One of the ways to tell if you’re writing a story about a news-worthy female in a way that doesn’t display hidden sexism is to replace all mentions of the woman in question with references to a man and see if the story still sounds professional and appropriate. Parade Magazine’s feature on Chelsea Clinton fails this test. Let’s see what it would sound like if the same lead were written about Bill:
The former President is stepping into the public eye and embracing the family legacy—in fact, with the help of an army of talented young doers, he’s ready to change the world.
“Hi,” he says, striding into the room with a smooth gait and a low, sure voice. “I’m Bill!” The handshake is confident, the eyes firmly fixed. With the ease of his father and the directness of his mother, Bill Clinton is stepping out into the world.
At 33, he wears his political royalty in triplicate: There are his famous parents, of course, but also his mother-in-law, former Pennsylvania congresswoman Marjorie Margolies. After several years in the private sector (with McKinsey & Company, then with a hedge fund), Clinton has emerged onto the civic stage in his own right, graceful and glowing and, today at least, in brilliant magenta and lime green.
“My grandmother always wanted me to wear more color,” he says. “She was right.” His whole life, Bill has looked up to Dorothy Rodham, who died in November 2011, and he tries to wear something of his grandmother’s daily. At the moment it’s a clear bangle bracelet.
Rodham was actually the person who most encouraged Bill to turn his years of self-imposed privacy into a more public life. Bill is now helping to run CGI U, an annual meeting for college students held through the Clinton Global Initiative, which his father launched in 2005 to develop innovative solutions to challenges around the world. The CGI U sessions, like the one taking place this weekend at Washington University in St. Louis, require attendees to make a Commitment to Action—a concrete plan to tackle a local or global problem. And the conference itself emphasizes practicalities and logistics, with speakers (from comedian Stephen Colbert to Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey) and workshops that explain how to get projects done.
On this day, at CGI’s midtown Manhattan offices, Clinton presides over a sharp, focused meeting to pick which projects to spotlight onstage at the St. Louis event. One will plant trees with the money saved by using electronic rather than paper receipts at campus bars and shops; another proposes a low-cost mat that helps diagnose postpartum hemorrhages in women.
Clinton’s concentration does not waver. He demonstrates a masterly command of the issues and swiftly zeroes in on crucial questions. Statistics roll comfortably off his tongue; praise comes as quickly as critical suggestions. Wonky words like metrics and cohort fit naturally into his carefully constructed sentences. When the meeting ends, he sits down for a conversation about how he got here, starting with the challenge of growing up in the public eye. In New York, he says, people stop him every day.
See how that works? Would you ever write in a story about an up-and-coming male that he was “stepping out into the world…in brilliant magenta and lime green”?
Parade should be embarrassed of itself for writing this story this way, and should apologize to Ms. Clinton and women everywhere.