A guest essay by Mark D. Gearan, president of Hobart and William Smith Colleges, appeared in Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle on Wednesday, June 25. In the editorial, Gearan examines the media coverage of Sen. Hillary Clinton’s campaign and expresses disappointment at the messages sent by the press to young girls and minorities when they refer to her image as “androgynous.” “What was the headline writer saying?” asks Gearan of the Associated Press article headline “Finally free from pressure, Clinton lets loose. She drops her androgynous image to revel in how far women have come.” “It made me think about the remarkable effort Clinton waged and the challenges she faced with the media and the American public seemingly unable to put her historic bid for the White House into some context.” The former director of the Peace Corps, Gearan served in the White House as Assistant to the President and Director of Communications, as well as Deputy Chief of Staff, during President Bill Clinton’s administration. Gearan and his family have hosted the Clintons at Hobart and William Colleges several times and both Sen. Clinton and President Clinton have held public forums at HWS. In 2000, Sen. Clinton was the first speaker in the President’s Forum lecture series initiated by Gearan. The complete essay appears below.
Democrat and Chronicle “Praise Clinton, Obama for overcoming” Mark Gearan • Guest essayist • June 25, 2008 If anyone ever doubted the challenge Sen. Hillary Clinton faced as a woman seeking the presidency, one need only look to a recent headline on a story covering the end of her campaign. The political tombstone on the final coverage of her historic bid for the White House and the suspension of her campaign when she endorsed Sen. Barack Obama read: “Finally free from pressure, Clinton lets loose. She drops her androgynous image to revel in how far women have come” (The Associated Press, June 8) Androgynous image? What was the headline writer saying? Was it the now famous pantsuit she brought into fashion? Did the writer view the prospect of a female commander-in-chief as so gender-bending that he (she?) put this descriptive into 16-point type? Perhaps it was the editor’s inability to imagine a woman dealing with the economy, gas prices, the housing crisis or the environment? Or was it the fact that a woman successfully competing in a heretofore male endeavor of running for president was so, well, androgynous? It made me think about the remarkable effort Clinton waged and the challenges she faced with the media and the American public seemingly unable to put her historic bid for the White House into some context. “Iron my shirt” read a poster at an event; “cackle” was the description of her laugh; “she devil” said one cable news anchor. In observing all of this, it must be stated that Obama faced his own set of challenges with his barrier-breaking bid for the Oval Office. Scurrilous use of images and rumors questioning his faith, patriotism and heritage were profoundly unjust. Sen. Clinton’s campaign and magnificent speech ending her campaign showed the country what was possible. Eighteen million voters agreed, and I had thought that long-held gender limits were coming down. As a reader, I was disappointed that the editors missed a truly historic moment and, rather than fairly reporting the events, chose to send a less-than-subtle message to young girls. But as a citizen, I am proud of our democratic system that allowed for 54 spirited contests, 22 substantive debates and millions of citizens involved. And as a father of two girls, I am grateful to Clinton and Obama for showing them and other young Americans what is possible with hard work, integrity and commitment. In upstate New York, we are privileged to be surrounded by a proud history. From Elizabeth Cady Stanton in Seneca Falls to Harriet Tubman in Auburn to Frederick Douglass in Rochester — we know the progress that has been achieved in the past century. Sadly, the headline and the perspective it represents proved yet another reminder of the work ahead for real, meaningful inclusion. Gearan is president, Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, Ontario County. He formerly headed the Peace Corps and served in President Bill Clinton’s administration.