The Impact of Sexist Language on Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign Pt. 1

I know that for many of us, trying to navigate this presidential election is about as quick and painless as passing a kidney stone. However, being young, intelligent adults, and most us first-time presidential election voters, we’re all supposed to stay informed in anticipation of November. So, for my part, I do my best to at least glance at the morning’s headlines while nibbling on my plate of FFC scrambled eggs. It must have been lucky eggs on my plate last Sunday, however, because that particular morning I happened to find an article about the election that left me intrigued after reading, instead of frustrated.

The article, written by Peter Beinart of The Atlantic entitled “Fear of a Female President” essentially claimed that sexism had a very strong negative impact on Hillary Clinton’s campaign for presidency. I was intrigued because, I, perhaps like some of you, would like to think that the majority of Americans are essentially gender-blind when making decisions between political candidates. I wanted to see what kind of case for sexism against Clinton Beinart could wrangle up.

After reading having a lengthy discussion about the article it with a friend, I only became more intrigued and decided to dig deeper into the issue to examine evidence of sexist language and arguments being used against Clinton, and whether these are having a significant negative impact on her campaign. If they were having a significant impact, what would it would say about the progress gender equality has made in the United States?

Beinart’s article included a variety of examples of sexism affecting Clinton, falling into several categories: general anti-feminist sentiment, derogatory language used to describe Clinton or her supporters (e.g “bitch”, “pussy”), use of insulting sexual images in connection to the former Secretary, and criticism referencing physical appearance, tone of voice and clothing.

My own research into the topic produced dozens of sources providing evidence of sexist attacks on Clinton, some stretching all the way back to her 2008 presidential campaign. However, just as I suspected, my own deeper research showed that the impact of sexism on the way people vote is not completely clear. Some research suggest that political party affiliation is viewed as most important to voters when choosing a candidate (1), and gender will usually only come into play when it comes to picking between candidates running under the same party. Additionally, only when the female candidate was running under the opposite party from the voter’s did gender-based criticism of the female candidate come into play.

Other research, however, tends to suggest that the sexism we see in the media and from political opponents doesn’t cause voters to directly use “she’s a woman” as a reason not to support Clinton, but instead shape the way voters view her overall character and qualification for presidency.

So, based on Beinart's article and other sources, we can agree that sexism in the media and sexist criticisms of Clinton propagated by her opponents exist. Additionally, researchers present us with two theories of how this sexism could be affecting the former Secretary’s presidential campaign. A deeper look into these two theories and the consequences of each will follow in part two of this article.


(1): Washington Post - “What the Research Tells Us”