Film and Book Reviews

'I couldn't be anything other than what I was'

Television Four-part docu-series Hillary reviewed

By Beryl Rule

October 9 2020Hillary Rodham Clinton, asked what message she would like on her tombstone, replied, “She’s neither as good nor as bad as some people say about her.” Nanette Burstein’s four-part documentary shows that it was a discerning comment as well as a witty quip.

Hillary has been deemed cold, calculating and untrustworthy. But although she certainly made mistakes, she comes across in this series as strong, intelligent, passionate and frank, retaining in her 70s the vibrant energy which carried her through two presidential campaigns.

She grew up in a conservative Methodist family, with a Republican-voting father. Her school teachers were the only women she knew who had professions. Boys were always elected to leadership positions at high school, and when Hillary stood for class president in her senior year, she recalls wryly that the boy who beat her for the position at once passed all the work over for her to do. 

She was to encounter gender prejudice throughout her public life. 

When, along with hundreds of men, she and 27 other women sat the Law School exam at Harvard, they were harassed and asked what they were doing there.

One young man told her that if she was accepted she would be depriving him of a place, and would be to blame if he was sent to Vietnam and killed.

She and Bill Clinton met and fell in love at Yale, and after graduation she gave up a promising position in Washington to marry him and live and work in his beloved Arkansas. She became the first woman employed by a Mississippi law firm, and some judges did not want to have her in their court. However, one was welcoming. He asked her to stand to and turn around so everyone could see how pretty she looked!

When Bill became governor in 1975, his working wife did not fit Arkansas’ First Lady expectations. Hillary was also criticised for her hairstyle, clothes, make-up, and the fact that she had not taken her husband’s name.

It was all “painful and annoying and outraging”, but she finally compromised and became Hillary Clinton, when Bill was standing for re-election and she felt she was hurting his chances.

During Bill Clinton’s first presidential campaign, Hillary made an off-the-cuff statement that lost her a lot of female support. She could have been “a stay at home mom and baked cookies”, she said, but she had qualified as a lawyer and that was what she wanted to do. To “stay at home moms” it sounded condescending and belittling. But maybe after years of experiencing condescension and belittling herself, she momentarily lost patience.

Whether you like her or love her, watching Hillary certainly gives a fascinating insight into the woman who looks back at the many roles she has played and says firmly, “I couldn’t be anything other than what I was.”

Hillary can be viewed on SBS On Demand.