Hillary’s “Sex” Appeal
To understand what I am calling Hillary’s “sex appeal,” it is necessary to go back to JFK and his appeal, as understood then. His “sex appeal” was “strength,” “power,” “masculinity,” “virility,” all of which was necessary to offset the imagined and prevailing “feminized and infantilized” culture of the United States. JFK represented “a third way,” located between a “politically emasculated” – read “bureaucratized” - business and/or entrepreneurial class and sentimentalized left-wingers. Both what was called “momism” and “organizational men” were sapping America’s strength, her vitality, thereby undermining the nation’s ability to confront and defeat the USSR and worldwide communism.
Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., the in-house historian of Camelot, characterized the Soviet threat as follows: “By the early 60s the Soviet Union . . . [would] have a superiority in the thrust of its missiles and in the penetration of outer space.” Due to its superior thrust, the Soviet Union would be able to penetrate deeper than the United States. For Schlesinger, the Soviet threat could be sexualized, as confirmed by his characterization of the age as so “sexually ambiguous . . . that homosexuality [was] enjoying a cultural boom new in our history.” For Schlesinger and others, even Betty Friedan of The Feminine Mystique, women were causing or reflected debilitating effects – e.g., consumerism or “momism” – that were sapping the nation’s vitality or virility. For Schlesinger, “women [were] aggressive, seizing new domains, while men [were] on the defensive . . . hardly able to hold their own.” [Schlesinger, “The Crisis of American Masculinity”]
So, what does this have to do with Hillary and her appeal? Quite simply put, Hillary “the phenomenon” reassures us that aggressive women, women not suffering from what Friedan called “the problem with no name,” will not, when once in power, undermine the virility, the masculinity needed to ensure the nation’s security, its greatness. Rule by this woman, “Hillary,” reassures us, that her election need not lead to either the “feminization” or the “momism” of society.
And as seems clear, very few take Hillary to be either feminine or a mom, nor is this how she presents herself. It is not even clear that many see Hillary as sexual, perhaps in part because of her spouse’s dalliances. But this is all good insofar as we need reassurances as a people that the virility of our leaders is uncompromised, and Hillary, as unfeminine, as un-momlike, as asexual, provides such reassurance. Although it is difficult for us - and for others - to separate female sexuality from femininity and motherhood, Hillary seems, ala’ Elizabeth I or Margaret Thatcher, to transcend the dichotomy, widely assumed to be unbridgeable, of manly strength or feminized weakness.
This may help explain why Hillary’s appeal to young[er] women is not as strong as her appeal to old[er] women. Young[er] women want to be sexually appealing, at least in part because they are not yet married or mothers. Sexual ambiguity of the kind Hillary projects is not high on the social agendas of the young, either men or women. For young[er] women, feminism devoid of femininity is less desirable because it makes them less desirable. They might “ban their bras” but they do so for very different reasons than those women who did so in the 60s. Young[er] women are attracted to masculinity displayed, i.e., masculinity as virility, potency, as “thrust” and “penetration.” Old[er] women, not so much.
More generally, reports are available about how Hillary’s female supporters seem more “lukewarm” than, say, those supporting Trump. Trump, of course, has done little to downplay his or others’ sexuality, even to the point of behaving like an adolescent male, both with regard to Megyn Kelly and “little Marco.” Hillary, as sexually ambiguous, cannot generate the “body heat” Trump does. In this sense, Hillary is a “thoroughly modern Millie,” while Trump is the “traditional male.”
Can this modern woman prevail in a race for the White House, a largely traditional “place” and office? Of course, winning such a race will depend on much more than the sexual politics at play here. But it might behoove a modern woman to be aware – and to beware – of the controversial character of her persona as a modern woman, especially when confronting someone like Trump, who is more than willing to employ traditional taunts. It is more difficult for a man, any man, to successfully challenge a feminized woman, a mom, than to challenge a feminist. One way to defend against such attacks is to disguise one’s modernity, to present it in traditional garb. And, who knows, such a “disguise” just might be an improvement over the alternative.