12/19/2007 09:50 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Countdown to the Iowa Caucuses V -- What We Talk About When We Talk About Hillary Clinton

Monday should have been a great day for Senator Hillary Clinton, as she worked to regain her footing and momentum in the Iowa Caucuses. She appeared on NBC's Today Show to showcase a hard fought endorsement by the Des Moines Register and Tribune. While being interviewed, she flashed on the screen with a wide grin that was hard to maintain after a grilling that was out of proportion to the occasion (and I have not complained about the press treatment of Senator Clinton heretofore).

But my afternoon was shaken by an article by Jonathan Tilove, a National Correspondent for the Newhouse News Service, citing a Web search, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, had conducted to look for "racist invective" aimed at Senator Obama.

What she found was a mess of misogyny directed towards Senator Clinton that was far more distressing.

The article quotes CJ Pascoe, with the Digital Youth Project at Berkley's Institute for the Study of Social Change, who thinks Clinton attracts vitriol that a more conservative candidate like Elizabeth Dole would not.

Personally, having studied Dole's press coverage when she ran in 2000 (before the Internet and Social Networking sites were impacting politics), I think today she would have attracted much of the same invective directed at Senator Clinton.

It's not about party or ideology, it's about gender.

Here's a sample from Tilove's article and it gets worse:

"Hillary Clinton: Stop Running for President and Make Me a Sandwich," with more than 23,000 members and 2,200 "wall posts" Internet graffiti in which discussants have fantasized about Clinton being raped by a donkey.

Eschewing the slightest wit or subtlety, some high school boys in Olathe, Kan., created "Punch her in the c---!!" With about 200 members, this group features the discussion topics "Why we hate Hillary Clinton," "Why you REALLY hate Hillary Clinton" and "What will we do if Hillary becomes president," which drew two replies "death" and "shooter in the cooter?"

"Another Facebook group, more temperate in tone and with about 13,000 members, is "Life's a bitch, why vote for one? Anti-Hillary '08." Like several other anti-Clinton sites, this one promotes a T-shirt: "Hillary for President. She Puts the C--- in Country."

"The proprietors of the Facebook group "Hillary Clinton Shouldn't Run for President, She Should Just Run the Dishes," with 2,159 members, offer a preemptive disclaimer to offended visitors: "Do not message just to say how sexist we are and how the Lord will strike us down for hating women. That is just ignorant. It's been really hard to respond to all of the e-mails without saying the C-word, don't make us start now."

This is not about Hillary Clinton. She is a stand in for the changes in gender roles that are happening everywhere. Men are scared about their own identities in light of these changing roles, and women know this. When you add a safe space; a face space, for this fear to be acted out, you get the raw underbelly of this fear.

I don't know if Senator Clinton will win in Iowa, or the presidency. But by standing up for a job she wants, she has become a stand-in for the vitriol of a country where we act like gender is not an issue.

It is.

And the many men and women of good will need to acknowledge its existence and speak out for a new ethic on a new ethic for this powerful tool I am using right now.