On Sunday, after a series of substantive questions about Iran and Syria, ABC’s Reena Ninan asked Clinton, “What are the chances in 2013 we see Hillary Clinton go from Secretary of State to grandma?” And when Clinton responded good-naturedly (“I will certainly tell you that’s a title I would be proud to have”), Sinan pressed on, adding, “I think this might be your best role yet.”
Ninan wasn’t the first to ask — Clinton fielded questions about Grandkid-gate in several January interviews. She’s never seemed put out by these questions, and has instead embraced the role of the mom eagerly waiting for her daughter to reproduce.
Still, it’s not like male politicians get these questions. Bill Clinton did say he’d like to be a grandfather, but he appears to have volunteered the information when asked about his goals — and he followed it up with the statement that grandkids are something Hillary “wants more than she wanted to be president.”
It’s an odd comparison, but one that gets made all the time — a powerful woman’s professional achievements held up (often negatively) against her achievements in the family sphere. The (admittedly biased) site Grandparents.com introduced an interview with Nancy Pelosi thus: “Forget about Madam Speaker: Rep. Nancy Pelosi much prefers the title Grandma Mimi.” And Pelosi herself made a similar statement to USA Today, arguing that raising her kids was way more important than, say, debating military spending bills: “There is no more important responsibility than raising a family.”
Those may be Pelosi’s personal priorities, but there’s no doubt that for female politicians, they’re pretty much enforced — you have to say that your family is more important than your job. That’s especially true for Clinton, who’s come under fire in the past for being insufficiently warm.
Questions about the Secretary of State’s plans for grandkids are coming at an interesting time, when the buzz about a possible candidacy in 2016 is ramping up. Talking about changing diapers may be Clinton’s way of deflecting those rumors — and she wouldn’t be the first female politician to consciously play to expectations about her family life. But the fact that said deflection takes the form of baby banter says a lot about what the press (and the public) still expect of women in power. At a time in her career when a man might be asked about his professional legacy, she’s still talking about her reproductive one.