THE BLOG

The Sexism in American Politics

03/25/2016 02:48 pm ET | Updated Mar 25, 2016
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Why is it that today even a woman as impressive as Hillary Clinton is judged not by her merits and extensive resume alone, but held to a pernicious double standard?

Twenty-two years ago, I had the honor of introducing Hillary Clinton at a Humanitarian Award dinner, given by The Elie Wiesel Foundation. I said of her then and it holds true today, "There is no one in this country who would deny the competence, intellect, stamina, warmth and courage of Hillary Rodham Clinton... But the criticism of Hillary Clinton has again demonstrated that the strong, competent woman is still a threatening figure in our culture. ...A man who graduated high in his class at Yale Law School and made partnership in a top law firm would be celebrated. But a woman who accomplishes this is treated with suspicion... Blanche Wiesen Cook, author of the acclaimed biography of Eleanor Roosevelt, said of Hillary Clinton, 'I don't think there is a First Lady who has been treated as rudely and meanly except for Eleanor Roosevelt.'" Both of these women boldly risked the scorn of "those threatened by the image of a woman carrying the fight for social justice into the public arena."

It seems that nothing much has changed. It's been 24 years since I said in a speech for Women in Film, "Men and women are clearly measured by a different yardstick. And that makes me angry. Of course, I'm not supposed to be angry. A woman should be soft-spoken, agreeable, ladylike, understated. In other words, stifled. Language gives us an insight into the way women are viewed in a male-dominated society.

A man is commanding, a woman is demanding.

He's assertive - she's aggressive.

He strategizes - she manipulates.

A man is forceful - a woman is pushy.

He shows leadership - she's controlling.

A man is a perfectionist - a woman's a pain in the ass."

It's been decades since those speeches, but there is still outright sexism in much of the commentary on Secretary Clinton's campaign. The Women's Media Center and Media Matters have done wonderful work documenting the explicit - and more importantly since it's often unseen - implicit sexism of the political and media punditry. After Hillary Clinton won five primaries on March 15th, Fox News' Brit Hume tweeted, she's shouting angrily in her victory speech... "What's she mad at?" When MSNBC's Joe Scarborough tweeted she should, "Smile. You just had a big night," should we have been surprised? Hillary Clinton has a great smile and smiles often. So does Barack Obama. So does Bill Clinton. But no one would tell those two men to smile.

Hillary Clinton is dealing with our current reality rather than the delusions of reality TV. Karen Weaver, the new mayor Flint, Michigan said in dealing with the water crisis that Hillary Clinton "has actually been the only candidate, whether we're talking Democratic or Republican, to reach out and talk with us about, 'What can I do? What kind of help do you need?'" It's one thing to talk about something and another thing to do it. Clinton gave Weaver a roadmap on how to get the results.

The Republicans will neither cooperate with President Obama nor admit the good he has done for this country: the rising stock market, the creation of 14 million private-sector jobs including 72 months of steady job growth, lowering the deficit, the extension of health insurance to millions through the ACA and lowered health care costs, and his thoughtful foreign policy after the disasters of George W. Bush. The candidates on the right deny these achievements and intentionally obstruct Obama's progress. The Republicans in the Senate will not even do their job to hold hearings and vote for a Supreme Court Justice. Just before the nomination was announced, Senator Orrin Hatch told the press, "[Obama] could easily name Merrick Garland, who is a fine man... He probably won't do that." Chief Justice Roberts, a GOP appointee, has warned of the dangers of politicizing the nomination process and has praised Judge Garland's legal scholarship. Meanwhile Senator Mitch McConnell has essentially said the NRA will have veto power over any Court appointment.

The rise of Donald Trump as a likely GOP nominee is at once terrifying and a joke that isn't funny. I notice the press doesn't even call him out on his own lies or his refusal to answer questions. If you repeat a lie loudly and long enough, people may come to believe it is true. Is the press partially responsible for the rise of Trump in its greed over his temporary ratings boost? And what would the press say, for instance, if Hillary Clinton displayed anything like the crassness of Donald Trump in debates? Or his staggering lack of knowledge on foreign or domestic policy?

Voters should weigh the substance of what a candidate has to offer: his/her policies, his/her agenda, his/her experience, knowledge and demeanor in dealing with world leaders. The time has also come for voters, media, political talking heads and all of us to stop holding any politician to a different standard because she happens to be a woman. All voters should stand in agreement on this issue if no other.

Around the world, even in some countries younger than the United States, they've proudly elected female leaders: Golda Meir, Indira Ghandi, Benazir Bhutto, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson, Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel to name a few. Why does it seem so odd to have a female president here?

There is some heartening news. A very recent CNN/ORC poll "finds Clinton would start the general election contest with an edge over Trump on several potential presidential qualifications, with the former Secretary of State widely seen as better able to handle the responsibilities of being commander in chief, more in touch with the middle class and more often aligned with Americans' views on important issues."

This is a good sign because it is time we grew up as a nation. We should stop being afraid of women, and meet them on a level playing field without resorting to name calling and sexist condescension.

Hillary Clinton isn't afraid. It's about time that a woman with strength, experience and compassion leads our already great nation in this time of global insecurity. If the pundits or certain GOP candidates are afraid of that, maybe they should just try smiling more.

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