If Clinton becomes USs first female chairwoman, she wont be the only one breaking a gender obstacle: her husband will step into a role no man has held before

Rolled oats propelled Hillary Clinton to victory in 1992. They were the game-changing ingredient in her recipefor chocolate chip cookies, which she submitted to Family Circle magazine in a bake-off against then-incumbent first lady Barbara Bush.

The bake-off was an attempt to appeal to stay-at-home moms following her controversial response to California governor Jerry Browns criticism that she owed her professional success to her husband, Bill. I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had tea, she told a reporter in a soundbite that was reported around the world. But what I decided to do was fulfill my profession. Many women responded with outrage, and perhaps thats why, shortly thereafter, Clinton participated in the traditional Family Circle first lady bake-off. And won.

Clintons cookies are good: my best friends mom used to make them for her school lunches. No doubt Hillary could have won any number of bake-offs with her recipe, but politics have paid off far more for her: in less than a year, she may be the first female president of the United State. But if that happens, she wont be the only one violating a gender barrier: her husband Bill will step into a role no human has ever held before. So what kind of first lady will Bill Clinton be?( Besides, of course, a manly one ).

The role of first lady is officially unofficial: theres no constitutional requirement that the president have a partner, and the person occupying the role has never received a salary. The task has evolved over the years. In the 18 th and 19 th century, the first lady was primarily expected to be a lovely and capable hostess, just like any spouse of a distinguished, wealthy American man. These women were expected to bake cookies, host teas, select china patterns, manage household staff and smile graciously at fancy dinners. In the 20th century, however, things began to shift, and some first ladies began to dig in to more substantial issues than menus and flower arrangements.

First
First ladies of the United State: Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Eleanor Roosevelt, Florence Harding and Edith Wilson. Photograph: AP

Different girls leveraged the position in different ways: some argue that Lady Bird Johnson was the first to modernize the job when she campaigned on behalf of her husband Lyndon B Johnson in the mid 60 s, but others exerted significant political clout before her. Eleanor Roosevelts run as a novelist, activist, public speaker and social reformer is perhaps most famous. But other notably hard-working first ladies include Florence Harding, wife of Warren G, a passionate suffragette who edited all of her husbands important speeches and pushed hard to influence his appointments.

But when Hillary Clinton moved into the White House in 1993, she was not awarded the same flexibility. As the chair of the Task force on National Health Care reform, she was slammed in the press for stepping beyond the reaches of her role, in spite of her clear qualifications to work on policy: the implication was that she was being unladylike. To many Americans, the revelations about her husbands extramarital sexual proclivities confirmed their notion that Hillary was failing to fulfill the remit of the first lady: to be a pleasant and decorative hostess who represents a traditional and anachronistic household: a man in charge, a faithful and helpful woman by his side( even though a number of other presidents and first dames have also had notable affairs ). Indeed, Clinton blamed the affair in part on herself for failing as a wife.

Michelle Obama also a highly-qualified lawyer, and an expert in health care has, by contrast, taken a less policy-oriented approach to the role. Shes championed family-oriented causes like healthy eating, and maintained her distance from Capitol hill.( In this, she followed more closely the model set by her predecessor Laura Bush, who campaigned for literacy and rarely expressed an opinion .) But Obama has nevertheless been the subject of gendered and racist criticism: of her clothes, of her hair, for being scary, for devoting Queen Elizabeth a hug and for needing to drop a few pounds. Thats a lot to take for a volunteer task.

Ultimately, the base nation of the job of first lady is gendered, a model of wifeliness. The women who have given the role breadth and depth have done so by reimagining or extending the role of a spouse a role that only exists because of a relationship to a husband. What, then, will happen to this anachronistic role if its filled by man?

Former
Former US president Bill Clinton speaks to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clintons advocates during a rally in Bridgeton, Missouri on 8 March 2016. Photograph: Michael B. Thomas/ AFP/ Getty Images

The idea of a former chairman championing Americas dental health, giving tours of White House Christmas decorations or pledging to take care of the president as Jacqueline Kennedy did, seems preposterous. Its notable, but not surprising, that the male partners of female global leader arent burdened with the same kind of responsibilities that females are. Though hed be smashing the glass floor for men in America by becoming the first gentleman( which would be his official title ), Bill Clinton would be far from the worlds first first human. In Germany, Angela Merkels husband, Joachim Sauer, has continued his run as a chemistry prof, although he does attend country occasions alongside her. Earlier, Margaret Thatchers husband, Denis Thatcher, was known for his total devotion to his wife, his remove from politics, and his expression of hard-right positions in private. No one ever cared about what he wore.

The Clintons have alluded to some possible roads that Bill could take: in September, Hillary even told appointing himas her vice-president had crossed her intellect. More recently, at the Democratic debate in South Carolina, she stated that hed be one of her key advisers: Im going to ask for his ideas, Im running ask for his advice, and Im going to use him as a goodwill emissary to go around the country to find the best notions weve get, because I do believe, as he said, everything thats wrong with America has been solved somewhere in America, she said. What hell be called in that role remains unclear: Bill himself has suggested Adam, after the biblical first man.

American girls are increasingly taking the breadwinning roles in their households, but is the model of the dominant wife and supportive husband one that were ready to find palatable in the White House? Since the conclusion of his presidency, much of his time has been taken up with his eponymous foundation, which is run out of an office in New York: its raised nearly$ 2bn. Would propriety and tradition genuinely involve him to step aside from his work during his wifes term in office, as Michelle Obama and Hillary Clinton gave up their jobs to move to Washington with their development partners? In an America that had achieved gender equality, one might hope that this would happen. But thats not an America in which we live. It seems unlikely that anyone is going to ask Bill Clinton for his best cookie recipe, and not just because hes a vegan.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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