Backlash Against Hillary Clinton's Memoir Is Nothing More Than Banal Misogyny
Hillary Clinton's new memoir, What Happened, hits bookstores on Sep. 12, and the former Secretary of State and 2016 Democratic presidential nominee kicks off her book tour on Sep. 18. Unfortunately, although many of us look forward to reading what Clinton has to say about her campaign and its aftermath, a post-election trend continues, in which politicians, commentators, and voters alike demand her to remain silent, to fade into obscurity, because she did not win the presidency. That's obviously a B.S. expectation, and I'll unpack it here, but it makes me happy to know that Hillary Clinton will not be silenced or do as she's told. To be honest, I love her for it.
As a former First Lady, senator, and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was one of the most experienced presidential candidates in recent memory, possibly even the most qualified nominee ever. That acquired skillset, Clinton's unique combination of political experience, did not disappear into the aether on the morning of Nov. 9, 2016. Hillary Clinton today is the same person as Hillary Clinton in 2016, 2009, 2001, 1995... the list goes on. In fact, I would argue that she has more experience now than she had then, simply because she has now lost both the Democratic Party nod and the presidency, in different election cycles.
But the general consensus, at least among the most vocal among us, appears to be that Hillary Clinton should never appear in a sociopolitical context ever again, as if she has nothing valuable to add to the current conversation. Like I said before, that's utter B.S., not leastwise because no also-ran has ever been expected to stop participating in every discussion, in perpetuity.
Think about it: John McCain is still a U.S. Senator (R-AZ); John Kerry became Barack Obama's second Secretary of State; Al Gore campaigns for climate change awareness; and 20 years after he lost to Bill Clinton, Bob Dole endorses Republican politicians, including Donald Trump, and acts as their surrogate.
So then, what is different about Hillary Clinton? Well, she's a woman. That's it, plain and simple, and as much as I wish there were more nuance to this situation, there isn't. The reason people want Hillary Clinton to stay out of the spotlight, the reason they think she's hogging it to begin with, may be reduced to a very basic form of misogyny, one that believes women should take up less space and know their place in the world.
I want this not to be the case. I want to believe that criticisms of women in 2017 are related to genuine character flaws, not something as silly as a gender bias. Because it is so basic, that variety of sexism should no longer be a thing, but nearly 100 years after our country decided that women could vote for president, a disturbing number of people expect the first major-party presidential candidate to exile herself in shame.
The most messed-up thing about this whole scenario is the fact that Clinton's fellow Democrats are some of her most outspoken detractors. A June article in The Hill quotes a "former senior aide to Obama," who says that the 2016 Democratic nominee "needs to now take a break and let others come to the forefront."
That argument's main problem, as The American Prospect's Paul Waldman points out, is that Clinton "is [not] keeping Democrats from having a robust debate about which direction their party should go in the future. Nobody's voice will be heard less because of her." Hillary Clinton is not taking up more space than any other American politician. If anything, she's drawing much less media attention than her fellow lawmakers and former legislators.
At this point, Hillary Clinton occupies the same fraught space as a personality like Kim Kardashian or Beyoncé. She is a woman who, whenever her name appears in the news, becomes the swift target of vitriol from a public that does not understand how her life and actions could possibly be newsworthy. They believe she is irrelevant. Worse, in Clinton's case, those people believe that her continued presence in the public eye, no matter how limited, is somehow dangerous.
During a Sep. 7 appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to promote his own book, Bernie Sanders' Guide to Political Revolution, Sanders suggested that Clinton was "silly" for writing about 2016, and managed to squeeze in this gem of a dig: "Secretary Clinton ran against the most unpopular candidate in the history of this country, and she lost, and she was upset about it, and I understand that."
Really, all of this is rich, given that Sanders lost to Clinton in the Democratic primaries, which makes his "most unpopular candidate" jab appear even more pathetic. Yes, Hillary Clinton lost the electoral vote to Donald Trump, but she won the popular vote by two percent — almost three million votes. Hanging onto the narrative that Clinton was somehow the biggest loser of them all, and thereby suggesting that Trump won in a landslide, is disingenuous at best.
Perhaps worse, Sanders also suggested that Clinton's continued presence in U.S. politics has not been spent fighting for anything that the country needs at this juncture. This is the same stance Vanity Fair opiner T.A. Frank took in June, when he claimed that Sanders was "on a crusade for a distinctive cause," while also asserting that "[t]he indefatigability of the Clintons isn’t just a nuisance but a hindrance."
A lot of people believe that Clinton has something to apologize for, but, as the Chicago Tribune pointed out last month, "[o]nly Hillary Clinton is subject to this demand." Comments like the ones from Sanders and Frank above speak to the root of the public's problem with Hillary Clinton. No one is telling Bernie Sanders to shut up, in spite of the fact that he lost to her, and the reason for that is the same reason he gets a pass on his disheveled grandpa aesthetic, while Clinton's appearance has been the subject of intense scrutiny for decades. Being talked over and down to, and feeling the expectation that your look should always be on-point — these are common facets of misogyny that most women in the U.S. have encountered numerous times over the courses of their lives. Their banality doesn't make them any less insidious, however.
What Happened is important, not because it will change the recent past, but because it will help us progress toward a radically different future. Hillary Clinton shattered one of the many glass ceilings left for women in politics, and generations of women will follow the trail she blazed. Those women need Clinton's memoir, insight, and continued activism. The United States' first woman president will have her to thank for clearing the way. Any female politician who loses a race will have Clinton's example to follow, because she is modeling how women in politics can land on their feet after falling hard. That's an important perspective to have, especially with a host of virulent misogynists in the White House.
Clinton's detractors want her to shut up, sit down, and get out of the way, so that the rest of us can keep pushing forward, but the former Secretary of State isn't standing in anyone's way. Democrats and Republicans alike should stop making Hillary Clinton the scapegoat for, and distraction from, their own failures.