How Clinton should have responded to the Congolese student

Hillary Clinton, Aug. 5, 2009 | SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images   If you had been Secretary Clinton, how would you have responded Monday when a Congolese university student at a town-hall meeting asked what husband Bill thought about an issue? Yesterday, I suggested speaking diplomatically and possibly using grace and humor. (This is not to be confused ...

582343_090812_Clinton2.jpg
582343_090812_Clinton2.jpg

 

If you had been Secretary Clinton, how would you have responded Monday when a Congolese university student at a town-hall meeting asked what husband Bill thought about an issue?

Yesterday, I suggested speaking diplomatically and possibly using grace and humor. (This is not to be confused with acting demure, passive, and ladylike.) If I had been her, I would have calmly but assertively asked, "I'm curious to know: Why are you so interested in my husband's opinion when I'm the one who's secretary of state and my husband is no longer in government?"

Hillary Clinton, Aug. 5, 2009 | SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton, Aug. 5, 2009 | SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images
 

If you had been Secretary Clinton, how would you have responded Monday when a Congolese university student at a town-hall meeting asked what husband Bill thought about an issue?

Yesterday, I suggested speaking diplomatically and possibly using grace and humor. (This is not to be confused with acting demure, passive, and ladylike.) If I had been her, I would have calmly but assertively asked, “I’m curious to know: Why are you so interested in my husband’s opinion when I’m the one who’s secretary of state and my husband is no longer in government?”

Such a question would have: 1) clarified any mistranslation and 2) revealed the sexism in the student’s question. It could have led to a larger, more constructive discussion about the need to listen to women’s voices in a country where females are being raped with impunity.

Generally speaking, when someone asks an offensive question, one tactic that often works well is to simply ask the person why he/she asked the question. It puts the questioner in the position of having to explain the motive behind asking such an offensive question in the first place.

I give Clinton full credit for boldly laying the smack down when needed. As feminist Laurel Thatcher Ulrich wrote, “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” But snapping at a college student seldom helps you as the United States’ top diplomat.

Photo: SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images

Preeti Aroon was copy chief at Foreign Policy from 2009 to 2016 and was an FP assistant editor from 2007 to 2009. Twitter: @pjaroonFP

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