Caryl Rivers

(WOMENSENEWS)–Following the release of her memoir, “Living History,” Hillary Clinton came under violent media attack, with some critics claiming the book was total fiction and others accusing her upstaging Democratic presidential nominees to highlight her own star power.

The episode makes one wonder what bright, motivated female in the political ring will next be singled out for demonizing.

The answer may be Teresa Heinz Kerry, philanthropist, environmentalist and the millionaire wife of presidential candidate John Kerry. She has already had her first taste of the media pack in full cry and is the likely successor to the “gotcha” game that has beset Hillary Clinton.

Somehow, an outspoken, independent woman attached to a man who’s seeking high office gives us the willies. Consider the attacks on Hillary Clinton during Bill’s first campaign, when she was called cold, calculating and way too ambitious. If it all created the impression that Lady Macbeth was getting the keys to the White House, there is good reason for that. According to The New York Times, Hillary Clinton was in fact likened to the infamous Mrs. Macbeth no fewer than 50 times in print in 1992, with “witch” references to her coming in a strong second. She was also compared to the murderess played by Glen Close in the movie “Fatal Attraction.” (Close portrayed a working woman who went berserk. Perhaps the underlying fear was that Hillary would do the same thing once her husband was elected.)

Unpleasant Image of Heinz Kerry Emerging in Press

Teresa Heinz Kerry hasn’t yet been called a witch or a murderess, but give the pack time. In a recent press pile-on, she emerges as peculiar, eccentric and vain, with an emphasis on her botox injections and prenup agreement.

Teresa Heinz Kerry

After she gave a candid interview to Elle magazine, the national press dug through the story and seemed to
decide–as a group–that she should pipe down. An item about the interview in The Washington Post was headlined “The Ungaggable Teresa Heinz.” The New York Post followed with the headline “Salty Tongue” topping their story about the Elle interview. The Boston Globe ran an op-ed column saying she “talks at excruciating length, in an excruciatingly dirge-like voice, on any number of topics.”

Whether Teresa should shut up was topic “A” on the cable news shows for a time. Whether tuned to Fox or MSNBC or CNN, the chatter was about her reaction to Richard Nixon’s 1992 comment that an outspoken wife would not be good for a candidate. She was slapped down for saying, “Well, we know Richard Nixon wasn’t too much in contact with what women should be.” A New York Times story, in fact, accused her of “casually insulting a dead president and first lady.”

But if the “T” in her first name stood for Tom instead of Teresa, would we be getting a different spin? Would we be hearing about a world-class philanthropist who runs the Washington-based Heinz foundations, who endowed two environmental chairs at Harvard and created programs to deal with the expenses of prescription drugs and the problems women face in retirement?

Do we ever hear that billionaire philanthropist George Soros talks too much? Do we hear about what medications Bill Gates takes? Do we know if either of these men have personal tics, or worry about their abs or their wardrobes?

With Women, Scrutiny Turns Personal

Research shows that there is far more media scrutiny of the personal life of women in public life than there is of men. With former Massachusetts Governor Jane Swift it was her husband and child care arrangements that caused a fuss. Who knows how many male governors have children, or who takes care of them? Not one, but two, potential female candidates for attorney general in the Clinton years were torpedoed because of child care issues. Hillary Clinton got brickbats for her hairstyles at the same time that she was being accused of murdering White House aide Vince Foster–a charge that was circulated vigorously in right-wing circles although Foster’s death was ruled a suicide.

Hillary Clinton

In fact, no first-lady candidate can ever get largely positive press if she isn’t chained in the cellar. Eleanor Roosevelt was cruelly maligned by political enemies for everything from her activism to her clothes to her slightly protruding teeth. Kitty Dukakis was dubbed a “Dragon Lady,” Roselyn Carter was the “Steel Magnolia,” Barbara Bush was criticized for her weight, Nancy Reagan got nailed for seeing an astrologer and encouraging her husband to negotiate with the Russians. So far Laura Bush has gotten a pass, but just wait until she makes a slight misstep.

It doesn’t matter how much a woman has achieved, it’s her personal attributes that always come into play. Take Elizabeth Dole, considered by many the ideal woman to become the first U.S. president. She is Republican, fairly moderate, and a former member of Reagan’s candidate. Before the 2000 election, she was the only Republican to outpoll Al Gore.

Did she get the attention she deserved? Not at all, according to a study of her candidacy by researchers Caroline Headman, Susan J. Carroll and Stephanie Olson of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N. J. The press, they said, focused more on Dole’s personality traits than those of other candidates. She was called “rehearsed,” “scripted,” “robotic,” “controlled,” “frozen” and a “Stepford wife.” (Might these same qualities in a man likely be called “focused,” “stays on message” and “articulate?”) The researchers say that her speaking style was dubbed “Tammy Faye Baker meets the Home Shopping Network” and her hairdo was compared to an immobile fabric that wouldn’t wrinkle or stretch.

The researchers found that no male candidate was scrutinized in such a personal way as Dole.

Teresa Heinz Kerry is European. Her family is from Portugal and she herself grew up in Mozambique. She is an intellectual who speaks five languages and has serious commitments to a number of weighty issues. Her foundation developed a model prescription drug plan for senior citizens. She oversees scholarships for minority students who study science. She serves on a number or corporate and university boards. She created a center for science, economics and the environment in Washington, The H. John Heinz III Center for Science, Economics and the Environment, named for her late first husband. She certainly does not fit the outmoded stereotype of the ideal first lady, who smiles, says little and concerns herself with the floral arrangements. I have heard her speak about environmental issues with passion and knowledge. Let’s hope that Teresa Heinz Kerry can get beyond the media stereotyping and stay just who she is–outspoken, articulate, and ungagged.

Caryl Rivers is a professor of journalism at Boston University.

For more information:

The Heinz Center:

The Heinz Endowments:

Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement: