Lately, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about Chantelle Jones. I went to high school with Chantelle; she was perky, brunette, and, above all, unapologetically ambitious. Almost from the moment she first raised her hand, Chantelle was universally reviled by the male population of Laguna Beach High School.
In the classroom, she was mercilessly scrutinized, with smart guys loudly reveling in her every mistake and less academic ones snickering when she used big words. Outside of class, she was almost entirely ignored—except for sophomore year, when she sought a date for our school’s Sadie Hawkins Winter Formal and was summarily rejected by no fewer than three potential escorts.
The girls’ estimation of Chantelle was only slightly higher. We were saccharinely sweet to her face, but when she wasn’t around, we coined her, among other things, “Chantelle from Hell” and “Tracy Flick,” the latter moniker referring to the psychotically ambitious high-schooler played by Reese Witherspoon in the movie “Election.”
In high school, I doubt most of us could identify the cardinal sin that barred Chantelle from social acceptance. But from her egregiously unhighlighted hair to her failure to pepper her sentences with “likes,” “umms,” and “you knows,” it was clear that she didn’t fit in. Chantelle wasn’t a nerd, either; by they considered her a grade-grubber. She was simply a smart girl, singularly focused and hell-bent on academic success. And for that, she earned our contempt.
As I’ve learned in the past few years, high school, and Laguna Beach High School in particular, is hardly representative of the real world. As I’ve struggled to avoid ending sentences with the inflection of questions and to eliminate “like” from my vocabulary, I’ve often imagined Chantelle surrounded by adoring guys and ambitious girls, watching the MTV reality show of our high school and mocking us. Until recently, I was sure she’d had the last laugh.
Then late one night, reading the online magazine Slate, I found a video titled “Hillary Clinton is Tracy Flick.” It cut between shots of Hillary’s speeches and Witherspoon’s histrionics. And it was really funny. I was a subject line away from sending a link of the video to my sister before I remembered Chantelle. As soon as I did, I was certain that she hadn’t escaped high school, and likely never would.
For while Laguna Beach High School offers an extreme example of the extent to which girls learn that being well liked requires playing dumb, we could have taught Hillary a thing or two. I’d like to think that we’ve all conquered the cliques and the cattiness of our high-school days.
But it only takes one look at Washington to see that our hatred of ambitious females has not only survived long past high school, but even intensified with age. Maureen Dowd’s anti-Hillary snarkiness reveals the Chantelle-bashing high-school queen bees as the children they were.
Dowd and her fellow columnists seem to have reserved a harsh brand of vitriol for Hillary that has previously been deployed only on the likes of Dick Cheney. Hillary’s crime? Ruthlessness, cold-heartedness, relentlessness. She is also often described as mechanical and calculating.
Columnists and other pundits are quick to read malicious and sometimes racist intent into her every comment and equally swift to publish their fury. But dig deep enough, and lurking at the core of many, if not all, of these pieces is an attack on Hillary’s stark ambition.
And while certainly no respectable columnist is asking Hillary to iron his shirts, we’d probably all be a little more comfortable with her if she’d be just a little less zealous—and maybe do a load or two of laundry for good measure.
If pundits’ treatment of Hillary seems rather nasty, the anxiety she provokes in voters is downright irrational. I’ve encountered many friends and acquaintances supporting Barack Obama and claiming to be liberal Democrats who nonetheless say that if the race comes down to Hillary versus John McCain, they will cast their lot with the Republican. This seems particularly puzzling to me because, when it comes to the issues, the only concrete divide separating Clinton from Obama lies in the nuances of their universal health care plans.
But, as should be obvious, and as my friends unabashedly affirm, this isn’t about the issues. It’s about personality, and as one Hillary-hater put it, “Hillary just wants it too badly.” You’d be hard pressed, however, to find a successful presidential candidate who didn’t want it really, incredibly badly. But in a woman, that kind of want is intolerable, even repulsive.
I never did send the “Hillary Is Tracy Flick” clip to my sister. In the second that it took me to think of Chantelle, the video went from funny to sad. As a high school girl, I would dismiss this sort of insidious misogyny with a “like, whatever” and a re-application of lip gloss, but as a woman, I can’t ignore it.
Evelyn Wiese is a MAPSS student in the class of 2008.