EDITOR’S NOTE: Herewith a classic from the bulging files of “The Misanthrope’s Corner.” In this May 11, 1992 dandy, the incomparable Florence King takes a special look at the “Great Girl” prototype, as played by Hillary Clinton.
Of course, this column, and all of Miss King’s curmudgeonly oeuvre for National Review, can be found, and enjoyed, in STET, Damnit, The Misanthrope’s Corner, 1991 to 2002, which is available only from NR. Order it securely here.
The more things change the more they remain the same. Hillary Clinton, that little female gnome standing next to Skeezix, that wolfish dominatrix of the Dem’s den, that smiling barracuda waving her arms off, is none other than an updated version of my old college nemesis from the Fifties, the “great girl.”
In pre-feminist times the Great Girl was the female equivalent of the Big Man on Campus. She got her sobriquet because everybody kept saying what a great girl she was; a really great girl, with a great sense of humor, meaning she was good at knock-knock jokes.
Striving for healthy averageness, good adjustment, and earnest purpose, the Great Girl made a point of being “well-rounded.” She majored in Soc or Psych because “All you have to do is read,” and chose classes with professors who gave nothing but multiple-choice exams. She was a whiz at them; if a homicidal maniac had jumped out of a dark alley yelling “Sartre!” she would have replied “Umm, existentialism” without turning a hair.
Uncerebral but as smart as the proverbial whip, the Great Girl belonged to one of those female honor societies with a name like The Valkyries that required a B average and emphasized “service to the school,” meaning you couldn’t get in unless you had so many extracurricular activities that the printer had a nervous breakdown trying to get them all on the same yearbook page with your picture. She never met a committee she didn’t like, so she had little cuts on her fingers from making pasteboard signs with razor blades, and if you couldn’t find her, all you had to do was follow the crepe-paper trail.
Having been told by legions of progressive teachers that she was a “natural leader,” the Great Girl was always rushing off to meetings, in winter arriving at her destination with cold teeth from having smiled all the way across campus. Yet despite her surface friendliness there was something of the Thugee about her. She liked to organize group sings and square-dance lessons to “bring people out of their shells,” and God help the clams who did not join these agapes. She was president of the Girls’ Dorm Council, so you might find yourself hauled up before her cosy little star chamber and being told, “We know you want to do better and we’re here to help you.”
The Great Girl was always engaged by her senior year–it was on her list of Things To Do–and her fiancé was always a Big Man on Campus: two wrongs make a Mr. Right et Ux. This alliance brought her to the attention of corporate recruiters who checked out the future wives of their potential executives before closing the deal. Two minutes in her presence and they could relax, secure in the knowledge that she would never become the Emma Bovary of Corning Glass. Not that she wasn’t “attractive.” It was just that she poured all of her ferocious energy into the kind of extracurricular activities that can be listed in a yearbook; she firmly believed that whenever a boy tried to pet, you should distract him by toasting marshmallows, and it showed.
The Great Girl is the type for whom self-help books like The Sensuous Woman are written. She is constitutionally incapable of taking the author’s advice to have sex in a bathtub filled with Jello, but she would have a grand time making the Jello, running back and forth between stove and tub with bowl after quivering bowl, exclaiming, “Golly, isn’t this fun?” It would remind her of the contests and races she organized for Spring Carnival, and the Christmas when she made a hundred pounds of fudge in the housemother’s kitchen.
The Great Girl of the Fifties became a suburban housewife, baking cookies, volunteering, and chairing meetings in an extension of her college days. This was her métier and she enjoyed it, but she was also a conformist, so when feminism came along she ran with the crowd just as she always had, and switched from Feminine Mystique to Tort Mystique. Everybody’s going to law school? It must be the in thing to do, so the “leader” exchanged her Tupperware for Blackstone and turned into Hillary Clinton.
I tell you, it’s the same woman: I’d know that snippy little face anywhere. She gets better grades now, and the crepe-paper trail is now a fax-paper trail, but if you tapped her you would still get an echo. The liberal press claims Hillary Clinton is “defining” the role of future First Ladies, but it’s the same old Great Girl trick of “leading” where everybody else is already going. Newsweek wondered whether America was ready for such a “self-confident” woman, but it’s not true self-confidence. It’s the Great Girl kind, in which the confidence resides not in the self but in the feminist model on which the self is based: Ayn Rand would love it.
If Bill Clinton is an adulterer, I don’t blame him. As Alice Roosevelt Longworth said of another Democrat: “He deserved some fun–he was married to Eleanor.”