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For 40 Years Now, Hillary Clinton Has Been Battling Sexism, And It Continues

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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.

Hillary Rodham Clinton’s career in public service spans more than four decades, and in all that time it has never been without sexist rhetoric. Clinton has been navigating through the terrains of deeply embedded misogyny, and this election season has been no different.

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.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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