Thursday, May 01, 2008


On the one hand, as a liberal, I desperately want the Dem primary to be over so that we can stop the infighting and prepare to win in November.

On the other hand, as a woman, I see Hillary Clinton getting treated in a way no candidate has ever been treated before. It makes me want to scream.* So when I read this article today, my heart broke a little.

I was telling Rob the other day that I think part of the reason my affinity for the Clinton campaign has cemented lately is emotional. I can't wait to vote Dem in November for whoever our nominee is, which is why I didn't make up my mind about who to vote for until shortly before the Illinois primary. But as the days go on, the reasons that keep me in the Clinton camp are not the ones that originally brought me there -- the policy, the experience. Instead, it's identity politics. I wonder if that is reasonable or proper or for the best. Whether it is or isn't, though, it's the truth.

I see this woman who is hard-working, unconventional, nerdy and ambitious... and then I see her being derided. The derision is allegedly based on substantive things. But when you put it in the sunlight, you see that at its core is a lot of misogyny, a lot of hating Hillary Clinton because she's female+ambitious, a lot of mocking Hillary because she's female+nerdy, a lot of sneering at Hillary because she's female+unconventional. If you didn't have the female+, you wouldn't have anywhere near the level of derision. That sucks. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. And I have started to take it personally, as much as I wish I wouldn't.

I think about my life as a hard-working, nerdy, somewhat unconventional, and (let's face it) extremely ambitious woman. I think about the times I've been kicked around for my ambition, while my male colleagues and counterparts have been praised for the same ambition. I hear commentators criticize Hillary Clinton's tone of voice and I flashback to the time I questioned a co-worker for getting mad at me during political debates, but not getting mad at another co-worker when he expressed the exact same opinions. The explanation? My tone of voice. Seriously. My response? An internal vow to work on my tone of voice. Seriously. I immediately assumed my co-worker was right.

Maybe I do have a really irritating tone of voice that has nothing to do with my gender. Or maybe high-pitched voices + intense political debate is a bit more striking in this day and age than it should be. Or maybe a bit of both. Maybe I am more obnoxiously ambitious than my male counterparts. Or maybe a petite, young-looking Midwestern gal + overt ambition is also a bit more striking in this day and age than it should be. And we all know that different is typically grating at first. Until you get used to it.

I don't discount the possibility that I might just be particularly annoying. In truth, especially lately, I'd rather that be the case. But the thing is, I don't think Hillary Clinton is annoying. Or evil. Or conniving. Or a bitch. I think she's pretty awesome, but still a politician. Certainly no worse than the average politician on the scales of human decency.

Her voice has never bothered me. Her ambition, her self-assurance, her perseverance have only inspired me, never angered me. Her politics? Well, mostly I like them, sometimes I don't. (In particular in the fall of 2005 when she gave a speech I felt did a disservice to reproductive justice.) But I've never forgotten that her policy speeches during her 2000 campaign gave me goosebumps. They were so smart. They were so well-considered. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to be that smart, that bold, that fearless.

So yes, I want this primary to be over. But I also don't want Hillary to leave the race. (Something about cake and eating it too comes to mind....) I'm dreading that day. Because I am afraid that it will legitimize society's kicking around a woman who dares to be as ambitious as men. Because I am afraid that it will mean that our country is way too far away from hearing a woman speak about policy and only hearing the policy, not the tone of voice. And most of all, because I am afraid that it will mean that maybe I'm not annoying, maybe the truth is that me being female+whatever is annoying. And that would just suck.

*I sincerely hope it goes without saying that I write all this without in any way discounting the mistreatment Obama has received at times in this campaign, including some attacks from the Clinton campaign. The fact that both candidates have been wronged does not, to me, lessen the impact or offense of any particular wrongs. I am just choosing to write about some of those wrongs here, not saying they are worse than any other wrongs.


Alan M. said...

I don't know that I agree with your conclusions, though. That is, just because these actions might display an irrational dislike of Hillary Clinton, it doesn't logically follow that the underlying cause must be misogyny. Maybe it's not that she's "female+ambitious", but that she's "Hillary Clinton+ambitious" — i.e., nothing she can do is going to be "right" with the people whose derision you're identifying.

I'm not saying that you're definitely wrong, but I am saying that I know enough people (myself included) who I wouldn't consider misogynist, but who are nonetheless put off or annoyed by Hillary Clinton (or at least some of her campaign's actions over the past couple of months), that I'm not convinced of your hypothesis.

Kat said...

I think there's a difference between being put off by her campaign's actions and being put off by her.

It's hard for me to make more of an argument about it because I feel like I end up calling people I care about sexist. But maybe it's more that we are allowing ourselves to be sucked into a sexist way of viewing Hillary that we don't even question. That's really what I fear.

Alan M. said...

Fair points, all.

I think, to a point, though, that will always happen: we'll always conflate a campaign's actions with the candidate themselves. It's not fair or right, but...well, that's the human brain for ya. :P

And I definitely see where your fear is coming from, and I'm probably inclined to agree with it. I just think it's a world of difference between "Is this sexist?" and "This is sexist." Right now I don't think the data exist to answer the former or say the latter, because...well, we've never had a viable female candidate for president before, so we can't discern whether this is a pattern that would be applied to all female candidates, or one that's specific to Hillary in particular.

It's definitely a good question to ask, though!