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Election

Bill Clinton Did Not Give a Feminist Speech

Bill Clinton

Rachel Maddow criticized it as "shocking and weird" to repeatedly call Hillary Clinton "a girl."

If you ask Rachel Maddow, the beginning of Bill Clinton's speech last night was a little "weird."

"The end of the speech was really good," Maddow analyzed on MSNBC immediately after Clinton finished talking. "I've got to say, the top of the speech I found shocking and weird."

Here's how Clinton started his story of meeting Hillary.

"In the spring of 1971 I met a girl," he opened, getting laughs.

You do have to stop and think about why that's funny. Was it just charming? Was it cute to minimize Hillary Clinton as "a girl" because she's obviously so much more?

Then Bill Clinton talked about the thrill of his first sight of young Hillary Clinton.

"The first time I saw her we were, appropriately enough, in a class on political and civil rights," he said. "She had thick blond hair, big glasses, wore no makeup, and she had a sense of strength and self-possession that I found magnetic. After the class I followed her out, intending to introduce myself. I got close enough to touch her back, but I couldn't do it. Somehow I knew this would not be just another tap on the shoulder, that I might be starting something I couldn't stop."

Part of the awkwardness of that line -- "I might be starting something I couldn't stop" -- derives from the fact that Bill Clinton was once a famous philanderer. He started and stopped a lot of things, according to his accusers. But the male gaze of the entire speech was really what seemed to bother Maddow.

After all, it was a speech delivered from a very male perspective on the day history was made for women. Maddow called it "a controversial way to start."

She took issue with referring to Hillary Clinton as "the girl, a girl" and "leading with this long story about him being attracted to an unnamed girl and thinking about whether he was starting something he couldn't finish."

Maddow said Bill Clinton was "building her whole political story, the whole first half of the speech, around her marriage to him. Unless there were worries this was going to be too feminist a convention, that was not a feminist way to start."

As you might expect, none of the men on set agreed with Maddow. Her analysis was met largely with confusion by Brian Williams, Chuck Todd, and Lawrence O'Donnell -- who said he did "get" what Maddow was saying but felt the audience Bill Clinton was targeting wouldn't be bothered by its lack of feminism.

Finally, after a few minutes MSNBC found another woman who Maddow could check in with -- former Republican strategist Nicolle Wallace, who agreed it was off-putting. Wallace suggested men might have heard the speech entirely differently from some women.

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