I was reminded of Price Waterhouse and the more general ailment it signifies when reading this editorial by Margaret M. Russell and Stephanie M. Wildman. They are answering the charge that women supporting Obama represents a sort of betrayal of the sisterhood, and point out some reason why women might legitimately prefer Obama over Clinton. One passage stuck out at me, though:
We value his explicit and repeated emphasis on the language of diplomacy to solve problems, including his own; conversely, Clinton’s threat to “totally obliterate” Iran, as well as her metaphors of Rocky Balboa and boxing gloves, leave us cold.
I find this distressing, because it seems clear to me that Clinton has been pressured into adopting these tropes specifically because she's female. Certainly, the "man card" form of identity politics is nothing new in American elections, but there's a reason that Clinton is not the one challenging it, just as there's a reason Nixon was the one to go to China and not LBJ. I'd love to push political deliberation beyond the current "who can down more shots at the bar" standard, but Clinton can't press the issue too much because she's a woman -- she's ultimately the target that these patriarchal norms are designed to suppress. A male candidate might be able to effectively critique these norms from the inside, because his success would performatively indicate that men can still succeed under the new regime. A female critique directly threatens the male privilege these norms are supposed to protect, making backlash inevitable. Hence, women trying to succeed in a patriarchal world often times are forced to prove they are "one of the guys", rather than demonstrate that things can go just as well even if she remains proudly a gal.
In such a world, criticizing Clinton for adapting the classical male tropes that we typically demand our politicians adhere to represents one of the key enforcement mechanisms of sexism. It's like when Barack Obama was being indicted for not being enough of a "fighter" -- he has to adopt the soaring, conciliatory posture that he does because if he shows the slightest bit of passion he immediately will be cast as the "angry Black man." At that point, criticizing him for being not-John-Edwards enough totally misses how racism operates in public context. Likewise with Clinton. That patriarchal structure forces her into postures that are not to our preference is not a fair indictment of her -- it blames the victim for the crimes of the perpetrator.