Over a year ago, Rebecca Traister wrote what I still consider the definitive piece on Hillary Clinton and women. Traister was the first to delve into the deep distaste of Hillary amongst the female intelligentsia, exploring the idea of Clinton as a Rorschach test. She was prophetic in her understanding of how this would play out for women voters (who still favor Obama 36% to 34% over Clinton), but I am more concerned with how it affects women who set the national agenda. There has been such an intense double standard in the media that has gone unexplored by mainstream outlets and it scares the crap out of me.
In the beginning of her campaign, Hillary was stalwart, strong not only because that seems to be who she is but also because the biggest fear of a female candidate must be being painted as overly emotional. In response to this she was called wooden and cold. This is a carry over from her time as first lady when she was mocked for keeping her own name, not baking cookies, etc. But then the scandal hit and Hillary was again an archetype -- this time of the scorned wife. As Maureen Dowd aptly put it "She couldn't move up until she was pushed down." This didn't stop the press from mocking her -- would anyone have dared mock Jackie Kennedy for her husbands indiscretions? No, because Jackie was demure and fragile and fit into the narrative of what we expect from the emotionally bruised wife of a great man with a known vice. It didn't break Hillary; she wouldn't let it.
Despite being the first first lady in American history to have a postgraduate degree, Wellesley's first valedictorian, a graduate of Yale Law, and a dedicated public watchdog who worked on the Watergate Committee and monitored Black Panther trials for abuses of power, there were websites dedicated to her changing hair styles, and (more recently) articles devoted to her cleavage. What was upsetting about this was not only the demeaning nature of reducing a woman to her looks, but also the fact that anytime Hillary changes her clothes there is a deep emotional resonance attached to it in the press. People mocked John Edwards for his haircut, but no one called him emotionally unstable for getting it and that's exactly what Robin Givhan of the Washington Post did when she wrote:
To display cleavage in a setting that does not involve cocktails and hors d'oeuvres is a provocation. It requires that a woman be utterly at ease in her skin, coolly confident about her appearance, unflinching about her sense of style. Any hint of ambivalence makes everyone uncomfortable. And in matters of style, Clinton is as noncommittal as ever.
This more than subtly portrays Clinton as unstable, unsure of herself and her sexuality. No one ever says McCain is ambivalent for wearing sweater vests.
The argument was and stayed that Hillary was "inauthentic." I don't find John Edwards authentic, he's a trial lawyer who talks about his daddy-the-mill-worker to secure his stance on poverty. But people don't call him inauthentic. I would argue "inauthentic" is really code for unemotional. People were made uncomfortable by her strength of purpose and personality.
After Iowa everything changed, and not for the better. She went from cold to histrionic with one welling of the eyes. And that was it. We got headlines saying we finally saw the real Hillary, that cracks began to show. And that's the ball game. Hillary was not the strong leader we thought, but the weak emotional woman we always knew her to be. I'm not saying she doesn't bear blame for invoking feelings at the last debate, and welling up on air, but where was the outrage at this media coverage? The issue here is not that these things happen, but the women we depend upon to speak out against these practices have been noticeably absent. Gloria Steinem's OpEd in the Times today was the first time I've seen a seriously respected and intellectually prominent woman come to her defense, and I'm proud she did.
Things have gone downhill fast. Mark Rudolph proposed on FOX News that Hillary lost Iowa because she reminds men of their nagging wives, and conservative blog Hot Air agreed with him. Joel Achenbach said in his Washington Post blog that "she needs a radio-controlled shock collar so that aides can zap her when she starts to get screechy." We let people walk on her in the beginning of her campaign and now we've lost control. This is offensive to me as a woman, a voter, and an American. Even if you don't support Hillary, how can we let these attacks that so debase us all continue?