Hillary Clinton officially added her name to the list of 2016 presidential candidates, meaning if you weren't paying attention to the presidential race before, you should be now. But with Hillary Clinton running for president, many are wondering if Clinton will face the same sexist comments and the onslaught of sexist media coverage that she has faced multiple times in the past — particularly throughout the course of Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign.
While running for the presidential office in 2008, Clinton had more than her fair share of gender-oriented insults thrown her way, by both the media and the general public. Everything from her age to her choice of outfits to her figure became often-discussed topics of ridicule for many cable and broadcast network anchors, newspaper and online reporters, and voters. The hugely biased media coverage of the campaign not only drew tons of backlash, it also helped to fuel a national discussion on female political candidates and the unfair way they are frequently talked about and portrayed in the news. The many sexist slights from Clinton’s candidacy caused many to call for change, sparking what New York Magazine called “a feminist reawakening.” Here are some of the most infamous comments at the heart of the heated and still all-too-relevant debate:
1. Chris Matthews calls her a "she-devil"
Chris Matthews, a host on MSNBC, was one of the worst perpetrators of the sexist coverage, labeling Clinton a “she-devil.” He later claimed that Clinton’s longtime political success was only due to her unfaithful husband. ‘‘The reason she’s a U.S. senator, the reason she’s a candidate for president, the reason she may be a front-runner is her husband messed around,” he notoriously said, later adding, “We keep forgetting it. She didn't win there on her merit." The comment drew huge public backlash and Matthews later apologized on air under pressure.
2. "When she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs."
Matthews wasn’t the only one on MSNBC to hurl offenses at Clinton. Mike Barnicle, a panelist on MSNBC, said that she looked like “everyone’s first wife standing outside a probate court.” Tucker Carlson, also on MSNBC, said, “When she comes on television, I involuntarily cross my legs.”
3. Comments about her physical appearance
Clinton’s image was a continuous source of derision in the media. An opinion piece in The Oklahoman suggested that her “frequent wearing of dark pants suits” was an effort “to conceal her bottom-heavy figure.”
4. Comments about her outfits
It wasn’t just male reporters who took it upon themselves to comment on Clinton’s figure. The Washington Post’s Robin Givhan wrote a now often-discussed and widely quoted article that read, ‘‘There was cleavage on display Wednesday afternoon on C-SPAN2. It belonged to Senator Hillary Clinton.” She also added, “‘There wasn’t an unseemly amount of cleavage showing, but there it was. Undeniable. It was startling to see that small acknowledgment of sexuality and femininity peeking out of the conservative — aesthetically speaking — environment of Congress.’’
5. Comments about her age
Clinton’s age was also a target. “As you age — and you know women are hardest hit on this — America loses interest in you,” Rush Limbaugh said, after a picture of Clinton looking fatigued ran on The Drudge Report. He used the same photo to pose the absurd question, “Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?”
6. Comments about her being a woman
Members of the media weren’t the only culprits. A man at a rally famously held up a sign that said, ‘‘Iron my shirt," as seen above. There was a Facebook group called ‘‘Stop Running for President and Make Me a Sandwich” that had thousands of members. Clinton’s Wikipedia page, as The New Republic pointed out at the time, was regularly altered to include adolescent name-calling, including the term “slut.” There was also what New York Magazine labeled “the truly horrible YouTube video of a KFC bucket that reads HILLARY MEAL DEAL: 2 FAT THIGHS, 2 SMALL BREASTS, AND A BUNCH OF LEFT WINGS.”
The list goes on and on, but the question that remains is: has anything really changed, almost a decade later? In the years since, there has been significant research raising awareness about covert sexism in news coverage and highlighting the harmful impact that chauvinistic reporting has on women who run for political office. With the conversation still evolving, we can only hope that we’ll see some much-needed progress in the coverage of Clinton’s campaign this time around.