Let's Talk About Hillary Clinton And Sexism

by Eliza Castile

Is America ready for a female president? It's one of the many, many pointless and rhetorical questions Fox News is fond of asking, along with whether it was ready for a gay American Idol (remember that?), and if Obama's presidency is singlehandedly bringing about the apocalypse. As far as a female POTUS goes, the answer is, well... yes, obviously, but that doesn't mean that there aren't approximately a trillion sexist obstacles Hillary Clinton will have to overcome during her campaign for presidency. It's no secret that female politicians deal with all sorts of sexism that their male coworkers rarely, if ever, face. Sexism in the workplace is something we all deal with on a daily basis, but it's magnified when a woman becomes a public figure. Much like actresses and singers, people feel they don't have to be polite about someone who puts themselves out there, so to speak. When you factor in that female politicians often run against male opponents, it's not a surprise that hidden prejudices and biases come out of the woodwork when discussing women in politics. While most campaigns choose to ignore sexist attacks, research has shown that silence might not be the best strategy. According to a 2010 study, sexist language damages a female politician's reputation. Even "mild sexism" caused a loss of twice as much support as gender-neutral language, across all demographics, causing the authors to suggest that politicians start acknowledging gender biases. If female politicians have it this bad now, it's only going to be worse for the first woman to run for president. Whether Clinton chooses to fight back or not, she's going to have to be prepared for sexism during her campaign for POTUS, starting with...

1. Criticism For Her Ambition

Every time a woman sets her sights on a typically male field, she faces backlash for daring to have ambition beyond what society allows her. Although studies have shown that men and women exhibit the same behaviors when they're in positions of power, even more research indicates that women are consistently evaluated negatively for the same characteristics that make men such desirable leaders.

To see how this plays out in real life, try searching "Hillary Clinton" and "ambition." Choice results include "Is Hillary Clinton Pathologically Ambitious?" and "Hillary Clinton's Ruthless Ambitions." In contrast, searching Obama's name returns "In State of the Union, Obama Sets An Ambitious Agenda." You know, a headline pertaining to his actual job.

2. Implications That She's Too Emotional

It's every 14-year-old boy's favorite joke: if there's a female president, won't we be nuking countries every month? Women are seen as flighty and ruled by their emotions (especially when it comes to the dreaded Monthly Visitor, but don't get me started on that). The same people who call Clinton "ruthless" and "too politically ambitious" will turn around and say that she is unable to make clear decisions out of fear for her family, or something. I don't pretend to understand the reasoning behind this. (By the way, for Jon Stewart's excellent take on that particular double standard, watch this video.)

3. Questioning Her Commitment To Family

We've all heard about it, but that doesn't mean it's getting any better. Female politicians are routinely asked about how they expect to juggle family and a career, as if presidents don't have grandchildren all the freakin' time. Forget the fact that her daughter is an adult with a child of her own; it's a foregone conclusion that our favorites over at Fox News will call Clinton's family life into question with infuriating frequency.

4. Unnecessary Fashion Police

Does anyone care what male politicians wear on a daily basis? Of course not. The idea is laughable. If Biden wore suit pants that were slightly too long, hardly anyone would notice. If Romney chose a red and white tie pin, nobody is going to start claiming it's a subtle political statement about diplomatic relations with Canada.

A female politician's choice in clothing, on the other hand, is analyzed to an inch of its life. Although Clinton is no doubt used to the scrutiny by now, I hope she and her stylist are ready for the onslaught of unnecessary fashion critiques.

5. Comments About Her Age

There's a reason everyone gets all hot and bothered when a young person (re: someone under age 50) runs for office. Presidents aren't exactly known for being spring chickens. Our culture's stigmatization of the elderly, however, intersects with sexism here to create headlines like “Is Hillary Clinton Too Old To Be President?"

I don't know, MSNBC. Was Ronald Reagan, who was elected when he was two years older than Clinton is now, too old?

6. Comments About Her Looks

Admittedly, this one applies to male presidents and nominees as well. People just love to criticize the President's appearance. I think it has to do with schadenfreude, because the discussions tend to center on how the stress of the Oval Office ages people.

That being said, women's appearances are already constantly scrutinized. It's hardly going to get any better when Clinton combines the pressure of running for president with being a woman.

If we lived in a perfect world, Clinton wouldn't have to worry about these things any more than her male counterparts. Unfortunately, we don't, and she does. No matter what you think of her politics, it's hard to deny that she's a brave woman for opening herself up to the scrutiny that comes with running for president as a woman. Even if she doesn't win, maybe her campaign will inspire other women to do the same. America has been ready for a long time. Hard as it may be to get there, eventually we'll have a woman in the Oval Office.

Images: ahotpieceofa/Tumblr; Giphy