Beyoncé’s “tea and cookies” quote was a work of art

Have you noticed the mediocrity of the media’s coverage of Beyoncé’s use of Hillary Clinton’s so-called “gaffe” from 1992, when she was challenged about her role as a working mother?

I have, and it’s making me bananas.

She projected the quote, as it was reported in the media at the time, on a huge screen above the stage:

It says, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was fulfill my profession.” It was widely covered at the time as part of the narrative of Hillary as a shrill, ambitious, unfeminine shrew, who didn’t respect traditional values.

Now, the actual quote was:

I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession. The work that I have done as a professional, a public advocate, has been aimed … to assure that women can make the choices … whether it’s full-time career, full-time motherhood or some combination.”

So in reality, it was a comment about supporting all women to be able to make the choices that are right for them. But the media almost universally covered it as if it were a slap at women who made a different choice from Clinton’s (see Robin Lakoff’s early but rather larger commentary here, p. 183).

Now look at the background of the image.

It’s a crumpled piece of paper, as if retrieved from the wastebasket, smoothed flat, and laid once again on the table, in pride of place.

For this quote, in this form, to be used in this moment is a deep, deep story about women in the public eye, and how their image is filtered through the media.

The story is not just that Hillary no longer feels she has to apologize for seeming to dismiss (but not actually dismissing) stay-at-home moms. That’s the story everybody wrote.

And the story is not just the way her choices have, it turns out, made it possible for so many other women to have the opportunity to make their own choices, and her pride in that work. One article got to that level of appreciation.

The deeper story is that she is about to become President of the United States, despite a media that has, for decades, weighed her down with its sexism, reflexive construction of “FEMINISM VERSUS TRADITIONAL VALUES” narratives where none exists, and its utterly blinkered insistence that it isn’t doing anything of the kind. They represent her unfairly, and then criticize her for not holding enough press conferences.

“Look at this mess,” Beyoncé is saying. “Look at what you did to her. And she’s still going to be President.”

Apparently the media still can’t see it. Even when it is quite literally right in front of their eyes. Even when they’re writing stories about it.

I can’t find a media story about that. I can’t find a media story that says,

“Beyoncé is showing us the mistakes we make, the ways our own implicit beliefs, our own easy narratives and snappy headlines, have themselves formed part of the glass ceiling against which Hillary has never ceased to hammer. And she’s about to break through, with or without us.”

Beyoncé knows the challenge of being more intelligent than her critics, and of being underestimated based on her body, her gender, as well as her race. And — dare I say it — she knows the struggle of having to take a husband’s nonsense into account in her career. (Also, they both legit carry hot sauce.) No wonder she’s with her. No wonder she made this gorgeous thing.

Hell, maybe Jerry Saltz will review it. Somebody should.

UPDATE: Samantha Bee and her team are on it — not about the Beyonce thing directly, but recognizing that the media created all the things they criticize Hillary for doing, by criticizing all the things she used to do, because there’s no right way to be a woman in public.