If you ever want to effectively shut down a conversation about women in politics (as you do in an election year), all you have to do is use the word. You know what the word is. It’s a strong word, and it’s a word that no one wants to talk about, and it will nuke any conversation you’re ever trying to have.
For the love of god, stay with me here.
The Evanescent Categories
Let me tell you a story about race. Race, I believe, has two parts, and one is what I call an evanescent category, or “soon passing out of sight, memory, or existence.”
The current American atmosphere often lends itself to saying that racism exists -acknowledging that reality – however, it is inappropriate, egregious, and even seeking victimhood to identify any particular person as racist, any situation, comment, or circumstance as racist, and we are openly reticent to the enactment of policies meant to eliminate the power of racism. It is also okay to talk about racism in the past, but not in the present.
So we have this atmosphere where racism in the abstract is acknowledged, but absolutely no practical manifestation (the evanescent category) of said racism is allowed to be. We convince ourselves so thoroughly that it doesn’t affect our perceptions that we rise up (in a rather hostile manner sometimes) biting back at any suggestion of it.
This, I believe, happens with sexism, and it’s worse for influential women like Hillary Rodham Clinton.
HRC and Sexism
As soon as you mention sexism in the context of a women running for president, people flip out.
“I’m not voting for someone just cuz of their anatomy!”
“I don’t vote with my vagina!”
“Women owe Hillary nothing!”
“I’m not sexist just cuz I hate HRC, I hate her cuz…!!!”
“You’re trying to judge her by a different standard.”
That last one is my favorite because I think it sums up the main concern running through all of these. They are concerned that a woman is going to be held to a different standard and that she should be held to the same one as everyone else…which is funny, considering that if you acknowledge and understand sexism, you understand that the whole point is that women are already held to a different standard than everyone else. That’s what sexism is.
So I’d like to point out a couple identifiable cases of sexism as they relate to HRC, “an issue which, frankly, I am surprised to hear that people suddenly care about.“(hats off to the legendary Poehler and Fey.)
Hillary is constantly referred to as “shouting.”
Let’s get one thing straight: I have never even heard Bernie Sanders talk at anything below the absolute top of his register, but for some reason, he is “powerful”, “commanding”, “fierce”, or “passionate” when he does it, whereas Hillary is “shrill” or “yelling.”
Bill’s infidelity reflects on Hillary rather than on Bill
Bill Clinton remains one of the most likeable U.S. presidents, along with the universally adored Barack Obama. We all know about the scandal. But what you may not know is that many people use Bill’s sexual proclivities as a reason you shouldn’t vote for Hillary. Pretending that Bill’s behavior has anything to do with anyone other than Bill is definitively sexist (also, I’m sorry you’ve only talked to, like, five people in your lifetime, but some couples get over infidelity.)
HRC is blamed for policy blunders of the 1990s – a time when we put another dude in charge.
Bill Clinton was the president of the United States in the 1990s. At no point was that not true. Therefore, you could object to Hillary’s work in other facets of government, but a careful line is not always drawn when blaming Hillary for policy blunders of the 1990s, a time where she didn’t have even close to the final word, because, ahem, she wasn’t the president.
Her unlikeability rises for supporting the 1994 Crime Bill…
…that Bernie Sanders also voted yes for. When he votes yes, it’s seen as a “mistake” or “voting for what’s good in a bill”, like the Violence Against Women Act. When it’s her, it’s the wicked witch coming to decimate the black community.
Her unlikeability rises for having ties to Wall Street and using super PACs…
…both of which are true of President Barack Obama.
She is not allowed to attempt to change the issue of her likeability at all.
When she makes mention of working as the second most powerful member in the Obama Administration, she is seen as “hiding behind Obama.” When Bill stumps for her, she’s “leeching off his reputation.”
And in defense of unlikeable people, what else do you do if you’re unlikeable or you appear to be? You could very well be a great politician and not be “someone someone could get a beer with.” When men for centuries have used women and children solely for the purpose “softening them up”, she gets slammed for the same thing. She’s literally being told, “Hillary, just BE different.”
She is not allowed to want the presidency.
If we’re being honest, we should admit that the presidency is a top shelf prize for any politician. If that’s your life’s work, and you have even a remote shot (and I do mean even very remote, like “Bobby Jindal remote”), you take it. Actors want Oscars. Writers want Pulitzers. Scientists want Nobels.
But Hillary’s ambition is derided as “naked ambition”, or as the Onion puts it, “She’s just a little too ambitious to do what no woman before her has ever done.” Men are “go-getters” or “tenacious”, but those are qualities admired in men, not in women.
These and many other examples we can point to show a pattern of sexism that clouds the way that we judge Hillary Clinton, pointing out that the concern that she isn’t held to a different standard has already unfortunately come true, though not in the way that the people who voiced those concerns might expect. In many respects, HRC has just acted as any male politician would, can, does, and has.
In my opinion, it has to do with the fact that we are dedicated to the idea of dismantling things like sexism, but not to the realities of them, because the realities call us out of the apathy of the abstract, into the reality of identifying and acting on particular instances of these double standards.
We want them to be gone so badly that we pretend that they are, but get very hostile when disabused of our fantasies.
And if you don’t believe me, you don’t have to vote with your vagina, but just try nuking a conversation with the “S” bomb sometime.
Photographer: Tom Page