An Ode to Wives who Rule

Now that the election season is here again, I cannot help thinking of Hillary Clinton and what it means to be a woman, a wife, a mother. I start thinking of the powerful women I know of.

There is Arundhati Roy, who famously declared that she did not need a man to take her out to dinner; she had made her own millions from her book. There is Vandana Shiva, the environmental activist, who is not afraid to challenge American agribusiness. There is Rachel Carson, who brought about the birth of the American environmental movement. But these women I admire and worship mainly because of their contributions to humanity. I do not dwell on their personal lives.

Then there are women I am curious about, mainly because of their associations with famous men. Such women include Hillary Clinton, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the bewildering yet enigmatic Yoko Ono. For the life of me, I cannot figure out what makes these women tick.

I can imagine feminists protesting just about now that these women are or could have been successful in their own rights. That may very well be true. The trouble is, we will never know what their lives would have been like had they not been married to their husbands. Their legends consist mainly of their famous marriages.

Of these three, it is easiest to forgive and admire Eleanor Roosevelt for her life choices. After all, she came of age at a time when women did not have careers. Nor did First Ladies pursue causes, proselytize the masses, or get a divorce. Eleanor faced difficult challenges like her husband’s infidelity, yet carved out a leadership role for herself with courage and creativity.

Hillary, on the other hand, grew up at a time when women were beginning to enjoy academic and professional opportunities. A commencement speaker at her Wellesley graduation, she may well have been successful in her own right, had she not met Bill Clinton at Yale Law School.

What is maddening about Hillary is that she exudes an aura of unhappiness. She is a woman who has everything and yet nothing. It is this paradox that intrigues people, makes them want to peek inside her soul. But any effort to do so is always met with resistance. She has built up so many layers of defenses that her instinctive response when questioned is to attack. When a reporter recently asked her about contributions to the Clinton Foundation, for example, instead of giving a straightforward answer, she blamed the whole thing on the Republicans.

I sense that Hillary is conflicted about her life; that the feminist part of her wishes that she had not tolerated the humiliations Bill has put her through while the politician in her clings on to him for the trappings of a traditional image.

Yoko Ono is a different entity altogether. I am intrigued by her because she is an Asian woman who managed to carve out a radically unconventional life for herself, both professionally and personally. What is even more refreshing is that she did not seem to give a hoot about what people thought. She did not cater to public opinion; nor did she become defensive when attacked. Even today, it is really touching to see videos of John Lennon jumping to Yoko’s defense while she sat there, saying little.

Yet there is something bewildering about Yoko. You can call it the witch factor. “What did John Lennon see in her?” is a question that forever refuses to die. There is a magical quality about Yoko. Her assets and attractions are hidden underneath the surface. I sense that she is a deeply psychological person; she knew how to read a man and how to keep him.

Now, decades after John Lennon’s death, Yoko is having her own show of conceptual art at the New York Met. But Yoko is more than the sum of her parts. She is unknowable; unfathomable. She is the ultimately mysterious, alluring, unreachable woman. Which is perhaps why John fell in love with her. Men love a woman they cannot possess. And Yoko is unpossessable.

I want to interview Yoko; ask her what her secret is. I am jealous of her because she doesn’t care what you think; she follows her own heart and head.

The difference between Hillary and Yoko is that Hillary had the courage to stick with Bill, but not to let him go. Yoko had the guts to do both. Feeling stifled by John, she let him go to Los Angeles with another woman in 1973. Eighteen months later, he returned. But even if he had not, it is clear that Yoko would have been just fine. She was unconventional enough and strong enough to not worry about how it looked.

It is this characteristic that makes Yoko Ono a powerful woman. She is able to let go; she is able to dig deep into her own inner strength. She is able to give her all to a relationship without becoming dependent on it.

We women need to emulate these qualities if we are to have peaceful, fulfilling lives. If we are to rule the world.

Sarita Sarvate ( has published commentaries for New America Media, KQED FM, San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune, and many nationwide publitions.

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