Ms. Dyson looked at her husband, then turned back to the camera with a coy smile. “We have separate cars,” she said with the crisp finality of a bedroom door slamming shut.
“This is the best reality show in town!” declared Meghan Daum, the novelist, feminist and Los Angeles Times columnist, addressing how Ugly Hillary and Obamaville have stepped in to fill the television dramas zapped by the Writers’ Guild strike. She said she was still sorting through a pile of e-mails received in response to a Jan. 12 column that satirically suggested that Mrs. Clinton follow the man-trapping guide The Rules if she wants to win voters’ sympathy. She had intended the column to poke at the way women’s desire gets policed—the way they’re not supposed to “want it.” Readers pounced. “Every time I write about Hillary, people go crazy,” Ms. Daum said.
“The emotions just run so high.”
How to explain the way men, in particular, react to Mrs. Clinton: suddenly irrational, wildly gesticulating, a bit…high-pitched?
Dr. Susan Jaffe, a psychoanalyst and psychiatrist with an office in midtown Manhattan, thinks some are clearly confused by Mrs. Clinton’s shawls-and-pantsuits persona. “She might be seen as a phallic woman, because she needs to be strong and to stand up for herself and obviously to stand up for everyone else,” Dr. Jaffe said. “That can be very threatening to some men, and when men feel threatened, sometimes they worry about being castrated.”
Yet men are not the only ones who feel threatened by the figure of Mrs. Clinton. Susan Morrison, an editor at The New Yorker (and former editor in chief of this publication), recently published an anthology of pieces by women writers, Thirty Ways of Looking at Hillary (Harper, $23.95), largely inspired by her perception that women often have an even thornier relationship to Mrs. Clinton than men.
“Anytime I went to a cocktail party or a dinner party, the conversation somehow got around to Hillary and the volume was just raised,” Ms. Morrison said. “People got contentious about her and waved wine glasses around. She pushes a greater variety and more complicated set of buttons in women than she does in men.”
Susan Cheever, a novelist and contributor to Ms. Morrison’s book, suggested that Mrs. Clinton has roused the feminist movement from the comfortable slumber in which it’s been languishing since the 1970s. “If there’s contention around her, it’s coming from that hidden injustice that we don’t even talk about,” Ms. Cheever said
Daphne Merkin, a literary critic who wrote an essay called “The Ballad of Bill and Hill” for Ms. Morrison’s book, often finds herself defending Mrs. Clinton to female friends that support Mr. Obama. “I thought her appeal would be to an older generation of women, women of 50. Women who would think, ‘Oh, here we come, what we’ve worked for all these years. Here it is,’” she said. “Instead they kind of pull back and feel that this is not the kind of woman that they wanted to be represented by. There’s a sense that she represents only one side of women, like the side that women wear pants. … In some ways, women are holding her accountable to aspects of the female personality that are stereotypical. We like her, yes, but we’d like her more if she wore a more flattering wardrobe. We’d like her more if she emoted more.”
For all this, it’s worth noting that Mrs. Clinton’s two biggest primary victories, those in New Hampshire and then Nevada, came with a sudden surge of sisterly support. And some voters have managed to turn the strange intensity of this campaign season into a bonding experience.
Sarah Fisher, 29, organizes the New York Hillary Rodham Clinton Meetup Group. She fell for Mrs. Clinton about two years ago, after reading her memoirs about those difficult Bill years, and she coos admiringly whenever she talks about her. “I couldn’t imagine being betrayed by someone you loved so much but still be able to get up and be able to get to work every day,” she gushed. “God, the strength of this woman is just incredible.”
Ms. Fisher has managed to avoid politically heated brawls among her close friends and family members. “My fiancé just happens to support Hillary, too,” she said.
Meanwhile, in a handsome brownstone on East 61st Street, literary couple Gay and Nan Talese have been enjoying their own kind of shalom beit thanks to Mrs. Clinton’s main Democratic rival. “Were all for Barack Obama,” said Mr. Talese, who is 75. “It could be that people who’ve been around marriage a long time—and have been around Hillary, in a way, a long time—don’t have the clash that might be in the younger couple. It’s just not an issue in conflict.”
The writer was careful to point out that his support of Mr. Obama comes from his desire to fulfill the delayed promise of the 1960’s civil rights movement, and doesn’t make him Hillary-hostile. Same for his wife.
“She’s the one that’s been to those little fancy lunches that women of power have, if not of color, and she even bid on Hillary’s book a couple of times,” he said. “She didn’t get it, but she’s disposed towards Hillary Clinton and probably would vote for her. Except she ain’t.”