#VAWIP Blog Symposium: USA

USA: Because she was a woman

by Amy Shamroe

I remember huddling around my friend’s laptop with several friends on November 4, 2008. We were hopeful, but didn’t really believe a black man could become President of the United States. Not yet. When he did, we literally took to the streets of our small town singing “God Bless, America.” Hope had won.

When it became apparent in summer 2016 that Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee for President, I was conflicted. I had been wrong about America’s ability to elect a black man, but as a woman living in this country I knew in subtle and not so subtle forms that sexism and misogyny is alive and well here. Still, hope had one victory, so I allowed myself to get excited that a woman might finally lead America. We saw how that turned out.

So, how did a former Senator and Secretary of State lose to a bankrupt reality TV star? Hundreds, if not thousands, of think pieces have been written about this subject since last November. Many, especially those written by men, look at the campaign’s lack of ground game. Fair point, but Trump didn’t even have organizers in every state. When you strip it all away, it comes down to the fact she was a woman.

From the get-go, as a former Secretary of State, Senator, architect of a healthcare plan, and successful lawyer Hillary Clinton still wasn’t good enough. In comments and conversation, she was a “bitch” or worse for being involved in politics, for making the tough decisions men are supposed to make. Trump called for her to be locked up for doing her job as Secretary of State and made it a platform during the campaign, ignoring the long history in our country of peaceful transitions without abuse of power to punish challengers. His supporters latched on the “Lock her up!” battle cry, including soon to be National Security advisor Michael Flynn (now under investigation). Demeaning and undermining her accomplishments has always been par for the course, and American politics have not only allowed it, they have made it the status quo.

It pains me to start with this, but merely getting dressed has always been all the media and critics have needed to attack Hillary Clinton. When she was First Lady, a completely allowable attack was her headbands and scrunchies. Journalists of all stripes commented on the “trend” while she was working to try and reform health care during her husband’s first term. Senator Hillary Clinton’s “boring” pantsuit was a sign of her not being feminine enough. Well, until 2007 at least, when she wore a shirt under one suit was noted to show cleavage. “There wasn’t an unseemly amount of cleavage showing, but there it was. Undeniable.” The Washington Post, a newspaper of note, reported at the time. Numerous articles were written about the suits. Television talk shows spent hours discussing them. As women often do, Clinton eventually leaned into it and even went on David Letterman’s show and made jokes about them herself.

In 2015, when the 2016 Presidential election was already making headlines, pundits once again focused on her clothing. A secret Facebook group called Pantsuit Nation eventually sprang up to take ownership of the obsession with Clinton’s wardrobe. It is easy to downplay and minimize this behaviour, but it is a small but meaningful way women are demeaned and marginalized.

While pundits like to put blame for the vitriol, if they even see any, of the 2016 elections on Trump and his supporters, it is far more institutionalized. Harvard University’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy released a study after last year’s elections that showed the media focused more on Clinton’s “controversies,” as the study referred to the negative events, than Trump’s in the election. While the percentage difference was only 4%, the coverage mattered. The narrative for Clinton almost solely focused on “the emails” while Trump’s multitude of controversies were briefly discussed until the next one came along to overshadow the last. From the study, “Clinton’s badgering had a laser-like focus. She was alleged to be scandal-prone. Clinton’s alleged scandals accounted for 16 percent of her coverage—four times the amount of press attention paid to Trump’s treatment of women and sixteen times the amount of news coverage given to Clinton’s most heavily covered policy position.” The media chose to report on an “the emails,” even after countless of GOP led hearings yielded nothing- all while Trump’s blatantly sexist comments and terrible treatment of women were passing stories and not viewed with the same intensity. This was the media as whole, including the allegedly liberal bias publications, giving a man who was caught on tape make lewd comments and had multiple accusers speak out about his actions a free pass.

Looking back a year later, seeing the havoc Trump is already wreaking, the narrative has sadly not changed. When Clinton dared to share her experiences as a woman in international politics the same media turned up to tear her apart again. Numerous Op-Eds questioning how she could dare to share her thoughts flooded social media and chat shows. Bernie Sanders released a book the week after the election and was met with no push-back. Clinton publishes a memoir a year later and she is branded as a sore loser and/or someone who should not even consider being part of the conversation anymore.

Amy Shamroe, publishing professional and Traverse City City Commissioner (elected), Michigian, USA. 

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