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The Nonsensical Sexism of the “Grandma Hillary” Storyline

Old Mother Hubbard

On Thursday afternoon, a thirty-four-year-old woman announced that she and her husband were expecting their first child. Which is great news for them. But did you also know that this is the most significant political story of the century, dramatically affecting the 2016 United States presidential election and the course of history forevermore? If so, then shame on you! Because, reader, you must have not been following The Narrative.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, for example, explained to the public yesterday afternoon that the news of this woman being with-child “stepped on” President Obama’s announcement that 8 million Americans have purchased insurance under the Affordable Care Act’s health exchanges. (Cillizza is notoriously unaware that, as a prominent newsman at the capital’s flagship outlet, he actually has some discretion in prioritizing news developments and crafting narratives. These things don’t just “happen.”)

CNN’s Candy Crowley was similarly breathless at the news, as though risking her life to relay word of a Japanese attack from an enflamed communications outpost in Pearl Harbor:

Why all the commotion, you ask? Because this is one highly political bay-bay, of course! If Hillary Clinton is going to be a grandmother now, how could she still manage to run for president of the United States?

USA Today noted the unmistakable cloud this pregnancy puts over the race for the White House: “It’s unclear how Chelsea’s pregnancy will affect Hillary Clinton, who is considering a race for president in 2016.” But that line was modest compared to the reliably insane Politico, which went deep on how Chelsea Clinton’s child affects grandmother Clinton’s “thinking”—with the classic No one wants to speculate . . . but let’s go ahead and speculate take:

Clinton friends and allies were loath to speculate Thursday on whether her family news might affect her thinking on 2016. That would be crass and inappropriate under the circumstances, even more so than the usual will-she-or-won’t-she punditry doled out regularly by a vast constellation of Democratic operatives and Clinton administration alumni.

Yet for months—at least—many in the extended Clinton political orbit have also shared the view that Chelsea Clinton’s family status would weigh on her mother’s 2016 calculus in one way or another.

On the one hand, the armchair thinking goes, having a grandchild may make the Iowa State Fair a less appealing place to spend the summer of 2015. Why beg donors for money at dozens of events a month when there’s a happy baby to spend time with in New York?

On the other hand, a grandchild could also heighten the pull of history for Clinton—the sense that she owes it to the daughters of future generations to walk the rest of the path toward becoming the most powerful woman in history.

Maybe it will affect her thinking. But maybe it’s also not that important a factor? It’s certainly not brought up as a major factor when other candidates with grandchildren are discussed. Hillary Clinton’s would-be chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Joe Biden, has five grandchildren, and you don’t hear much about how that weighs on his mind when he’s considering another run. Similarly, Mitt Romney has so many grandchildren that he can’t even keep track of the number: is it twenty-two, or twenty-three? Something like that. And I don’t recall reading many headlines asking, “WILL MITT’S NEARLY TWO DOZEN GRANDCHILDREN KILL HIS PRESIDENTIAL AMBITIONS?” during the 2012 election cycle.

At least Drudge Report proprietor Matt Drudge doesn’t mess around with implicit gender-based double standards—he’s just out-and-out sexist. His link to the story of Chelsea’s pregnancy is written as “GRANDMA HILLARY,” under to a very intentionally chosen photo of Hillary Clinton’s now-wrinkling face.

Old Mother Hubbard

Not pictured: Hillary Clinton.
Via public domain.

When a male presidential candidate has grandchildren, it is seen as a sign of strength, statesmanship, and power. His large family is a sign of his august seed, which he has passed on to a generation of virile sons, who have then fired off straight-swimmers into the most fertile of women, producing a vast estate over which noble Grandfather lords as patriarch.

When it’s Hillary Clinton—well, that’s a different story. Now that she’s going to be a grandmother, isn’t she required to spend the rest of her days being a lil’ old lady living in a shoe, knitting scarves and making meatloaves? Goodness, how would she even find the time to be president when there are babies around? And how would she be able to navigate the hectic schedule of the campaign trail in her advanced, grandmotherly state? It’s hard to move around and shake all those hands when you’re leaning on a walker, which will be automatically issued to her when she becomes a grandmother. And what if her aides forget to bring along her oversized granny glasses? She won’t even be able to see!

The truth is, all candidates necessarily think about their families when they’re deciding whether or not to run. But, sorry folks, there’s nothing about Hillary Clinton’s family situation that merits the special scrutiny.