Modern candidates and their interviewers -- male and female, male and male, female and female, gay and gay, and not sure -- hug each other with abandon in the mandatory post-modern protocol. Touchy-feely doesn't project innuendo as it once did. "We're all French now," one wag puts it, watching American men and women greet each other with a kiss for both cheeks. Fuzzy, if not necessarily warm.
Candidates always have to play against stereotype, and the assumptions over appropriate gender roles challenge public perceptions. How these assumptions play out tells us how the candidates see their strengths. The Clintons are the quintessential "two-career couple" in public, reinforcing each other's persona, but in private it's hard to imagine how that works. It's the aging feminists, armed with experience and resignation, who accept Hillary's domestic compromises to keep the family hearth habitable. The younger women despise the compromises, contemptuous of Hillary for making them. No one has to ask who wears the pants suit
When one of the ladies on "The View" asked Barack Obama whether his wife Michelle would sit in on Cabinet meetings and lace their pillow talk with advice on policy, he replied that their children are her first priority and she holds no political ambition. If she becomes the first lady, she will devote her public time to encouraging the creation of happy, healthy families. With her Ivy League education and Harvard law degree, she's fully as formally educated as Hillary and Obama, but there will be no offer to "buy one, get one free." The Obamas hold to the old-fashioned, time-honored, ordering of roles now.
The body language of dealing with the opposite sex is easier for Obama than for Hillary. He can embrace; she's constrained in straight laces. He's sexy and she can't be; she can only complain of being bullied by the big boys.
Sexual politics, like sex and politics, is about power relations and relationships. It's all about who's on top.
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