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The vitriol Hillary Clinton suffers on a personal level carries broader ramifications for women in politics.
Republicans want to throw Hillary Clinton in jail or put her in front of a firing squad. Democrats who spoke positively about Clinton were booed during the first night of their convention. Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ supporters stomped off the convention floor the second night after Clinton officially became the Democratic candidate and protested outside.
We don’t lack for examples of Hillary-hate. For conservatives, loathing Hillary Clinton has long been a cottage industry. Pundits and journalists alike continually refer to her as corrupt and untrustworthy, even though the things people point to for support either are false or they can’t say why they use those words because, well, it’s just a feeling they have. Even though many fans call her loyal and fearless, the negative too often overshadows the positive.
But why? How did Hillary Clinton – now the first woman presidential nominee of a major political party – become the subject of so much loathing?
Some say it’s a “Hillary thing.” Others contend it’s a “woman thing.” I’ve pondered this question a long time. It turns out that it’s a little bit of both, plus more.
It’s a Hillary thing because Clinton is the definition of a transitional figure that people are uncomfortable with. She’s the 1950s Goldwater girl who turned into the 1960s bell-bottom-wearing feminist Wellesley grad. She’s a professionally accomplished woman who was skewered as an Arkansas first lady who dared to flex her mental muscles. She had the audacity to want to use her brain to help the country rather than defaulting to being a Jackie Kennedy-style FLOTUS. And she had the chutzpah to start a run for her own U.S. Senate seat while her husband Bill was still in the Oval Office.
What kind of 20th century woman did those kinds of things? Very few, and Clinton drew pop culture ire each time she dared to define herself on her own terms, even when they weren’t our terms.
It’s a Hillary thing because so many have allowed themselves to be taken in by GOP faux scandal-mongering from the 1990s through today: Whitewater, Travelgate, Vince Foster, Benghazi, emails. The list goes on. Yet, if one spends any time looking at various “-gates”, Hillary always comes out with no charges against her, and the most that we’re left with is that she’s too guarded or cautious.
But the vitriol Clinton suffers is also more generally a woman thing because research shows that if you’re not a likable woman, voters, especially women, won’t vote for you. How you define likable? That’s the problem because it’s different for each one of us. It’s shocking to me how many women still say they’d never vote for her because her infamous comments about refusing to “stay home, bake cookies and have teas” made her seem unlikable. And many women refuse to trust her because she stayed in her marriage, even after all of Bill’s womanizing scandals.
But I think the third option is the most important. It’s also an “us” thing because we take Clinton to task for things we’d rarely chastise male politicians for doing. Exhibit A? Donald Trump makes hay on mocking the disabled, Bernie Sanders gets points for claiming to be a bastion of transparency while never releasing his tax returns, but when Hillary weathers countless rounds of Benghazi investigations and comes out clean every time, the common response is: “Meh. I still don’t believe it.” We have the media to thank for that, at least in part.
Last month Harvard released a study that showed – finally –that coverage of Clinton was many times more negative than that for Sanders or Trump, and that it appeared to have an impact on the support, or lack thereof, for the candidates. Slant the news stories, and our views end up being slanted, too.
So why should we care about any of this? What’s a little name-calling in the world of politics, because that’s the status quo, right?
The problem is that our daughters and sons are being taught that it’s not only acceptable to criticize each other with outright lies, but also that people will believe those lies if the media parrot them back to us enough times. If the less-than-objective coverage of Hillary Clinton continues, especially now that Clinton is finally and officially the first woman Democratic presidential nominee, the name-calling and attacking and booing that she gets, but that Trump doesn’t, further ingrains our sexist, negative views about powerful women. And that’s not just a “Hillary thing.”
Disagree with her policies all you want. Propose different plans that are better. But continuing hate-based commentary about Clinton implicitly says to us all that it will also be acceptable to throw the next woman presidential candidate – viable or not – under the bus with detestable accusations and made-up charges. To let that kind of hateful disrespect for any woman continue allows it to become our cultural norm.