Manitoba·Opinion

Hillary Clinton's visit to Winnipeg is sparking inappropriate questions

Hillary Clinton is scheduled to come to Winnipeg to promote her new book, Hard Choices and media outlets writing about her appearance are defining her by gender and by manipulating information about her identity, financial worth, professional requests and personal needs.

The questions the media raised about Clinton's appearance would not be asked of a typical male politician

Hillary Clinton's upcoming appearance in Winnipeg has prompted the media to question everything from the fee she charges as a speaker to the requests she's made in her contract. (Cliff Owen/The Associated Press)

Hillary Clinton is scheduled to come to Winnipeg to promote her new book, Hard Choices.

She is one of my heroes: A former U.S. Secretary of State, an author and a possible presidential nominee for 2016.

Yet, when I read the media announcements for her upcoming appearance, I found a connection that made me sad.

The public servant shares something with women in recent news stories about sexual assault: The media defines her by gender and by manipulating information about her identity, financial worth, professional requests and personal needs.

This article emphasizes that she is a former first lady and potential presidential nominee, but it fails to mention her little stint as Secretary of State.

If media leaves out her professional accomplishments, the clueless could assume she is planning a White House run because she tried the first lady gig and liked the address.

Other publications mention she’s a former U.S. Secretary of State but then they focus on her speaking fees, where that money goes and the special requirements of her contract.

On Dec. 1, the Winnipeg Free Press speculated Clinton’s visit will cost around $300,000. The paper said the visit would “not be cheap,” and that their estimation was based on what they called a special university rate.

The article went on to say that most of her fees are funnelled to her family’s non-profit organization, The Clinton Foundation, which supports early-childhood development, women and children and job skills for young people.

The Free Press made the food and drink requests Clinton outlined in her contract sound onerous before they listed them.

According to the article, Clinton’s “crazy” requests include access to hot and room temperature water, a coffee cup and saucer, coffee, tea, diet soda, fresh fruit, vegetables and hummus and access to a computer, printer, mouse and scanner.

Her requests made me reflect on requests I’ve heard about in the past.

There was the rock band that asked for three different sizes of new men’s underwear because they had no time for laundry while on the road. There was the actor who asked for Evian water to use while washing her hair. How could one forget the countless entertainers who cut to the chase, asking for bourbon, beer or cocaine at each show?

If you’ve travelled for business purposes, you know that at times, the resources Clinton requested in her contract are hard to find, but they’re basic and helpful to public speaking.

This is especially true if you might miss meals while travelling, and asking for fruit and vegetables does not sound unreasonable to me.

Many women who travel on business know that it’s dangerous to go out at night in an unfamiliar city, even to get food. 

I’ve spent more than one night alone in a strange city with cold leftovers from lunch and bad tea made in a hotel coffee pot, as I didn’t want to risk my safety to forage for more.

Clinton must also travel with the help of U.S. Secret Service, so safety is always an issue. Even going to a grocery store during daylight hours might be difficult.   

Juxtaposed with recent news about sexual abuse and women’s and victim’s rights, I saw a trend and started asking some pesky questions.

First, I wondered how much male authors or dignitaries charge per speaking engagement.  I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen that mentioned in the media. 

Second, where does the money they earn go?  Do men who garner large fees donate it to non-profit foundations to benefit needy women and children?  Or do they pocket the money and walk away? 

Why should we begrudge Hillary Clinton, a former high-ranking government official, her speaking fee?  Why should the amount be disclosed?  Why is what she earns too expensive?

And what are the requests of former U.S. presidents or their high-ranking officials?  What does Bush ask for when he speaks in public?  What about Mr. Clinton? 

Why do we need to know about Mrs. Clinton’s requests and not those of the average male politician?

Victims of sexual assault must appear above reproach to gain respect or be given a fair hearing.  The victim is questioned endlessly about what she drank, what she wore and if she’d engaged in similar experiences willingly.

Why is a woman, whether a crime victim or an internationally respected politician, held to a different standard than a man?

When the media focuses on a speaker’s fee and requests, one has to wonder why it’s any of our business. 

Hillary Clinton, a former U.S. Secretary of State, a former first lady, a respected author, lawyer and foundation head, chose to come to Winnipeg. 

If we didn’t know her gender, would we suggest that her visit is “not going to be cheap for organizers?”  Would we resent her request for a microphone that allowed her to walk around on stage?  Would it be unreasonable to give her access to basic office facilities?   

Clinton knows the score — she jokes about how changing her hairdo makes front page news.  We’re still hung up on issues of gender, race and class when we could be examining intelligence and ability.  

The first black U.S. president was harassed by concerns about his religion and his birth certificate.  Why do media outlets continue to saddle a potential female U.S. presidential candidate with questions that would never be asked of a white man?

Joanne Seiff is the author of two books and lives in Winnipeg.

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