Deconstructing The Sexist American Animus Toward Hillary Clinton
A Polish commentator notes that despite Clinton's fitness for the job, many see her presidential ambitions through a bigoted lens. She's not just a woman, but one who doesn't know her place.
WARSAW — This question has been asked regularly since 1992, when as a presidential candidate's wife, Hillary Clinton announced on TV that she preferred to pursue her career to baking cookies at home. After that, she was a first lady, a U.S. senator and a secretary of state, not to mention a presidential candidate two times over. Today, another generation of talking heads is analyzing the question again: Why is the most admired woman in the United States also the most hated one?
The answers repeat themselves: She is cold, distant, cut off from ordinary people, personifies the establishment. Too ambitious and arrogant, she thinks that the Clintons are more privileged, and she lacks her husband's charisma. She can't be trusted.
But if you analyze the hate aimed at Hillary Clinton more closely — and for a quarter-century, there has been quite a lot of analysis — the answer seems much simpler. No, not just because she is a woman. America can't stand Hillary Clinton because she is a woman who doesn't know her place. And such a woman in the U.S., the motherland of political correctness, apparently is still two steps behind a man.
Of course, she has some flaws, politely speaking. In the 1990s she was connected to certain scandals such as Whitewater, which nearly ended her husband's presidential career. It's hard to blame Hillary for Bill's zippergate scandal, but some feminists hold it against her for not kicking that unfaithful one in his ass.
The former first lady is also charged with having connections to Wall Street — she earned $3 million making speeches to bankers, and another $17 million has gone to support her campaign — which makes her independence and plans for financial reform look doubtful. Republicans keep reminding us that she used her private email account while serving as secretary of state. Lastly, she is accused of changing her mind according to poll results — on issues such as as gun control, gay marriage and the war in Iraq — because her only aim is to become the first female president. At any cost.
Except that similar sins and peccadillos — lack of transparency, dodgy donors — have bound other politicians too. Except perhaps for Bernie Sanders, but everyone agrees that the ""socialist"" senator from Vermont is unelectable.
There are many good reasons not to like Hillary Clinton just as there are plenty of good reasons not to like other politicians. But only in her case, the reason for hating her is for the most part ordinary, barely concealed sexism.
Much of Clinton's difficulty in this campaign stems from a single, unalterable fact, according to Dana Milbank of The Washington Post: She is a woman. It's a direct consequence of the imperative that she must demonstrate her toughness. Men can be tough and warm at the same time — think Ronald Reagan — but for women, it's a trade-off.
Toughness is a stereotypically male attribute; it is men who need to be aggressive and pertinacious, it's their job to protect a woman, the family and the country. If a woman wants to be successful in politics, she needs to prove that she is tougher than her male competitors, that she will not let others push her around and that she will not serve sandwiches. But if she is tough and hard-boiled, she stops being womanlike: She becomes a Tartar, a butch or an ordinary bitch. A man who defends his opinions is assertive; a woman — aggressive. And indeed nobody likes an aggressive woman. On the other hand, nobody wants weak leaders. So either way is no good.
One would think that there is no such thing as excessive ambition when you want to govern the free world, but not everyone does. The Democratic presidential candidate apparently is ""pathologically"" and ""obsessively"" ambitious. She already spent eight years in the White House and four as the secretary of state so what more does she want? Plus she is egotistic and ruthless in reaching the top.
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On the White House lawn in 1993 — Photo: White House
""Irrational ambition is Hillary Clinton's flaw,"" journalist Anne Applebaum affirmed eight years ago, adding, ""Hillary Clinton wants so badly to win that she will try anything.""
This from Leon Wieseltier from the liberal magazineThe New Republic: ""She's like some hellish housewife who has seen something that she really, really wants and won't stop nagging you about it until finally you say, fine, take it, be the damn president, just leave me alone."
Womanly ambition as unacceptable
A woman, as opposed to a man, apparently, cannot achieve something herself. She needs to ""beg for it"" from the masters of creation, who will in the end, for some peace of mind, act favorably and give it to her. Ambition — especially open ambition, and not caring if you offend men's feelings, acting because you would like to achieve success, but lacking talent, diligence and determination — is also not womanlike.
Intellect and logic are also man's domain, and emotions a woman's. Except that showing emotion is proof of weakness. Eight years ago, when she lost in New Hampshire and her voice broke and her eyes misted over, commentators said that she made a spectacle of herself, that she showed weakness, ""that she used her feminine side."" If one failure made her cry, how would she ever talk to Vladimir Putin.
Laughter isn't much better. Clinton doesn't laugh like a normal person (read: a man) does. She either ""cackles" or ""squawks," or her laughter is ""bad."" Bad as in old, ugly, like a mean witch who frightens small kids. And when she smiles, it's a ""manic"" or ""artificial"" smile.
She also shouldn't raise her voice. Bernie Sanders, when gesturing expressively and screaming into the microphone, shows that he is ""full of passion"" and ""authentic."" Hillary is ""vociferous'" and unnecessarily ""sharp,"" and her tone sounds ""unpleasantly shrill."" Rightist commentator Pat Buchanan said that when Hillary raises her voice, "it reaches a point ... that every husband in America ... has heard at one time or another."
Buchanan himself admitted that this was a sexist comment, but added ""it's true."") And his colleague Tucker Carlson from Fox News summed up by saying, ""Could you actually live in this country for eight years having to listen to her voice?"
The question about how to survive another eight years looking at Donald Trump"s comb-over doesn't seem to occur to anyone.
But it's even worse not to show emotions. It's not womanlike. Therefore, when she actually isn't a weakling who is falling apart or a squawking witch, Clinton is a "cold"" and ""calculating"" cyborg.
Whatever she does, she gets a minus.
The can't-win candidate
Double standards are also visible when it comes to age. ""Grandma Hillary wants to become one of the oldest world leaders in history," reports the right-leaning website, Freebeacon.com.
She is 68 years old, six years younger than Bernie Sanders, four years younger than John McCain when he ran for president in 2008, and two years younger than Ronald Reagan, when he became president. But it's Clinton who is too old. Conservative blogger and journalist Michelle Malkin shared her opinion with viewers that ""Hillary is looking like 92 years old,"" and that ""it's going to scare away a lot of those independent voters that are on the fence.""
Right-leaning radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh asked whether a country obsessed with youth and beauty wants ""to stare at an aging woman?"" An aging man, he added, is another story, since age confers authority, seriousness and achievement. Limbaugh, meanwhile is fat and bald with a his face reminiscent of an angry hamster. He is 65 years old.
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Rush Limbaugh and his mouth — Source: Donkey Hotey
On the other hand, when Clinton tries to be more youthful, opening social media accounts or talking about Beyoncé (failing to say her name correctly), she is ""desperate"" and in general ""pathetic."" Either way, not good.
Hillary's attitude toward her husband's unfaithfulness? Bill humiliated her twice. First he betrayed her, and second he lied to her. For weeks the entire country discussed every detail of the president's affair with Monica Lewinsky, including the famous stained dress and cigar. She survived it all. Was it thanks to Christian mercy, faith in the sacrament of marriage and her child's well-being — or maybe because of political ambition? Common opinion indicates the latter. There are those who blame Hillary for Bill's betrayals. On the Internet where the haters don't have to control themselves, one wrote: "If Hillary Clinton can't satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?"
Wrote another, "How can this dumb bitty sic even think she can be president?? She couldn't even be the first lady and take care of Bill."
Her most serious opponent isn't much better. ""She's not a victim, she was an enabler," Donald Trump has said. "Some of these women have been destroyed, and Hillary worked with him."
Her political agenda also causes Hillary trouble. For the right, she is the warring feminist and a Marxist, ""Lady Macbeth from Arkansas,"" who murders unborn children and wants to take away Americans' firearms. For the left, she is a centrist opportunist equally responsible for her husband's ""third way,"" the neoliberal "compromise"" which was another nail in the coffin for the welfare society. Clinton's mantra that she is a ""progressive who likes to get things done"" does not convince the idealists.
If she wants to win the primaries, she should move to the left toward the socialist Sanders who dazzles the crowds. But to defeat Trump, she needs to gain the trust of more moderate voters. All candidates face this dilemma: In the primaries, one needs to take care of the base. In the general election, one has to seduce the independents. But in her case, it is one of many expectations that are impossible to fulfill.
""How long would you make it if people treated you the way you treat Hillary Clinton?" Sady Doyle asked on the Slate website. "Would you not just be furious, by now? Would you not have reached ... despair? The fact that she's been dealing with it for decades, and keeps voluntarily subjecting herself to it, and, knowing exactly how bad it will get, and exactly what we'll do to her, is running for president again, and (here's the part I love, the part that I find hard to even wrap my head around) actually winning? To me, that is awe-inspiring."
Eight years ago, when she was asked about how she was coping, she replied with a trembling voice: ""It is not easy. But I have so many ideas for this country. Some people think elections are a game: who's up or who's down. It's about our country. It's about our kids' future."
We can imagine similar statements by Claire Underwood from the drama House of Cards," who at the same time is deciding whom to stab in the back. And perhaps Clinton in fact reads Machiavelli before going to sleep, and she plans all her human responses. But I am going to cite Tina Fey and Amy Poehler from a sketch on Saturday Night Live: ""People say that Hillary is a bitch. Let me say something about that: Yeah, she is. And so am I and so is this one. Know what? Bitches get stuff done."
*This article was translated from Polish by Marta Danon. A longer version originally appeared on Watching America.