TRASHING Hillary Rodham Clinton's reconstituted name has been all the rage since her husband took office and she took off as a power player in Washington. The standard gripe is that the First Woman is a monogram chameleon, tailoring what she's called to suit what she wants.
As a young lawyer and newlywed she was Hillary Rodham, her given name. When that was perceived as bad for her husband's burgeoning career, she transmogrified into Mrs. Bill Clinton. During the campaign she was simply Hillary Clinton. And afterward, when the world was presumably a safer place for strong-willed women, she became Hillary Rodham Clinton.
"Masquerade!" shouted her detractors, the same people who like to discuss why Americans hate and resent Hillary, a discussion based on an utterly false premise. Early polls have shown Mrs. Clinton with a high approval rating, and 6 in 10 Americans surveyed last month thought her both qualified and suitable to head the president's health care commission.
But no one has seemed particularly interested in why the masquerade was necessary in the first place, why a woman still needs to prove her domesticity by messing with her identity, why she needs to pretend to be something she is not to convince us that she is something we believe she ought to be.
That masquerade starts early, and it's one of the reasons behind a new national project called Take Our Daughters to Work Day. Mark your calendar; tell your school. It's on April 28, and the plan is for mothers, fathers, or other interested adults to take a girl with them to work, to show her that she is important enough to be given a guided tour of the world, whether that world is a hair salon, a precinct house, a law firm or a laundry.
I signed on to the advisory board for this in part because I figured it would be good for grown-ups as well as girls. Maybe we'll demystify our jobs for some of our kids, who think of our work as the enemy, the thing that keeps us away from them.
Maybe parents with work that's low-paying and arduous can communicate to their daughters why they want them to study hard, stay in school and go on to college. In that way the day may promote parent-child understanding, which is a close second to world peace.
I know it leaves the boys out; I've been asked (by an irate son) why there isn't a Take Our Sons to Work Day. The answer is in the atmosphere. The Ms. Foundation, which came up with the idea, feels a certain urgency about showing the girls that they count.
In recent years we've learned that they come to believe, sometime between elementary and high school, that they do not. A survey by the American Association of University Women two years ago showed that the self-esteem, confidence and expectations of girls go south during adolescence in a much more precipitous way than for young males.
I saw this in action not long ago, talking to a group of smart eighth graders. The students who asked questions were overwhelmingly male. One girl stepped up to the mike, then put her hand over her mouth, mumbled an apology and sat down again.
Like Scrooge in his nocturnal wanderings, I recognized my former self, a quarter-century ago, paralyzed by the dichotomy between the ideal girl and the girl I was.
Maybe some of our daughters took notice of how Hillary Clinton was seen as abrasive, power-hungry and unfeminine when to some of us she seemed merely smart, outspoken and hard-working. Maybe they saw the masquerade and recognized intuitively the age-old message about how much more attractive women are when they are domestic, soft, contented, the message aimed over the years at Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt and many others.
The message that sometimes makes you clap your hands over your mouth at the life mike.
It's better than it used to be. Just as most of us can't tell our kids stories about walking five miles through the snow to school, so many of us can't lay claim to the problems of an earlier generation, in which women who graduated from law school were sometimes offered a secretary's job at a law firm.
But still our young girls, like our First Woman, often get contradictory and hostile messages about their lives, their futures and their selves. One day of unusual attention won't change that. But it's a way to begin.
Anna Quindlen is a columnist for the New York Times.