Sometimes when the current presidential election gets too vitriolic for me, I like to reminisce about the one in 2008. Even though I was only 9 years old, I understood how monumental it was that the two Democratic front-runners were a black man and a woman—no matter who won the nomination, history would be made.
I rooted for both candidates, but I favored the person I could relate to most: Secretary Hillary Clinton. She was a girl, like me! A girl for President, imagine that!
Then one day I overheard someone disparaging her supporters. You only support her because of her gender. Your vote shouldn’t count.
Ever since then, I’ve been led to believe that gender and politics should be inherently separate. Even when I was overjoyed to hear that Secretary Clinton had announced her candidacy for the White House, I never voiced my enthusiasm for fear of being called out. Your vote shouldn’t count. I turned to Bernie Sanders instead, thinking I had to prove I wasn’t gender-biased by voting for a man. (Which, incidentally, is gender-biased in itself. Why is voting for a man inherently less shameful than voting for a woman?)
As much as I honestly did #FeeltheBern, it was disappointing to discover that Senator Sanders did his fair share of feeding into the gender rhetoric. Back in February, he defended rapper Killer Mike after he’d said in the New York Times that “a uterus doesn’t qualify you to be President.”
I’m always astounded by how ignorant and condescending that statement is. Of course arbitrary body parts don’t indicate presidential potential. You know what does? Being a public servant for 30 years. Being First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State. Spending your entire political career fighting for children, families, disabled people, victims of terrorist attacks and more right after graduating law school. Traveling to 112 countries to negotiate a peace deal and spending 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee. Dealing with sexist insults, extreme opposition and controversy with strength and grace.
None of my reasons for supporting Secretary Clinton have anything to do with her having a uterus, but they have everything to do with her being a woman. Yes, there is a difference.
In the past months, I’ve realized that gender absolutely has a place in politics, because as a woman, Secretary Clinton has experienced things a man does not, at least not to the same degree. She has been mocked for succeeding in male-dominated areas (see her interview on “Humans of New York”). She has been criticized for her appearance, for her voice and for her facial expressions, for sounding too “shrill,” for not looking “presidential,” for smiling too much and for smiling too little. (Recently, someone accused her of smiling “like an evil snake.”) She has been criticized for not fulfilling her perceived “womanly duties,” i.e., failing to be feminine enough to keep her husband from cheating and then failing to be feminist enough to divorce him.
In fact, the backlash against Secretary Clinton this election cycle is nothing short of excessive, partially because of a phenomenon called “false equivalence.” Many people view her to be equally as flawed as Trump, which is simply not true. Compare her controversies with Trump’s, and you have two extremely different candidates.
Secretary Clinton is described in “The Atlantic” as “a highly conventional presidential candidate… She’s been in public life for decades. Her rhetoric is carefully calibrated. She tailors her views to reflect the mainstream within her party.”
Sure, she’s had her fair share of controversies. But that’s normal for someone in her field. (Notice some of the details anti-Hillary folks leave out when talking about her campaign: how the Bush administration “lost” 22 million emails and no one cared, and how multiple Republican-led investigations have proved Hillary’s innocence in what happened in Benghazi.)
What’s not normal is her opponent, who is characterized by the website “Media Matters” as “a candidate who cozies up to white supremacists, advocates for torture and war crimes, attacks the First Amendment and free press, wants to ban a whole religion from entering the country, makes racist attacks on Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.”
As accurate as that list is, I’ve taken the initiative to name a few other scandals Trump has been found guilty of: sexual assault; scamming people with failed and/or illegal universities and businesses; discriminating against black people with his real estate deals; attacking veterans, women, gold star families and the disabled community, typically through childish Twitter rants at 2 a.m.; refusing to release his tax returns; paying less taxes (none for 18 years) than many undocumented immigrants; starting the birtherism lie; talking about his penis on national television; being a compulsive liar; threatening to undermine American democracy by not accepting the results of the election; praising Vladimir Putin; imploring Russian hackers to attack government databases; having no actual plans to back up his policies; physically menacing his opponent during a debate; having a victim complex; being utterly thin-skinned and unable to take criticism; encouraging violence and prompting his supporters to “monitor” voting booths; supporting killing the families of terrorists and publically considering incest. Most of which occurred in the last year and a half. Whoo!
But guess which candidate has been the target of investigations worth hundreds of millions of dollars focused on slandering her?
Make no mistake: politics has never been about policy, but likability. And the facts show that the more successful a woman is, the less she is liked.
Ask Jill Abramson, as described in the “Harvard Business Review” as “the first woman executive editor of the New York Times, who was described by staffers as ‘impossible to work with,’ and ‘not approachable’… just days after the paper won four Pulitzer prizes.”
Or look at the study by Victoria L. Brescoll and Tyler G. Okimoto in “The Atlantic,” which revealed both men and women expressing “contempt, anger and disgust” at the thought of an ambitious, female state senator. There was no such reaction when the senator was male.
Another study by Jennifer Berdahl of the University of British Columbia shows that women who stray from traditional gender roles are “disproportionately targeted for sexual harassment.” Even more depressing are the results from a separate study showing male-on-female murder rates to be higher in areas where gender-based economic inequality is greater.
One need only take a brief look at Secretary Clinton’s political career to see direct proof of this severe opposition to successful women. “The Atlantic” reports, “According to the Public Religion Research Institute, 52 percent of white men hold a ‘very unfavorable’ view of Clinton. That’s a whopping 20 points higher than the percentage who viewed Barack Obama very unfavorably in 2012, [and] 32 points higher than the percentage who viewed Obama very unfavorably in 2008…”
Furthermore, a poll by Anna Greenberg “notes that Clinton has generally been most popular when conforming to traditional gender roles (working on women’s issues as first lady, sticking by her husband during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, loyally serving Barack Obama as secretary of state) and least popular when violating them (heading the health-care task force, serving in the Senate, running for president).”
In fact, the portion of American men (mostly Republicans and conservatives) who believe that “society as a whole has become too soft and feminine” is the group most critical of Secretary Clinton. Many of them fear that electing a woman President would further emasculate them, an impression analyzed by Dan Cassino, a political science professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University. “The Atlantic” paraphrases, “The problem, Cassino writes, is that many men see social gains as zero-sum. Women have notched progress toward equality in the workplace, parenting and other domains in recent decades, and men see these advances as coming at their expense.”
These people want to know that Hillary is not a threat. They want her quiet, a meek little thing standing off to the side while the big boys handle the important things. But Hillary is a threat. She is a threat to the patriarchal structure that enables men to grope their female co-workers without consequence and allows rapists to walk free after three months in jail. She is a threat to the system in which, as “Cosmopolitan” says, “a woman can be the smartest and the most qualified and still find herself interrupted and condescended to by a far less competent man,” and proof that “women have to be twice as good to get half the credit.”
Secretary Clinton is a threat to the stigma against a headstrong, independent woman who doesn’t take BS from anyone. Who never bothers with giggles and smiles and false politeness to make others comfortable. Who always seems like the tallest person in the room. Who doesn’t pretend to be anything she isn’t, doesn’t cares what others think of her and doesn’t make herself soft to hide her iron spine.
Eight years later and not much has changed. Except this time, I know my vote does count. It lies with Her, and it will help her wear the title “Madame President” with pride.