Good Diplomacy Dismissed as "Clinton's a Bitch"

Yesterday, in the Congolese capital of Kinshasa, on a stop which is part of an 11-day, multi-state tour of Africa, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was asked by a Congolese student, "what does Mr. Clinton think, through the mouth of Mrs. Clinton" about a Congolese-Chinese trade deal, to which Secretary Clinton tersely responded: "Wait, you want me to tell you what my husband thinks? My husband is not the Secretary of State. I am. So you ask my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I'm not going to be channeling my husband."

Later came reports that the question had been lost in translation, and the student approached Clinton after the event to explain he'd intended to ask what President Obama thought about the trade deal, not former President Clinton: "A senior Clinton aide said that Mrs. Clinton assured the student not to worry about it." (The State Department has not yet "reviewed recordings of the original question, in French, to learn whether the student clearly intended the question to refer to Obama, not former President Clinton.")

Cue the news reports about how Hillary can't escape Bill's long shadow, how she lost her temper, how her composed veneer "cracked", how she "bristled", how she "lost it", got snippy, snapped, was "visibly angry".

Nowhere in these reports will you read that Clinton's terse response was the appropriate diplomatic response to the question as posed to her.

The question, as asked, was a deeply misogynist one. It disrespected Clinton as the United States Secretary of State, and it disrespected her as a person, specifically because she's a woman. What does your husband think? You are merely the wife of an important man.

This is not an attitude that should be encouraged or even tolerated with a clenched-tooth smile. It is a dangerous, pernicious attitude that keeps women oppressed all over the world—including in Congo, where deeply sexist attitudes underlie an appalling rape epidemic, prompting Clinton to pledge to prioritize the prevention of sexual violence in the US peacekeeping efforts in Congo, noting the institutional corruption anti-rape advocates are up against in the country: "We have to speak out against the impunity of those in positions of authority who either commit these crimes or condone them. There are even some cases of these terrible crimes committed by members of the Congolese military." Assistant Secretary of State P.J. Crowley notes:
"The secretary of state is going to Goma Tuesday, to draw attention to the plight of women who are victims of rape as a weapon of war [in Congo]… If Africa, if Congo is going to advance, women have to play a more significant role. She was in the setting of a town hall, and the questioner was interested in what two men thought, not the secretary of state."
Indeed. With that backdrop as a setting, Clinton's response to the question as asked was not only entirely appropriate, but excellent diplomacy on behalf on Congolese women.

Unless Americans believe our Secretary of State should be exporting the ideal of demurring to avoid hurting men's feelings, instead of exporting the ideal that institutional inequality is fundamentally unacceptable, there's no reason why her response should be remotely controversial. She should be praised for behaving like a woman who has an unyielding belief in equality; instead she is being scolded like a bad little girl by the national media.

Remember that next time someone wonders if feminism is really necessary in America anymore.

And, you know, it's bad enough that Clinton's unapologetic insistence on being respected as a person and a Secretary of State is being treated like something about which she ought to be embarrassed, but even worse is the utter disregard for why such a posture is important in a place with a rape epidemic. Our nation should be proud of our Secretary of State for that moment. Our nation should be pleased that we have a Secretary of State who stands up for what's right.

Instead, we mock her—and she will probably be forced to publicly apologize, for asserting her equality on an international stage.

[Also see BTD's Patriarchy.]

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