You Don’t Like Hillary Clinton Because She’s A Woman

via ABCNews, Getty image

I love this photo. (via ABCNews, Getty image)

For weeks, I’ve been trying to write something about the latent sexism that I hear in nearly every negative claim made about Hillary Clinton. The problem is that I don’t have a knockout argument, and I fear this is the case because sexism is so deeply ingrained in us we can’t see it. We subconsciously don’t want to believe that women can be good leaders.

But I have to try, because I don’t see enough people talking about this (though if you search you can find some op-eds).

As a disclaimer, I’m not arguing that you should vote for Hillary Clinton, I’m trying to show you that institutional sexism is affecting your perception of her.

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via American New X

There’s even a chart! (via American New X)

I read an article yesterday, which explained very clearly (with data and facts!) that Hillary Clinton is generally honest. She is one of the most honest politicians that PolitiFact.com tracks. I think this author’s assessment was probably right, that people fixate on her few untrue assertions: “It seems that people want Clinton to be a liar, and really don’t care that Trump actually is one.”

Using her email scandal against her is beating a dead horse at this point. Her biggest opponent in the primaries was sick of her damn emails back in October of last year. The director of the FBI said it would be unreasonable to press charges. If you’ve ever worked for the government and/or had a government phone, you might think this scandal is ridiculous for the same reasons I do. (I suspect that Clinton wasn’t trying to hide information, but, rather, trying to use her phone[s] in a way that was actually convenient and efficient–the government’s protocols are not.)

Not to mention, in an era of Wikileaks and Panama Papers and an OPM data breach that compromised personal information of an estimated 21.5 million people, do you really believe that cybersecurity is possible? Really? And what do you think was in these classified emails? Do tell, because I love a conspiracy theory.

But as far as I can tell, this is the reason why a lot of people don’t trust Clinton.

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Women are generally viewed as more untrustworthy than men.

There are actual studies about this. I’m not making it up. Women are considered too emotional, dumb, two-faced, or conniving to be trusted. The ubiquitous cliché we see in popular media is of the woman stabbing her best friend in the back.

There is also a more serious piece of evidence in the fact that we tend not to believe rape victims.[1] As an example, 55 women have come forward with allegations of sexual assault against Bill Cosby, spanning from 1965 to 2008. There are currently eight civil lawsuits against him and one set of criminal charges (obviously some were outside the statute of limitations), but the court of public opinion didn’t listen for a long time. In fact, it took a stand-up routine by Hannibal Buress (a man) going viral before people started paying attention.

To add insult to injury, men have lower moral standards than women, especially when they feel threatened. We expect men to be unethical when it’s an advantage to them, because that’s what they do. A consequence of this is that we hold women to a higher ethical standard than men (while assuming that they are untrustworthy–we can’t win).

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It’s not just Clinton’s perceived lack of trustworthiness. I also heard a story on NPR the other day about how people don’t like Clinton because she doesn’t seem warm and caring. She comes across as cold, calculating, and as someone who would do anything to win the presidency.

Two questions: Is it important to you that the Commander in Chief in the United States be warm and caring? Do you evaluate men in terms of whether or not they seem warm and caring?[2]

Hillary Clinton is judged and held to a different standard because she is a woman. My suspicion is that people who “just don’t like her,” don’t like her because she doesn’t “act like a woman should” (whatever that means).

We want women to be nurturing because this is how femininity has been defined. And what do we want out of a leader? I assume we want someone who is determined, strong, authentic, etc.–which are traits that we have already coded as masculine.

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In case it's not obvious, this is satire.

Yes, this is satire.

We have to fight against our binary gender bias that has been coded in us since someone evaluated our genitals, slapped one of two sexes on our birth certificate, and we were taught all the ways that our sex was associated with a gender–and this was told to us via toys, bathrooms, colors, TV shows, movies, sports, and with phrases like “boys don’t cry,” “throw like a girl,” and “boys will be boys.”

Our society genders things that cannot possibly be inherently gendered (like Legos and the color pink),[3] and we employ the very ingrained categories of feminine and masculine in everything–even food! It takes a lot of mental work to recognize when this happens and to try to unravel it. I’m feminist as f*ck,[4] so to speak, and I still screw this up sometimes. (So, frankly, I don’t have much hope for the rest of you.)

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Here’s my point. No one is looking at Clinton as just another politician. Even if 71% of Americans claim that the gender of the president doesn’t matter to them, we have an unconscious bias against women (study, after study, after study, shows this).

I learned the hard way many years ago that the first thing people see when they look at me is a gender. Before they know anything about me, they have already made snap judgments based on ingrained conceptions of gender that we can’t escape. (Though, the good news is that we can counteract for our biases.)

In some cases, people have already dismissed me. In other cases, they have already reduced me to an object. In most cases, I won’t be heard or taken seriously.

We do this to Hillary Clinton whether we want to admit to it or not.

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Hillary Clinton was a activist for social justice in college. She worked for the Children’s Defense Fund. She advocated for disadvantaged children to receive health care as a lawyer in Arkansas and as First Lady. All signs point to her genuinely caring about children and families. She has worked as a lawyer and a law professor. She has served as a U.S. Senator and as Secretary of State (as have six presidents).

She is currently the most qualified person for the job of president within our neoliberal, imperialist, indirect democratic political system as it exists. Yes, she’s establishment. Again, that’s a separate issue. (If you want to take down the system, then great! But where were you when you thought Bernie Sanders was going to be the Democratic nominee? Where were you during eight years of Obama’s presidency? Why are you suddenly worried about oligarchy now? Hell, where were you during the Bush I and II administrations? I digress.[5])

Our current president said “there has never been a man or woman, not me, not Bill, nobody, more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as President of the United States of America.” And, yet, people are complaining because she doesn’t seem “warm” enough or “trustworthy” enough. What, she’s not the grandmother/Eagle Scout your biases are telling you that you want? For president?

You vote for president in order to hire someone for a job, so why not cover up her name and look at the damn resume while taking into consideration what the president actually does. If you just don’t agree with the Democratic platform, that’s a separate issue.[6]

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To sum up, why does everyone hate Hillary Clinton? There are numerous reasons, some more legitimate-sounding than others.[7] But the fact that she is a woman is one of them, and it’s a big one.

And not enough of us are talking about it, because we might not realize it or just won’t admit to it.

I get it–it’s uncomfortable to think about being unconsciously biased.

But we are.


[1] There’s also the possibility that we just don’t care, because virile men who have never had their autonomy questioned or threatened secretly don’t believe that rape is a thing.

[2] I actually do evaluate men this way. I stopped (not really, but I considered it) reading philosophers whom I thought wouldn’t give me a platonic, non-gropey hug. John Dewey–probably a hugger. Immanuel Kant–probably not. Schopenhauer–no way. Sartre–definitely a groper.

[3] If it’s not obvious, I’m in the “gender is a social construct” camp, but you don’t have to be to agree with any of the rest of this. Pink is a really just a wavelength in the visible spectrum, if you think wavelengths have a gender, then, well, you probably have not made it this far reading anyway.

[4] Even though there are some men I genuinely like and respect, I actually would be fine with never dealing directly with any man ever again. Men, for thousands of years, you have had your chance to not screw up the world, and you failed. Don’t you think it’s time you stepped aside?

[5] Can we stop perpetuating the myth of fairness and equality as the backbone of America? Our political system was designed for the privileged. The “founding fathers” weren’t poor farmers pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. The American Revolution wasn’t the people’s revolt. It was the bourgeois uprising against the nobility.

[6] “I just don’t like her” is a reason for Jerry to break up with a woman on Seinfeld. This is not a legitimate reason to discount a presidential candidate. Take your role as a citizen seriously. Your choice affects other people. This is how democracy works.

[7] I actually heard her called a “war-monger” the other day, which made my head turn. You rarely hear the word “war-monger,” let alone in reference to a woman. But she did once refer to the Iraq war as a “business opportunity.”

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2 thoughts on “You Don’t Like Hillary Clinton Because She’s A Woman

  1. Heidi,

    I enjoyed your last post, as I always do. I must say, however, that as a forty-seven year old white man it is hard not to infer reproach in your essay. I feel certain that what you have written is meant to be didactic and to invite self-examination. Still, it stings just a bit as an aspiring liberal and father to two daughters, to think that the statements “We subconsciously don’t want to believe that women can be good leaders” or “we hold women to a higher ethical standard than men” or “we don’t like her because she doesn’t act like a woman should” actually apply to me.

    I will sadly concede that I am a carrier of latent sexism. I will admit to certain generalizations and stereotypes that I bear as part of the baggage of being a white man. But I think to make progress in this world we must also recognize progress and striving lest we all hopelessly abandon striving. There is a motto from that dubious philosopher Red Green which says “I’m a man, but I can change, if I have to, I guess.” Some of us, unlike Red Green, are not grudging in our effort and desire to become more enlightened and feminist in our thinking.

    Your essay also gave me pause for another reason. I am indicted once again here, because I will have to admit to being a less than enthusiastic supporter of Hillary Clinton. Like some of the people you describe in your essay I want to think that my lukewarm support is for reasons other than sexism. I would like to offer a defense on this point. I understand you are a philosopher, not a psychoanalyst, but I would be interested in your assessment. I stipulate the following:

    1. I consider myself a liberal.
    2. I will vote for Hillary this fall, though I supported Bernie Sanders for the nomination.
    3. I hope, as all rational people must, that she wins.
    4. Based on her credentials and experience Hillary Clinton is the most qualified person ever to run for President.
    5. The email probe and Benghazi stories do not concern me at all.

    So, why would I rather support another Democrat for President than Hillary Clinton? While I may be a latent sexist I don’t think the reason lies in sexism. Here’s why.

    I would have been ecstatic if Elizabeth Warren had run and become the nominee. I would have supported her even over Bernie. I would have donated money to her. I would have walked door to door for her. Warren is a personal hero of mine. She also fits the criteria to some of “a woman who doesn’t act like a woman should.” If that’s true I love her all the more for it. I love to watch YouTube videos of her lecturing bigwigs like Ben Bernanke and blowhards like Timothy Geithner on how they should do their jobs. I pass these on to my daughters to let them know just what a smart, powerful, assertive woman can do.

    So, why am I not an enthusiastic supporter of Hillary Clinton? Your essay has made me examine that visceral reaction more closely. Here are my ideas. Some, in retrospect are fair criticisms of her, some perhaps not:

    1. Fair – While she had good and legitimate liberal credentials early on in her career she appeared to take a studied turn toward the center or right when she became a Senator and later as Secretary of State (voting for the Iraq war is a point many liberals make though I think she might be forgiven for that given the circumstances).
    2. Fair/Unfair- She ran a rather dirty “do whatever it takes” campaign against Barak Obama in 2008 and then in 2016 tried to cozy up to the President and criticize Bernie Sanders for his more civil critique of the President.
    3. Unfair – I think I sometimes conflate Hillary with the actions of her husband whom I have always viewed as a scoundrel, a hypocrite, an opportunist, and a traitor to liberal beliefs.
    4. Fair/Unfair – As I didn’t like the idea of George W. Bush following his father to the Presidency I also find distasteful the idea of dynastic power on our side. You can’t tell me that in a country of 350 million people we can only find two families fit to run for President.

    So, that is my argument. I will let you and your readers decide if I am guilty or innocent. Thank you as always for making me think and forcing me to examine my opinions more thoroughly.

    Dustin Joy

    • Thank you so much for this response, Dustin. The ability to self-critique is one of the invaluable benefits of studying philosophy (though some people in my field still opt not to do it). I probably don’t condemn myself enough in this piece, but I hope it was clear that I include myself in the “we” or statements like “we subconsciously don’t want to believe that women can be good leaders” or “we hold women to a higher ethical standard than men” or “we don’t like her because she doesn’t act like a woman should.” Being a woman does not exempt me from what is institutional. I just try to be aware of my bias as best I can. Sometimes I do better than others.

      There are obvious problems with the British system, but I wonder if it wouldn’t do us better (and save us a lot of painful campaigning) if we simply voted for a party rather than a person. I feel that’s what most of us do with our vote anyway. But there are some people who don’t look at party platforms, who probably couldn’t tell you what the Republican stance on the Trans-Pacific Partnership is, etc. What ends up happening is that our presidential election becomes a decision based on a personality contest. Look at ad campaigns–they are created to tug at our heart strings or to make us angry and defensive, so they operate as instruments of psychological manipulation rather than based on issues. Trump is selling his persona (which apparently people seem to like???) and Hillary Clinton clearly doesn’t play that game as well as he does. I think that it would be difficult for any woman to do so, because of our unconscious bias.

      But you bring up some very interesting considerations. With the changes made to the democratic party platform, Hillary Clinton’s platform is nearly the same as Elizabeth Warren’s, right? But, I also like Elizabeth Warren’s persona more than I do Hillary’s. I wonder if that is because Warren seems more like an activist and less like a politician. Further, do I wish it were possible to push a more liberal agenda on the federal level? Yes. But I also don’t think it’s plausible. To be president means you have to push to the middle, because you are the president of the entire country, not just your party. It ends up alienating a lot of people, but at the end of the day, I don’t think there’s any other way one could be president, because we have embedded the democrat vs. republican dichotomy (and accompanying vitriol) into the way politics are run.

      I feel like most of your criticisms of Hillary Clinton boiled down to the fact that she acts like a politician, as I said in my post, with all the imperialistic, neoliberal, warmongering baggage that comes with it. I feel like at the end of the day that’s the primary reason why she rubs people the wrong way, but I still think we are slightly more accepting of that politician persona in men than we are women.

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