The color of the suffragists? Okay. But Hillary’s choice of white Thursday night echoed another centuries-old tradition of powerful women leaders.
Elizabeth I appeared on a white horse in silver armor to inspire the British troops confronting the Spanish Armada.
Eleanor of Aquitaine, also on a white steed, wore gilded armor and white plumes in her hair to rally her troops.
Isabelle of Spain, seven months pregnant, rode among her men in silver armor on what was that again? White horse.
All these famous queens knew that the colors silver, gold, and white, were a sartorially strategic choice.
Resistance to women in roles of power is nothing new. It’s actually worse today than it was in the 1300’s when seeing women fight and lead in combat, even in Western Europe, was relatively common. Warrior nuns were such a problem in the 15th century that papal decrees were issued to keep them under control. Women ruled medieval fiefdoms at a regular rate.
Unfortunately, the Renaissance and Enlightenment were anything but awakening and enlightening for women. It’s at this juncture we see women decline as rulers and fighters.
The powerful women of previous centuries knew the world placed them into one of four archetypes:
1. Tomboy (think Brienne of Tarth) — Maria Theresa of Hungary
2. Virago/Amazonian — Catherine Sforza
3. Sexually insatiable — Catherine the Great, Cleopatra
4. Diana/Goddess-hunter — Elizabeth I, Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabelle of Spain
Obviously #4 is where you want to be. Hillary, glowing in white, aimed at this target.
When a woman can invoke the image of the huntress-warrior, it is profoundly inspiring. As historian Antonia Frasier puts it, “There is something deep in the human spirit which finds in the image of the strong and armed woman a figure of awe.”
Hissy fits from men and society at large? All the women above would be nodding their heads in understanding. Hillary Clinton is far from the first woman to be called a virago. Elizabeth, Eleanor and Isabelle were put in categories 1, 2 and 3, variously, before they ultimately landed at #4.
What’s interesting is what happened next. By nailing the Woman on a White Horse archetype, female leaders inspired even more loyalty and enthusiasm than their male counterparts.
It is the very fact that it is the woman who is “driving the chariot” which imparts “that special frisson,” says Frasier.