In the most recent Pew Research Poll, eleven out of 629 people, when asked for one word that describes Hillary Clinton said "rhymes with rich." Sixteen found her untrustworthy and six each said, "dislike her," "power hungry," "selfish/self-centered." When it comes to denigrating Clinton, one word is rarely enough.
Neither Obama nor McCain attracted anywhere near as negative a reaction, or even more than one word responses. The argument, of course, is that this is all about the "Clinton" in Hillary Clinton, and not about the "Hillary." Any other woman would fare just fine, her critics contend. Any other woman would stride onto a post-feminist leveled playing field because it's just not about sex. Except it is.
Of the two men and one woman the Pew respondents were describing, only one was called "ambitious," although they're all running for the same office, and it's not McCain's first time. Guess who got the "ambitious," tag? What are McCain and Obama? Apathetic? Lazy? Unmotivated? No, they're men. They're ambition is expected, taken for granted, applauded and unremarkable.
Of the two men and one woman, only one was called "power hungry." Yep, Clinton again. She's called power hungry, but both Obama and McCain are called "leaders." No "leader" word given for Clinton, because, well women aren't thought of as leaders. When we try for the leader brass ring we're called "power hungry."
What will Clinton do with all that power she's starving for? She'll be "manipulative" and "overbearing." Now, is that because she's a Clinton, or because too many male voters are confusing her with their ex-wife, mother or former girlfriend? Not that men are obsessed with the idea that women are too controlling. No, that couldn't have anything to do with the gaping gender gap that has two-thirds of male voters in the primaries following Obama like he's the leader of the pack.
I know, I know. Many women are supporting Obama and have negative things to say about Clinton. But the fact that women have internalized the stereotypes that keep more of us from reaching for leadership in every sector is one of the best arguments for Clinton's candidacy. She's done what sexism has kept too many women from doing: taking the risk to rise beyond the barriers that tell us we're less qualified and able.
What were the most negative words used about Obama in the poll? "Inexperienced," "arrogant," "unqualified," "unfavorable." For McCain? "Old" (which isn't necessarily perjorative) and "untrustworthy."
And here's the full list of negative words and word combos used to describe the one woman in the race for President: untrustworthy, ambitious, crooked, dislike her, power hungry, selfish/self-centered, unfavorable, liar, manipulative, scary, arrogant, cold, dishonest, fake, overbearing, untruthful.
That's a lot of baggage to hang around Hillary's neck just for being a Clinton. But it's a lot more convenient and comfortable an analysis than wrestling with the idea that strong, powerful women face discrimination when they try to lead. It's so much easier to dismiss Clinton as a bitch.