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The Politics of Being Human

I had a hard time deciding what to write about in this article. I started a couple of different pieces and quit them, partly due to general indecision and partly because I haven’t written anything in a while. After abandoning my study abroad blog halfway through the semester (RIP KB Goes Overseas), I took a 5-month hiatus from writing anything. When I started this article, I didn’t know where to begin. 

One glaring issue that I simply could not avoid was the impending election, and the near constant deluge of inflammatory media that floods our minds and newsfeeds on a daily basis. Most of the coverage of the two candidates has been extremely negative. Both of them are surrounded by legal and political controversy, and few headlines contain any hopeful or uplifting information regarding their capabilities as leaders. This fact in itself is very unsettling . It feels as if choosing between the two candidates is based more upon who can do the least damage rather than who can do the most good. It’s a frightening, glass-half-empty approach to selecting a leader.

Thankfully, inspiration hit me in the form of a Humans of New York post about Hillary Clinton I came across while getting ready to go out Thursday night.
Humans of New York (HONY) is one of my favorite social media publications so far. For those who don’t know,  HONY is a Facebook page that offers images of and stories from people living in the city. Some stories are lighthearted and humorous, while others engage with more serious topics such as poverty, illness, and dometic violence. HONY strives to raise awareness of issues that many people struggle with, often in silence, and the organization has further extended its reach into fundraising efforts for valuable causes. Humans of New York  generally attempts to humanize many of the individuals that make up the city’s population.

I love seeing these stories come up in my newsfeed, and many of them contain moving accounts of people’s deepest and most personal truths. Hillary Clinton’s story was split into two shorter posts, one in which she reflected on the resistance she encountered in her early efforts to apply to law school and another in which she grappled with the  dilemma female politicians face when they are viewed in the public eye. Her message was powerful, and prompted me to consider more deeply what it means to be this close to having a woman as the leader of our nation.
These posts were clearly intended to humanize her as a candidate. It has often been mentioned that one of the biggest struggles of her campaign is not that people deny her qualifications, but rather that they do not trust her or even like her as a person. Obviously, there are legal factors that play into that distrust – coverage of such issues has been rampant as of recent. Playing devil’s advocate, of course she could have shared this message as a surface-level attempt to manipulate her audience and reshape her national image. I’ve watched enough Scandal and House of Cards to know this happens all the time. Nevertheless, her message is an important one and should not be discredited. She speaks to one of the most fundamental issues plaguing this campaign season: the inherent conflict between being human and being political, and the turmoil that ensues when the two overlap.

Thinking more deeply about what Hillary Clinton must go through when attempting to establish a positive image is disheartening, and the sheer impressiveness of what she has accomplished thus far should not go unacknowledged. In the second of her two posts, she addresses the fact that our country is wholly unaccustomed to having a female candidate for president and therefore responds differently to her and is quicker to judge her on a personal level. She shares:

“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.”

This blew me away. People often point out how I am somewhat of a loud person, so I personally relate to this. I get excited about things and unintentionally shout them at ridiculously high volumes. Thankfully, my close friends have taken up the habit of offering a gentle reminder when my speaking level reaches a particularly high decibel. However, the thought of being told this by an entire nation, of people everywhere reminding me both verbally and in print that I need to quiet down because I am too passionately conveying what I strongly believe in is unsettling. Women have long struggled to overcome the stereotypes thrown upon them when they hold a position of power – being characterized as shrill rather than emphathic, bossy rather than assertive, emotional rather than driven, fragile rather than strong.
Pairing this with the message of her first post, this issue of perception extends far beyond the 2016 presidential race. Hillary talks about the necessity of concealing a part of yourself so that people will not be too polarized by who you are as a person. Of course this is an inevitable part of participation in politics, but she emphasizes the unfortunate reality that this is a battle she cannot seem to win. She explains the sheer difficulty of striking a balance between avoiding the aforementioned structural stereotypes and coming off as emotionless, stressing that,

“I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that’s a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off.’ And sometimes I think I come across more in the ‘walled off’ arena. And if I create that perception, then I take responsibility. I don’t view myself as cold or unemotional. And neither do my friends. And neither does my family. But if that sometimes is the perception I create, then I can’t blame people for thinking that.”

This election comes down to what it means to be treated as human, in more ways than one. From Donald Trump’s incendiary proposals targeting specific groups of people to the public’s critical responses to Hillary Clinton’s potential emergence as the first female president, this election prompts American citizens to overcome social stereotypes and critically assess what they consider to be an acceptable standard of respect for their fellow human beings.

Images: 1, 2, 3, 4

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Katie Anne

Notre Dame

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