Hillary Clinton has been described as many things: ambitious, cold, inauthentic, calculated, crooked, a hero and a radical feminist, just to name a few. Some of these images have been crafted by speculations in the media, some are opinions of Clinton’s sworn enemies and some are opinions of her biggest supporters.
In a new Hulu docuseries rightfully titled "Hillary," director Nanette Burstein takes viewers through the complete history of Hillary Rodham Clinton, from her conservative roots in the suburbs of Chicago to the national stage in the 2016 election. Her story is broken into four hour-long episodes, in which Clinton shows the world not her polished political personality, but all the sides of her true identity.
“Alright, so we wanna hear your story, unvarnished, beginning to end,” Burstein says at the beginning of the first episode.
Clinton reveals her methodist upbringing, the discovery of her liberal ideals and her time as a student, a lawyer, a first lady, a senator and a presidential candidate. It’s difficult to boil down years of experience, scandal and leadership, so here are a few highlights from a story that’s equally tragic and triumphant.
Before her time
In the interview, Clinton recalls running for student body president of her high school, losing to a male peer and still being left with all the work. She later recounts her interest in the Civil Rights movement in the ʼ60s and her radical and newsworthy Wellesley graduation speech.
“I’ve always thought of Hillary as, sort of, ahead of her time and never quite of her time,” Amy Chozick, a reporter from The New York Times, said.
Young women in 2020 probably aren’t familiar with the young Clinton with long hair and glasses who attended a predominately male Yale Law School and led the fight for women’s and children’s access to education and healthcare. Her no-makeup, hippie aesthetics are almost unrecognizable in the pantsuit-wearing presidential candidate of recent years.
“There was no question that Hillary and I were part of the second wave of feminism,” Nancy Gertner, a former U.S. federal judge and one of Clinton’s classmates at Yale, said. “There was no way to be in Yale Law School at that time and not be.”
Clinton was constantly the butt of inappropriate jokes and the subject of public scrutiny based on her image, attitude and ideology. It’s painful to watch her muscle through every accusation and heckler as a first lady and then as a candidate.
“I can’t remember any first lady who’s been assaulted the way she was,” David Gergen, counselor to former president Bill Clinton, said.
Hillary made history yet again for her “radical feminism” when she gave a speech at the United Nations women’s conference in September 1995.
“Let it be that human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights,” Hillary said.
Those words forever changed the definition of human rights and contributed to the ammunition of the 21st-century women’s rights movement. Watching her lay the groundwork for battles that are still going on today is awe-inspiring. Hillary serves as a reminder to feminists today that the work isn’t easy, but it’s worth it.
A love story
One element of Hillary’s life that this series brings to the fore is her private emotions surrounding her marriage to Bill and the scandals that engulfed their relationship. Before the affairs and sexual assault allegations, Bill and Hillary fell madly in love with each other.
“She had a certain aura about her,” Bill said. “I thought, boy, there’s somebody that’s special.”
Bill proposed to Hillary after graduating from college, but they didn’t become engaged until they were living together in Arkansas, where he began his political career and she pursued a career in law. After decades of marriage, their dedication to each other came into question on a grand scale during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
“The fact that she stayed in her marriage would come up as a reason why people didn’t like her or that it proved all she cared about was ambition,” Jennifer Palmieri, Hillary’s communications director said. “It haunts her in a way that she can never get out from under.”
No matter the pain she felt behind closed doors, she put on a brave face and did what many women could never imagine. The way the public and the media let her personal decisions affect their opinion of her seemed unfair, but it rings true to the scrutiny women are still facing.
“I was so grateful that she thought we still had enough to stick it out,” Bill said. “God knows the burden she paid for that.”
An impossible image
From the moment Hillary became the first lady of Arkansas, she was told she didn’t fulfill the prescribed idea of a proper first lady.
“My bluntness, my outspokenness, my pushback — all of that creates cognitive dissonance in people because I came to national public attention as, quote, a first lady,” Hillary said. “And there is a set of expectations about a first lady, and I violated them from the very beginning.”
In many eye-opening clips, Hillary says her behavior was a reflection of what she needed to do to survive in a man’s world. She often compartmentalized her feelings to deal with the discrimination and claims made against her character.
“There was this stereotype manufactured years ago, and that became the myth about her being cold and calculating and, ‘How could anyone love her?’” Hillary’s childhood friend Betsey Ebeling said. “They dehumanized her.”
Especially in her bid against President Donald Trump, Hillary walked a thin line between being determined enough to garner votes while not being so angry as to be called a raging feminist.
“It was like Goldilocks,” Hillary said. “Be strong, but not too strong. Be assertive, but not too assertive. All the stuff we live with today.”
Looking back, it’s upsetting to see that the unconventional methods of assessment placed on her as a female candidate may have led to her ultimate demise.
“People would always say to me, ‘I want to vote for a woman, just not that woman,’” Chozick said.
The first female president?
If going to Yale Law School and becoming a practicing lawyer wasn’t enough hard work, she continued to crack the glass ceiling on a national scale.
“When folks talk about a revolution, the revolution is electing the first woman president of the United States,” Debbie Stabenow, a Michigan senator, said at one of Hillary’s presidential campaign rallies.
Hillary was the first woman to ever win the primary election for any major political party.
“I was just on the brink of tears,” Hillary said. “I thought, ‘Wow, this is more than I could have ever imagined.’”
The footage from rallies and debates during the 2016 campaign cycle brought back the shock of some of the comments that were made between Trump and Hillary. One clip shows Trump at a rally saying that the only thing Hillary had going for her was her identity as a woman and, he claimed that women didn’t even like her.
“The other day, Mr. Trump accused me of playing the quote, ‘women card,’” Hillary said in response to Trump’s allegations. “Well, if fighting for women’s healthcare and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the ‘woman card,’ then deal me in.”
Americans watched from afar as Hillary fended off Trump’s negativity, offensive comments and, often-times, creepy behavior.
“To take on this bully, this nasty bully and to stand up to him, he really was disoriented,” Mandy Grunwald, Hillary’s media consultant, said. “It was great.”
Unlike Hillary’s ecstatic campaign team backstage after the last debate, viewers know the outcome of that election. But, that doesn’t make it any less upsetting to see the tears roll down women’s faces in the crowd during Hillary’s concession speech.
“There were people crying on the sidewalks. There were people holding their children up,” she said. “It was just like a death. That’s the only way to describe it.”
In the end, her heartbreaking defeat, as well as her preceding successes and failures in the public eye, paved the way for women like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar to break into the political sphere.
“I don’t know that we’re ever ready for the person who has to blaze the trail,” Cheryl Mills, lawyer and counselor to Bill, said. “We’re ready for the people who come after them.”
Hillary’s work and leadership will forever go down in history as actions that hurdled women through the glass ceiling and landed them on equal ground with men they were told they could never overthrow.
“I’ve loved and been loved, and all the rest is background music,” Hillary said.
Contact Ryann Sheehy at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.