During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, Saturday Night Live's political commentary was at its sharpest, thanks in no small part to Tina Fey's now-legendary impression of Sarah "I can see Russia from my house!" Palin.

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Opinion

During the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, Saturday Night Live's political commentary was at its sharpest, thanks in no small part to Tina Fey's now-legendary impression of Sarah "I can see Russia from my house!" Palin.

But Amy Poehler's turn as former first lady and then-potential-presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton -- played often as a glowering foil to Fey's bubbly Palin -- is worth equal praise. As she recounts in her new book, Yes Please, Poehler played Clinton as a "highly focused and slightly angry woman who was tired of being the smartest person in the room."

Poehler's impression is notable not only for its humour, but for its kindness. Finally, here was Clinton being portrayed, albeit humorously, as the smartest person in the room as opposed to a shrill, emasculating harpy in a boxy, sexless pantsuit -- an image carefully crafted by her critics who focused on her shoe choices instead of her abilities.

But Clinton, who is in Winnipeg today giving a keynote address at the RBC Convention Centre, has proved time and time again she isn't one to be underestimated. Long before Julianna Margulies was winning awards for her role as Alicia Florrick, Hillary Clinton was the original Good Wife. We've seen her evolve from the humiliated first lady who stood by her man into a political force. In 2000, she became the first woman (and first first lady) elected to the U.S. Senate from New York and served as U.S. Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013 after her historic run for president in 2008.

Though it hasn't been made official, all signs are pointing to Clinton running again in 2016 -- and she may well add another first to her list: that of first female U.S. president.

Indeed, a win for Clinton would be a where-were-you-when moment for the books; I still get goosebumps thinking of U.S. President Barack Obama's history-making victory in 2008. Already, hopeful people have put together Internet memes; a popular one features Clinton imagined as Rosie the Riveter. A poster designed by the Ready for Hillary PAC boasts a black-and-white shot of Clinton in glamorous, don't-mess-with-me sunglasses, emblazoned with the hot-pink, one-word hashtag: #ready. (The imagery is apt. There's no denying her star power; many of my girlfriends were buzzing about today's keynote.)

I know I'm #ready. And I think Clinton is #ready. I'm eager to see what she'll do this time around. And I want her to do well because, selfishly, I want to see a female U.S. president in my lifetime. As Chloe Angyal poignantly wrote, "I will envy the little girls being born on that day, who will grow up having never known a world in which the United States hasn't had a female president."

Representation and visibility matters; if you can see it, you can be it. That's one of the things that has always irked me about the portrayal of women in White House dramas. Although, Alfre Woodard in State of Affairs is a great president, and she's a woman of colour no less, it's not nearly enough. I tried watching Madam Secretary, but kept having the same niggling thought: "Why isn't Tea Leoni's character the president?" And no knocks against Martin Sheen, but I often felt the same way about The West Wing's inimitable C.J. Cregg, the White House press secretary-cum-feminist hero played to perfection by Allison Janney.

And if popular culture isn't ready for a fictional female U.S. president, what does that say about our readiness for a real female U.S. president? Like Angyal, I also find myself bracing for the inevitable backlash that will accompany Clinton's 2016 campaign, should she roll one out. "If she wins, we can expect that misogyny to persist and to pervade not just the way the new president is assessed and discussed, but the way women everywhere are assessed and discussed." After all, as Angyal also points out, Obama's win serves as proof positive "a trailblazing campaign and a historic win do not translate into instant social change."

Of course, Clinton is not above criticism; she needs to be accountable to her public and American voters need assurance she is the right person for the job. But wouldn't it be something to see her smash that particular glass ceiling -- and have her policy, and not her pantsuits, assessed and discussed?

 

Jen Zoratti is a Free Press columnist who writes about women and popular culture. She is the founder of the blog SCREAMING IN ALL CAPS: another feminist response to popular culture. Her column appears here every other Wednesday.

jen.zoratti@freepress.mb.ca

Jen Zoratti

Jen Zoratti
Columnist

Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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