The Impact of Sexist Language on Hillary Clinton’s Presidential Campaign Pt. 2

Again, as mentioned in part one of this discussion, some research suggests that gender is ranked as less important than things like political party affiliation in most voter’s minds. By this reasoning, it makes sense that Clinton has won so much support among Democrats; left-leaning voters have seen her as the most qualified candidate. However, if true, this view would also explain why Clinton has so much difficulty connecting to Republican voters, and would in part explain the overtly sexist merchandise Peter Beinart witnessed in Cleveland distributed by the Trump campaign.

The second theory, however, proposes that sexism in the media and from political opponents work insidiously to damage voter’s opinions about Clinton’s character and degree of qualification for presidency. As political strategist and former President/CEO of the Women’s Campaign Forum Siobhan "Sam" Bennett, puts it:  "The obstacles when it comes to politics are daunting. Voters just assume that a man is qualified. A woman has to prove that she is qualified" (2).

From this viewpoint, Clinton starts the race from a disadvantage in that she has to work harder to prove her qualifications and fit the image of a strong president while at the same time avoiding appearing “cold”, “distant”, or otherwise “overly masculine” to voters that subconsciously expect her to display traditionally feminine traits like compassion and soft-spokenness.

Another unique factor comes into play when we consider the sexist accusation sometimes put forth that Clinton is playing the “woman’s card” (3) in order to gain support from female voters. Namely, that she is pandering to gullible women by promising to work for gender equality or otherwise unfairly using her gender and feminist reputation to connect with voters. However, the evidence shows that Clinton is actually who she claims to be when it comes to feminism. She has a long history (4) of working for gender equality and the improvement of women’s lives around the world during her time as First Lady and later as Secretary of State, and this really connects with some people. Many of these people happen to be women, but not all.

Beinart claims that sexism is having a very real and very negative impact on Clinton’s campaign for presidency. This author’s conclusion is that the situation is a little more nuanced than that. The majority of research claims that, at least outwardly, most Americans do not make decisions between candidates based on gender, or, at least make them only after first considering a candidate’s party affiliation. Instead, people first make decisions based on things like a candidate’s political alignment, platform, character and qualifications. But, the potential for sexism to color these things is still very high, as even Clinton herself notes, albeit lightheartedly, in an interview with popular internet blog “Humans of New York”:

“I’m not Barack Obama. I’m not Bill Clinton. Both of them carry themselves with a naturalness that is very appealing to audiences. But I’m married to one and I’ve worked for the other, so I know how hard they work at being natural. It’s not something they just dial in. They work and they practice what they’re going to say. It's not that they're trying to be somebody else. But it's hard work to present yourself in the best possible way. You have to communicate in a way that people say: ‘OK, I get her.’ And that can be more difficult for a woman. Because who are your models? If you want to run for the Senate, or run for the Presidency, most of your role models are going to be men. And what works for them won’t work for you. Women are seen through a different lens. It’s not bad. It’s just a fact. It’s really quite funny. I’ll go to these events and there will be men speaking before me, and they’ll be pounding the message, and screaming about how we need to win the election. And people will love it. And I want to do the same thing. Because I care about this stuff. But I’ve learned that I can’t be quite so passionate in my presentation. I love to wave my arms, but apparently that’s a little bit scary to people. And I can’t yell too much. It comes across as ‘too loud’ or ‘too shrill’ or ‘too this’ or ‘too that.’ Which is funny, because I’m always convinced that the people in the front row are loving it.”

 

You personally may support or oppose Clinton based on her politics alone, and that’s great. Nothing could be more legitimate. In fact, this is probably the case with most American voters, according to the research. However, I still wonder why sexist language and attacks against female public figures like Clinton continues to exist and be tolerated in 2016, regardless of whether it is currently influencing voters or not. Personally, I take the presence of this much sexism against a female presidential candidate with decades of experience in American politics and civil service is an unfortunately a sign that our society has perhaps not made as many advances towards gender equality as we think we have. And, as the next generation of educated young people, raises the question of what kind of society we want to build for ourselves moving forward: one that dismisses social injustice, or one that works continually to dispel it.

 

(2): http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-june-22-2016-1.364685...

(3): http://www.newsweek.com/2015/11/20/hillary-clinton-rallies-women-voters-...

(4): http://www.newsweek.com/2015/11/20/hillary-clinton-rallies-women-voters-...