Susan Bordo’s response to Hillary Clinton’s unimaginable defeat at the hands of Donald Trump reads like a bystander’s account of a train crash or bomb explosion. In the wake of the unexpected, and what feels like destruction, how can the exact cause of the catastrophe be explained?
Bordo takes rapid stock of the situation — completing the book’s epilogue the day after Trump’s inauguration — to explain how the highly-qualified Presidential candidate had her reputation systematically dismantled.
Gender is one obvious factor that impacted upon how Clinton’s achievements and experience were degraded. Bordo calls her “a living Rorschach test of people’s nightmare images of female power”. While the viciousness of the diatribe ramped up from her 2008 campaign (exhortations to “Make Me A Sandwich” transformed into putting “the bitch in jail”), the role of sexism was roundly denied from all sides of politics.
As in the case of former Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard, to pinpoint the operation of sexism on how Clinton was being judged was labelled as “playing the woman card”. Frustratingly, this was not solely confined to conservative men, with many young women considering “women’s issues passé”. The construction of Clinton as part of the white, privileged “establishment” meant any notion of “sisterhood” was abandoned in favour of support for Bernie Sanders.
Bordo’s claim, however, is that sexism alone was not the explanation for Clinton’s defeat. She sketches a picture of a woman who could have sprung from the pages of “a gruesomely illustrated version of a Grimm’s fairy tale”.
It is this “caricature” of Clinton, “forged out of the stew of unexamined sexism, unprincipled partisanship, irresponsible politics, and a mass media too absorbed in ‘optics’ to pay enough attention to separating facts from rumors, lies, and speculation”, who lost the election. Trump, she claims, did not beat a “real person at all”.
To chart the mythological processes that created the imaginary, villainous Hillary, Bordo begins by examining the concessions she had to make from the moment her “radical feminism” was seen to have cost her husband, Bill Clinton, the election for governor of Arkansas in 1980. Some of Sanders’ supporters questioned her progressive credentials. Why did Hillary Rodham eventually adopt her husband’s surname and make other concessions to playing the role of supporting wife (including wearing make-up).
Women of the Baby boomer generation, like Bordo, generally appreciate the contradictions and barriers implicit in the movement from the ideal of the “happy homemaker” to the “liberated woman” that occurred during their youth. As Bordo puts it, the girls of her generation shared the experience of growing up in a period
within which one cultural notion of what was required of girls was supplanted, virtually overnight, by another.
Clinton is of the first generation of women for whom becoming a lawyer, let alone a President, was roundly possible. How easily have we culturally dismissed the fact that this process of change from the “happy homemaker” ideal is still in progress, with lingering expectations of how women should ideally behave in conflict with the qualities we expect of (male) leaders.
As Bordo points out, the demands on women who have a public profile are significantly different, “physically and emotionally”, to those for men. In a crucial moment during her 2008 presidential campaign, Clinton’s “warm tears” during a public appearance conveyed just “the right degree of feminine vulnerability, ‘softness,’ and ‘accessibility’” without compromising expectations of competence and strength.
Female politicians are locked in a tussle between competing ideals. Yet they are also critiqued for displaying the same behaviours that are acceptable in men. While Sanders could “bellow” at rallies as a sign of political passion, women who speak loudly “raise the spectre of a punishing mommy”.
People from both sides of politics attempted to explain that the problem with Hillary was not that she was a woman. It was simply that she was the wrong kind of woman, unlike Elizabeth Warren. Yet in 2014, as Bordo shows, a Times/CBS News poll found that 82% of Democrats supported Clinton above Warren and Joe Biden. Even Ohio voters placed Clinton above the six likely Republican candidates in a Quinnipiac poll.
There was a clear difference in perceptions of Hillary as Secretary of State who left office with a 69% approval rating, and Hillary as an actual contender for the leader of the United States. Bordo explains how her term as Secretary of State was soon recast and distilled into “‘Benghazi’ and then ‘the email scandals’”.
Most significantly, this account situates the reworking of Hillary’s achievements and minor errors into the devious schemes of a fairy-tale witch alongside the bizarre forgiveness of Trump for much greater crimes.
Even the force of more than a dozen women alleging that Trump sexually harassed them could not eclipse the manufactured outrage over Clinton’s legal use of a private email server.
The false picture of who Clinton was, aided by the mainstream media, convinced almost five million Obama voters not to vote at all or to vote for someone else other than Clinton.
Bordo’s explanation for how these voters — not misogynists, not automatic Trump voters — came to see “elitist”, “corporate whore” Hillary as unsupportable is important for us all to digest, especially if we ever hope to see a woman lead the United States.
If we continue to accept black-and-white characterisations of powerful women as wicked, then we might be waiting a very long time.
What are people looking for when they browse the State Library of NSW’s collection of six million items?
There are books in there, of course, but also photographs, soldiers diaries from World War One, locks of childrens’ hair, a vast array of paintings and sketches, maps, diaries from First Fleet officers and soldiers, Aboriginal artefacts and even floppy disks from the 1980s.
As winners of the inaugural DX Lab Fellowship at the State Library of NSW, we wanted to reveal the breadth and diversity of this collection (most of which is held in the library’s underground stacks), and show what odd and interesting items pop up when people search the collection online.
The result is Unstacked, launched this week by the library’s DX Lab, Australia’s first cultural-heritage innovation lab. DX Lab aims to build and support new ways of design thinking, experimentation and research with digital technologies.
So what is Unstacked? It is a webpage that updates to show what items people are accessing from the State Library of NSW’s collection. When people look at a collection item, it pops up on Unstacked. It is essentially a window into the collection, and an insight into what people are interested in at any given time.
Unstacked because it presents in a visual form items which are physically or digitally coming delivered from “the stacks”; the underground space where the library stores holds much of their collection.
You can view Unstacked on your computer, mobile phone or device. The plan is to display this project over a large space in the library for everyone to see. We’ve found that when it is shown in a public space, it provokes conversation and this was one of our aims.
What are people searching for?
The work reveals that the library’s users have very different interests and this highlights the diversity of the collection.
People use the library for all types of research. On any given day you might see searches ranging from Shakespeare, the psychology of teenagers or HSC papers to subdivision plans, kisses, houses in Lilyfield in the 1970s, or mosquito management.
For example, if you were looking at Unstacked when someone accessed a photograph of colonial houses from the collection, then you would see that photograph appear.
If you were interested in finding out more about this photograph then you could enlarge it and see more details. You could then click on the link to its record in the library’s online catalogue.
You may well see this photograph displayed alongside a book on The History of the Bean Bag, war diaries or Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. It depends on what other people are looking at, at that moment.
And because people access the collection chiefly through the library’s web-based catalogue, the search queries displaying on Unstacked could be coming from anywhere – in the library, in regional NSW or on the other side of the world.
Visualising the searches
In respect to design, we wanted to showcase items with minimal fuss and let the contents of the collection speak for themselves. We thought a lot about how much information to show and when to show it.
In consultation with the library, we settled on a visualisation that balances communication and aesthetics. In other words, it looks good but is still easy for anyone to understand what they’re looking at. One of the challenges we encountered was how to deal with items from the collection that don’t have images attached to their records.
For published items including books, we used a palette of colours created by Chris Gaul for the UTS Library, which represent the different Dewey Decimal topics. For example, blue represents social sciences and orange represents geography and history.
We’ve had responses like “I had no idea the State Library of NSW had things like that” and “I’m going to look that up too”. People have been surprised by just how interesting and diverse the State Library’s collection is. They’re also amazed that anyone undertaking research can go into the library and look at the originals whether they be rare books, photographs or drawings.
We hope that Unstacked will increase the number of visits to the library both virtual and physical and inspire people to explore the State Library of NSW’s incredible collection.
This article was co-authored by Adam Hinshaw, a creative technologist specialising in interactive installation and a co-creator of Unstacked.
The link below is to an article that looks a little more on the decline of ebook sales in the United Kingdom, as reported in a post on this Blog yesterday.
Ebooks sales are in decline, or that is what many would have us believe. I don’t know that I believe that at this stage. In all markets, sales go up and down and I think it far too early to call this a trend. None-the-less, the links below are to two articles that look at the decline in ebook sales in the United Kingdom.
For more visit: