There has been something disturbing about the 2016 presidential election. I should probably be more specific. There have been a lot of disturbing things about the 2016 presidential election. For right now, though, I’m thinking of one thing in particular. That thing is the fact that so many people are failing to notice the rampant sexism directed at Hillary Clinton. It’s sad that I have to get that specific. Hillary Clinton has been the target of unbelievable sexism for her entire public life. Last time she ran for president, I was pretty shocked by it. This time, I was ready for it. I still find it disturbing, but I’m not shocked by it.
That fact that people claim not to see the sexism, or really do not see the sexism, is what I am currently finding shocking. Even some of Sanders’ supporters are failing in this regard. If a person is progressive enough to support Sanders, I don’t get how they could miss blatant sexism, but they do (I should emphasize that I said “some” earlier. I don’t believe that everyone who prefers Sanders to Clinton is being sexist. There are legitimate reasons for that. But, it is crazy to think that Clinton and Sanders are on a level playing field.).
Here is an easy way to spot sexist comments. When someone says something about Hillary Clinton, simply substitute one of the male candidates’ names for her name and see if the comment still makes sense. If it does, the statement is probably OK. But, if it doesn’t, the statement is probably sexist. Let’s look at some examples of typical statements about Clinton:
- Hillary* should just enjoy being a grandmother.
- Hillary should not have used a private email server.
- Hillary is too ambitious.
- Hillary should have left her husband.
Now let’s look at them again with my substitutions:
- Bernie should just enjoy being a grandfather.
- Donald should not have used a private email server.
- Ted is too ambitious.
- Marco should have left his wife.
It seems pretty obvious that 2 is the only one of those statements that works in both cases. If 1 is true for Clinton, it is certainly true for Sanders who is older and has more grandchildren, but no one ever says Bernie should just enjoy being a grandfather. 3 is almost too ridiculous to talk about. We are talking about someone who is campaigning to be President of the United States of America. Of course she is ambitious. Every single person who has ever run for the office is incredibly ambitious. Bernie Sanders is ambitious. Abraham Lincoln was ambitious. Even Jimmy Carter is ambitious. Ambition is considered a good thing in men, but people seem to think Clinton’s ambition is a problem. 4 is bad on several counts. First, it’s no one’s business. Second, how could any of us possibly know what Bill and Hillary Clinton’s relationship is like? Maybe they truly love and respect each other, despite Bill’s transgressions. Maybe it’s a marriage of convenience. I have no idea and neither do you. Third, people just don’t say those kinds of things about men. The implication is that Clinton lacks agency or lacks willpower.
I’m not saying any of this as a partisan. I’m not trying to get you to vote for Clinton. I’m just trying to get people to notice sexism. Sexism is a big problem and making it invisible just makes it worse.
*In general, it is annoying that men are referred to by their last names while women are by their first names. You see it in politics, entertainment, sports and everywhere else. I don’t want to belabor the point here, however, because Bernie and Jeb are frequently referred to by first name, and the fact that Clinton’s husband is a former president can make it confusing. It’s just another thing to think about.