Jackie Kennedy's Power Woman Complex


There’s more to the newly released tapes of Jacqueline Kennedy than her disdain for Martin Luther King Jr. The young widow of the tapes also voices some unfavorable opinions towards several women in public life, many of whom had a different view of a woman’s role than she did at the time.

The New York Times‘s Janny Scott, who also wrote a biography of Barack Obama’s mother, has more from the tapes, including Kennedy saying of Indira Gandhi, who would eventually become prime minister of India, that she was “a real prune – bitter, kind of pushy, horrible woman.” There’s more:

She suggests that “violently liberal women in politics” preferred Adlai Stevenson, the former Democratic presidential nominee, to Mr. Kennedy because they “were scared of sex.” Of Madame Nhu, the sister-in-law of the president of South Vietnam, and Clare Boothe Luce, a former member of Congress, she tells Mr. [Arthur] Schlesinger, in a stage whisper, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they were lesbians.”

These women basically have one thing in common: They diverged from the roles usually assigned to women at the time. And at age 34, the former first lady was deeply invested in traditional marriage, or projecting a view of it. Scott points out that the interview took place a year after The Feminine Mystique was published. She calls her marriage “rather terribly Victorian or Asiatic” and said she provided for her husband “a climate of affection and comfort and détente.” But of the claim that Jackie got all her opinions from Jack, the historian Michael Beschloss told Scott, “I would take that with a warehouse of salt.” There is plenty of evidence that Jackie Kennedy also saw her role as getting involved in state affairs, at least when it came to approving or disapproving of administration and diplomatic staff.

Kennedy would change. She would marry Aristotle Onassis, but also work as a book editor and, Scott points out, “later told a friend she had come to realize she could not expect to live primarily through a husband.” One wonders what her opinion of those inappropriate women would have been by then.

In Tapes, Candid Talk By Kennedy Widow [NYT]

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