Editor’s Note: Peggy Drexler is the author of “Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family” and “Raising Boys Without Men.” The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.
Hillary Clinton has changed her Twitter bio. It may not seem like major news, and yet it bears some significance.
What used to read “Wife, mom, grandma, women+kids advocate, FLOTUS, Senator, SecState, hair icon, pantsuit aficionado, 2016 presidential candidate” now reads “2016 Democratic Nominee, SecState, Senator, hair icon. Mom, Wife, Grandma x2, lawyer, advocate, fan of walks in the woods & standing up for our democracy.”
The personal descriptors have moved to the middle of the pack, replaced by the professional ones. What prompted the change? A little bit of peer pressure to bow to one woman’s interpretation of feminism, evidently – a move that was unnecessary at best, a mistake at worst.
Here’s what happened: Last month, Clinton and Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie took the stage together at the PEN World Voices literary festival in New York City. The event was billed as a “conversation between two of the world’s strongest advocates for women and girls with unique insights into how we can imagine a better future.” And Adichie, whose best-selling book, “We Should All Be Feminists,” won a National Book Critics Circle Award, took Clinton to task for what she deemed the former Secretary of State’s anti-feminist Twitter bio.
“In your Twitter account, the first word that describes you is wife,” said Adichie. “…And when I saw that, I have to confess that I felt just a little bit upset.”
Her comments seemed to give Clinton pause. “When you put it that way…” she said.
And now she’s made good on that concession, editing the bio to shuffle “wife, mom, and grandma” to follow “2016 Democratic Nominee, SecState,” etc. – also notably moving “wife” after “mom.”
But should Clinton have caved to this pressure?
Adichie’s point is well-taken – Clinton is certainly more than just a wife. But we know this, and Clinton knows this. The previous version may have listed wife as the first of Clinton’s many impressive titles. But it was Adichie’s choice to read that placement as an indication that Clinton assigned “wife” the most significance, and it was Adichie’s inherent bias to assume she knew how Clinton defined herself based on a social media biography.
Though, for argument’s sake, let’s say Clinton does first and foremost identify as a wife. So what? Isn’t the whole purpose of feminism to allow women to define themselves however they choose?
The fact is, Clinton is a wife – and there’s nothing wrong with that. For many women, being wives are important parts of their identities. By Adichie deciding to imbue that word, or the role, with lesser meaning, she is effectively disempowering those women.
By assuming that identifying as “wife” is an abdication of power, she is giving power to that assumption. Think about it: Defining oneself as a “friend” doesn’t automatically render the other friend in the relationship as more important, does it? So why would Clinton defining herself as “wife” be evidence of her handing her power to her husband?
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Adichie has done a great deal for the conversation around feminism and gender equity, and this misstep doesn’t take away from those strides. Feminism is nuanced, and in talking about those nuances we are better equipped to understand them.
But a misstep it most certainly was, because it acknowledges neither those nuances nor the individuality of women. In fact, what Adichie has shown here is that she believes she has the right to weigh in on how other women should define themselves, which, of course, she doesn’t. Not if she chooses to identify herself as a feminist, anyway.
Because nuanced or not, feminism is not about separating women from men. It’s about celebrating the many ways womanhood can look. It’s about giving women the power and the freedom to be who they want to be.