Hillary Clinton said the "double standard" in how the media talks about women in public life is "alive and well" during a discussion on the opening night of Tina Brown's 3-day Women in the World summit, which kicked off Thursday evening at New York City's glitzy Lincoln Center.
Flanked by IMF chief Christine Lagarde and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman, who moderated the exchange, the former secretary of state spoke forcefully.
"There is a double standard, obviously," she told Friedman, to warm applause. "We have all either experienced it or at the very least seen it… The double standard is alive and well and I think, in many respects, the media is the principle propagator of its persistence."
Friedman led into the question by recounting "Scrunchiegate," an episode from Clinton's time as secretary of state. A powerful world leader, the story goes, was worried to welcome Clinton when she arrived with her hair tied back, believing it was a sign "Madame Sectretary" was bearing bad news.
Clinton came to the David H. Koch Theater - yes, that David H. Koch - bearing very little news about a potential presidential run. Not that Friedman didn't do his best to squeeze something out of her.
"Madame Secretary," he began, "is there any other job you'd be interested in? Comptroller of the state of Illinois?"
"Not right now," Clinton replied, much to the disappointment of the dozens of supporters in "Ready for Hillary" gear, actively pursuing information from attendees both outside and in the auditorium.
Friedman tried again, if only a bit more subtly, a few minutes later.
"What do you feel is unfinished and you'd like to have another crack at one day?" he asked.
This time he won a smile from Clinton, who admitted, "That was good - that's why he wins prizes," but easily pivoted to the subject of "leadership in a democracy," which she described as "a relay race. You run the best race you can run, you hand off the baton, and what hasn't been finished may go on to be finished."
The necessary agonizing done, the conversation turned to Clinton and Lagarde's advice for young women entering professional or political life.
"You have to play both an outside and inside game," Clinton said. "On the outside you have to find ways to raise these issues that are truly rooted in sexism or in old-fashioned irrelevant expectations about women's lives, not just to score a point but to change a mind."
Quoting Eleanor Roosevelt, much like she did during a February speech at NYU (and surely a few other times), Clinton suggested that women who wanted to be players in the big public debates of the day to "grow a skin as thick as the hide of a rhinoceros."
"You should take criticism seriously," she said, now addressing the audience, "because you might learn something, but you can't let it crush you… and despite whatever the personal setbacks, even insults that come your way might be. And that takes a sense of humor about yourself and others. Believe me, this is hard-won advice (laughter) that I am now putting forth here."
A sterling cast of glamorous celebrities appeared or spoke in the hour before Clinton and Lagarde took center stage.
They included, but were not limited to:
- Diane Von Furstenberg, who was lovingly ambushed by a handsy fan outside the bathroom.
-Two members of Pussy Riot were seated in the orchestra, though they ended up hanging out with Tina Brown and Clinton. They will play a more prominent role in the days to come.
- Mamie Gummer, aka Meryl Streep's daughter, who filled in for her ill mom and read from a poem by a young Syrian girl displaced by the country's long civil war.
-Former post-Orange Revolution MP and current pop star political activist Ruslana spoke with Tina Brown earlier in the program. Asked about Crimea, she called the secession vote Putin's "Kalashnikov Referendum."
- Former first daughter Barbara Bush spoke in her role as the CEO and Co-founder of "Global Health Corps."
- Perhaps not a celebrity in the show biz sense, Melanne Verveer is a big star in Clinton Universe. She was the Chief of Staff to the first lady during the Clinton Administration.
- David Miliband - the former British Labour Party leader spoke about aid to Syria
- Cecile Richards, head of Planned Parenthood, made the rounds.