So why did she choose this path of maximum resistance?
After months of listening to her as she campaigns around New York State, I think the answer is simple: she wanted to use the lessons she learned as the partner of a politician, and to do so in Washington, where she also witnessed the power that even one U.S. senator can have over the issues she cares about. Though her goals have been created by experience and interests that are different from her husband's--her work as a lawyer for the Watergate Committee, a top corporate lawyer, a children's rights advocate, a policy wonk on health care, and an international activist on women's issues--she wants to advance them by using her derived experience in campaigning, building coalitions, dealing with the press, cultivating a thick skin, making Washington work, and other time-honored secrets of getting and using elected power.
This bridging of worlds is a new possibility. Eleanor Roosevelt was an intimate lobbyist with her husband, but not a practitioner of elected power. As for such beneficiaries of derived power as Senator Margaret Chase Smith and Representative Lindy Boggs, they waited for husbands to die before taking over their Congressional seats, thus obeying the rule that in a patriarchy, it's only widows who are honored in authority.
Perhaps these differences are part of the reason that Hillary Clinton is accused of exploiting her wifely position--even by some feminists. They ask, "Why doesn't she stick to her own professional experience? Isn't she setting feminism back by exploiting the power she gained as a wife?"
But those questions betray a double standard. They also ignore the wisdom gained in traditionally female roles. The fact is, the Bush boys would be nowhere without the derived power of their father's presidency; John Glenn used the male-only privilege of being an astronaut to become a U.S. senator; and John McCain went from prisoner of war to the Senate and almost to the White House. Those experiences were far less relevant to the political job at hand than Hillary's eight years in Washington, yet they were highly valued. Meanwhile, such largely female experiences as parenting, teaching, community organizing, and living on welfare have been undervalued as political training grounds. This double standard wouldn't last if it hadn't been internalized by women ourselves. That's one of the reasons for a disheartening fact: female registered voters in New York State are almost equally divided between Hillary Clinton and Rudolph Giuliani. Of course, women are not immune to the law-and-order, wealth-protecting Republican platform, especially because Republican leadership in New York is slightly less bad on gender-gap issues. (For example, the governor and New York City's mayor both oppose the criminalization of abortion.)
Still another reason for some women voter's hesitancy is the anger they feel toward Hillary for remaining married to an unfaithful husband, especially women who themselves have been hurt by faithless men. And then there are the women who have been exposed only to the right-wing image of Hillary.
For all those who don't support her, the bottom-line question is: would you support a male candidate with the same issue positions? If the answer is yes, it's worth rooting out the double standard. Because Hillary Clinton's success as the first crossover candidate would be a landmark for a larger issue: making partnered and other female experience a source of talent, honor, and credit.
Gloria Steinem is a founding editor of "Ms."
Illustration by John Kascht