m about to interview Clinton, “when we’ve all had to deal with the same obstacles.” Have we? It’s easy to forget how quickly things have changed. I doubt that any successful lawyer today would be told by a judge in court: “You look so pretty. Stand up and show us how pretty you look today — just turn around,” as Clinton recalls in Hillary. Or that the words she uttered during the Democratic primaries in 1992, defending herself against accusations that some of her legal work was a conflict of interest while her husband was Governor of Arkansas, would now be branded ‘the biggest gaffe’ of any woman’s career: “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas.” Indeed in 2016, Beyoncé reclaimed those words to rapturous applause at a concert in support of Clinton’s campaign. Mentioning the concert, in which Beyoncé performed surrounded by back-up dancers in pantsuits and the ‘baked cookies’ quote appeared on a screen, prompts hysterical laughter from Clinton. “One of my very close friends Cheryl [Mills, Clinton’s former aide] says that I’m basically the tip of the spear in lots of ways, and I do recognise that,” she assures me. “But when Beyoncé did that, I thought: wow. Even if it didn’t work out for me in terms of getting as high as I wanted to go, I’ve had such a fascinating, rich life. I’ve been at the forefront of so much change and I’ve seen the positive shifts. So if there is some young girl out there who can learn something and be inspired, then it was all worth it.” So much has changed and yet so little. And when I tell Clinton about the campaign mounted at my daughter’s LA preschool to have the first female crossing guard (or ‘lollipop lady’) removed, because the school mums didn’t feel it was ‘safe’ — and how to me that summed up her country’s cultural issues with the idea of a female president — she groans. “Oh boy. Sadly, that doesn’t surprise me. I see this in so many different formations.” The most glaring of those is surely that despite being so progressive in other ways, America doesn’t yet seem ready for its first female president. Might the country finally be in 2024? “I don’t know,” she says with an audible sigh. “But since [Democratic candidate] Joe Biden has committed to picking a woman for Vice President, perhaps the woman he picks will have proven herself on a big enough stage to be able to start with a much greater base of support for her being a potential President. So it could be in 2024; I’ve got my fingers crossed,” she tells me. “But it is a contradiction, which is why you can’t get your head around it.” That particular contradiction may be all-American, but there are plenty more facing women in public life the world 16 IRISH INDEPENDENT 4 July 2020 Weekend Magazine
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