As a feminist and a progressive liberal, I have watched this election with a kind of horror. I have been frightened by the sexism, homophobia, and racism I have seen coming from both the right, and sadly but more subtly, the left. (Sorry, my left-leaning friends, but yes, it takes a lot of unacknowledged privilege to argue that you know better who to represent women, the LGBTQIA, and African Americans than members of those groups do).
And so, as one of those dreaded SJWs, I have spent a lot of time this last year talking about misogyny, patriarchy, and sexism to those on both sides.
Some people think, when I say that misogyny is the reason too much of the country hates Hillary, that I am talking about personal sexism: prejudice at the level of the individual. There is, of course, some of that — too much of that — but what I really mean is that the image that those people have of her isn’t real. It’s a construct of layer over layer of misogyny. And it started a long time ago.
Back in the early 90’s, while some of us were thrilled to meet Bill’s bride and find her to be a compassionate but savvy professional woman, another part of the country loathed her for no other reason than that she didn’t match their sexist image of the demure woman who exists only to prop up her husband’s political career.
That made her an easier target; it made her “unnatural.” And like so many women in history, that “sin” made all other sins more believable: because a woman not willing to accept her place is capable of any heinous thing you can imagine. This was made worse by the fact that tales of the duplicity of women are as deeply embedded in our cultural narratives as Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. These two things allowed people to be suspicious of her, and anything they heard became plausible justification for those suspicions. It didn’t matter that there was no evidence to back up the accusations made against her–not even at the end of years of fruitless investigation after investigation of her by her enemies. As long as the those accusations were constructed to play to the deeply entrenched and misogynistic ideas we still harbor about women, they would be believed.
Had any of those supposed sins been committed by a man, there would have been a chorus of voices pushing back: “You have to look at it in context.” “We should wait til we see all the evidence before judging.” Hillary, as a woman, had no old boys club choir to rely on. Women who stood up to protest the way she was talked about and treated were dismissed based on many of those same beliefs: women are irrational and given to emotional overstatement. Everybody knows that. And without that pushback — from anyone who mattered — every new accusation just built up over all the ones before it.
That meant that (mostly) men could buy into that accumulation of lies without ever having to face their own sexism: it’s like buying juice that says “no sugar added.” The fact that extra sugar hasn’t been added to a beverage that any nutritionist will tell you is mostly sugars and water doesn’t make it any better for you. But those who bought into the more removed sexism of the Hillary narrative could tell themselves: “If only it were any other woman…”
But it could not have been any other woman. Because only a woman like Hillary — persistent, strategic, aggressive, pragmatic, and apparently reserved — could have made it through the gauntlet set up for women who run for high office in this country. To have lacked any of those or a dozen other qualities, which we don’t question in men but view with suspicion in women, would have been the end of her political career. Hopefully, it will be different in the future, but for now, this is how the first one had to do it.
And so any woman who got this far would have this same cloak of misogyny-manufactured dishonesty about her that Hillary has been forced to accept. Her wearing it doesn’t say anything about her. She has repeatedly been shown to be the most honest person who ran for President this cycle by unbiased fact-checking groups.
It does, however, say everything about us that, when provided with the examples of Hillary (who the fact-checkers say tells the truth about 70% of the time) and Trump (who they report is lying at least 70% of the time), so many people throw their hands up and claim they are the same. We accept the misogynist construction because, at some level, we have absorbed the sexist standard that women are more deceitful than men by their nature. But we don’t have to think of ourselves as misogynist.
It’s her fault: She is unnatural (I mean, she doesn’t bake cookies, FFS) because she doesn’t fit a straitjacketing and now-anachronistic mold for women. Except when it comes to lying. Then she’s as female as all get out.
Sorry… but it is misogyny all ’round. Even among so many of us who should know better.