Recently, Humans of New York, a page dedicated to describing real-life anecdotes of New Yorkers accompanied with a photograph, featured Hillary Clinton in two very intimate posts that have since gone viral.
To say that the 2016 Democratic Presidential nominee (and first female nominee from a major political party), is running against a school bully is putting it mildly, when her opponent Donald Trump has a very well-documented history of sexism, misogyny, racism and Islamophobia.
And while the road until November 8, 2016 looks to be even more aggressive for Clinton, it clearly wouldn’t hurt to be a man in this race.
President Obama today admits that back in 2008 when he was running against then senator Clinton in a hard-fought Democratic primary, it was harder for Hillary because she was a woman. “Clinton had a tougher job throughout that primary than I did. She had to do everything that I had to do, except, like Ginger Rogers, backwards in heels. She had to wake up earlier than I did because she had to get her hair done. She had to, you know, handle all the expectations that were placed on her. Had things gone a little bit different in some states or if the sequence of primaries and caucuses been a little different, she could have easily won.”
Dating back to the time when her husband, Bill Clinton campaigned to become the Governor of the American state of Arkansas, she was accused of not being a good mother because she was a working woman. Polling found out that voters in the deeply Christian state were turned off by the fact that she hadn’t then adopted her husband’s last name.
Fast forward to her husband’s presidency, the national stage sought to vilify Mrs. Clinton. She received blowback when she took up major policy work (she worked on healthcare reform) as First Lady. This was considered a far-reaching step for the traditional role that is largely centered around being a great hostess and toeing the line of being the perfect American housewife. Troves of old interviews with the media, then and now, point to the both subtle and blatant misogyny, unintended or not, that has been used against her.
During a primary debate back in 2008, her outfit was mocked by fellow Democrat John Edwards, and even then-Senator Obama was accused of soft sexism by the way he used to talk down on her and pin her so close to her husband’s presidency.
In the 2016 race, she had to fight off a tough primary against firebrand progressive Senator Bernie Sanders. The senator is known for his loud speeches, excessive pointing and cranky demeanour, something that almost makes him a lovable, grandfather-like figure to his ardent fans. But for Hillary, the standard appeared to be much different. Pointing hands were seen as distasteful, shouting was termed ‘shrill’ and many male journalists wondered why she wouldn’t smile enough. The last charge was repeated recently by Republican National Committee chairman, Reince Priebus.
In a race that has seen Trump suggesting that a female debate moderator asked him tough questions because she was menstruating, called out a female Republican candidate’s ‘face’ to not being representative of the presidency and called Clinton going to the bathroom ‘disgusting’, his thin-veiled sexism isn’t surprising, at all.
The sexist charges thrown against Clinton are not something that is exclusively for her. Female politicians ranging from Geraldine Ferraro to Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren have been on the receiving end of this misogynistic fire range. The demonisation that women politicians have to go through is tough and strenuous. It’s far from being a level-playing field because it still remains, more or less, a white boy’s game. The racist and sexist trash talk that First Lady Michelle Obama has been getting for the past 8 years points to the damning intersection of race and gender that still does not play out in the American political landscape.
The Atlantic recently forecasted that if Hillary were to become President, we would be ushering in the era of the ‘bitch’: where sexism and misogyny will drum up in response to America’s first female President, just like racism stepped up during Barack Obama’s term. On the outset, however, this era had began long before Hillary even thought about becoming president because the precedent for women has always been different. With Mrs. Clinton, it’s far more brutal because she is in the public eye.
But this is something that has not been new to women who want to achieve leadership roles that have traditionally been largely reserved for men. On the one hand, if a woman is tough, she is termed as ‘dominating’ and ‘hard to work with’, while on the other hand, if she isn’t, she is termed ‘soft’, ‘emotional’ and ‘incompetent’. You can throw in the following tropes to characterise women in leadership positions: the witch, the boss from hell (Miranda Priestly from “The Devil Wears Prada“), manipulating the leading man while controlling everything behind-the-scenes and voila! You have successfully created a functional cultural myth, the impact of which will last for generations to come.
Whether things will change for the better or for the worse under a possible Clinton presidency is yet to be seen but if she wins, this election will be known like this:
Hillary Clinton won in an election based on a ‘Trump or Not Trump?’ referendum, to continue Barack Obama’s legacy, after fighting off a primary centred on Bernie Sanders, with assumptions that she will continue her husband Bill Clinton’s politics.
It is by no accident that Hillary’s political juncture is defined in such a gendered manner – by male anchors that seek to either legitimise or a delegitimize a possible Clinton presidency for America. In fact, it is the obvious result of a Presidential palate that has had only male presidents, all 44 of them.