"My Husband is Not Secretary of State, I Am."

What Women Really Think
Aug. 11 2009 7:20 AM

"My Husband is Not Secretary of State, I Am."

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At an event on Monday in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, a young man asked Hillary Clinton what "Mr. Clinton" thought about a potential loan from China to the financially strapped country. She paused, amazed, and replied: "You want me to tell you what my husband thinks? My husband is not secretary of state, I am. If you want my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. I am not going to be channeling my husband.''

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My first thought upon seeing the clip of the exchange was, of course, good for you, Mrs. Clinton. As Jezebel pointed out , part of the reason she's visiting the country is to address the rape epidemic that's not unrelated to the country's systemic misogyny. And while her answer might not have been diplomatic in the strictest definition of the word, anything a bit more tactful would've given the impression that she's willing to look ever so slightly the other way at those values so at odds with what she's working for.

But my second thought was: that poor guy. Yes, his question was appallingly condescending. But I also get the feeling that just maybe Hillary's been waiting for someone to be that baldly patriarchal so she could swat him down with righteous rage. I imagine she's been hearing more subtle, cloaked versions of the "But what does Bill think about the issue?" question for just about as long as they've been married. She's probably wanted to answer all of them with the bluntness she displayed there, but it's much harder to do when the question is asked in a roundabout way. So the Congolese questioner got to be the stand-in for every guy (or woman) at a Washington cocktail party or Little Rock fundraiser who made her feel like an appendage.

All of which brings me back to Anne's criticism of Bob Herbert's "America is saturated with misogyny" column . As she points out, any "soft" sexism or glass ceilings we might notice here are negligible compared to hard crimes and institutional barriers elsewhere. Sure. And yes, we have our third female secretary of state currently serving. But the sharpness with which Madame Secretary answered that question on Monday demonstrated that its impossible (and maybe not desirable) to completely divorce our relatively harmless version of homegrown misogyny from the "real" kind elsewhere.

Photograph of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by Louise Redvers/AFP/Getty Images.

Noreen Malone is a senior editor at New York magazine.