By Andrew Mayzak
During the presidential primary in 2008, I remember remarking to my family how “masculine” I thought Hillary Clinton had become. She had cut her hair short, spoke in a monotone voice, and was exclusively wearing dark suits instead of a skirt and heels. I used this to justify why I wouldn’t vote for her: I didn’t want a woman playing at a “man’s job”… I wanted a woman who looked and acted like a woman. My sister in law eloquently countered with a simple phrase that has stuck with me: “Maybe she wears suits because she doesn’t feel like showing off her legs anymore.”
In retrospect, I pride myself on being an early supporter of Obama, but I am ashamed that my assessment of Hillary Clinton came from a position of gender bias. Because she didn’t fit the mold of what I thought a woman should be, I disqualified her from politics. Her views, advocacy, and policy work didn’t matter… I was willing to cast those aside because of an expectation of women that men, the media, and eventually conservatives had spent centuries constructing.
I’ve warmed considerably to Hillary since then, but even last year, I still wasn’t certain about her. Wasn’t she shifty and untrustworthy? Willing to change her mind and “evolve” whenever it suited her political interests? And what was up with her damned emails? Surely, with all the controversy and investigations and conspiracy theories, she *HAD* to be guilty of something.
But as part of my ongoing personal work with feminism, I checked myself. Was I truly suspicious of her? Or was I holding her to an unfair standard because I’m part of a society which scrutinizes women more than men?
Her rally Tuesday night was a comparatively intimate gathering, a few hundred people packed into Rainier Beach High School’s gymnasium. Mayor Murray made some remarks and then there she was: the most famous woman in the world, shorter than I expected, laughing with that famous open mouth wide-eyed expression we’ve all seen, and holding onto a Secret Service agent’s hand as she traversed the stairs.
Hers was a typical stump speech until the mic went out. Another was brought on stage; it too was dead. So she stretched out her hands, the crowd fell silent, and she said:
“OK that didn’t work… if you guys can hear me, I’m going to practice my loud voice.”
There was some snickering and she smiled.
“You know, people love to talk about whether I’m too loud or too quiet… or whether I’m too cold or whether or not I smile enough. And you know what? That’s just part of being a woman in politics.”
The cheer from the crowd was deafening and a woman somewhere behind me yelled “You tell ‘em, Hillary!”
In that small moment, it became clear that Hillary Clinton, more than any other woman in history, has been subjected to an unyielding landslide of judgement and scrutiny. Her entire career has been built in the face of “guilty until proven innocent,” an assumption that her ambitions are nefarious, that her politicking is disingenuous. Her education, her years spent as a professor, her decades-long activism, her laundry list of awards, and her meteoric ascent into politics have been brushed aside in favor of manufactured scandals and fruitless investigations, magnifying her mistakes until they overwhelm us with their perceived severity.
And she has willingly undertaken that burden.
While everyone must come to gender equality in their own way, this election cycle has been particularly sinister as I’ve watched self-proclaimed liberals borrow pages from the GOP handbook to level attacks at Hillary Clinton, blinded by their own patriarchal habits. Most have pointed to her changing views as evidence she shouldn’t deserve our trust, ignoring the fact that any good progressive (including Senator Sanders) changes and evolves over time with different life experiences. Indeed, expecting people to be born with and maintain the exact views they'll need when running for president six decades later isn’t asking for a leader… it’s asking for a god.
In almost any other profession, the capacity and willingness to embrace change, whether for political gain or to pursue new strategic goals, would be termed "alignment" and make a candidate *more* qualified for a role, not less. If this were a job interview, not only would Clinton's malleability be a highly prized skillset, but she would be, by far, the most qualified candidate for the job having stood directly in the line of succession.
But for Clinton, that trait is a liability in the eyes of an electorate so privileged by life in a stable society that they can afford to replace rationalism with scandal-driven entertainment.
When both Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice use their own personal email servers as Secretaries of State, yet neither come under investigation, something is unfair. It’s not a question of adherence to State Department policy – it’s a question of singling out a female presidential candidate for additional scrutiny by a kangaroo court.
When State Department employees have been killed during every administration since 1996, yet only Clinton, a presumptive presidential candidate and a woman, is dragged through hours of wasteful hearings on Benghazi, something is unjust. We are not seeking “the truth” about Clinton’s management abilities – we are seeking a reason to dislike her.
When Clinton is asked repeatedly about her husband's affairs while Sanders' two marriages and child born out of wedlock with a third woman are never discussed, something is amiss. This is not a question of morality – it’s a pointed effort to shame a woman for better ratings.
This is patriarchy.
This is wrong.
And no matter how liberal you claim to be, if you deny the inherent bias in our collective scrutiny of her, you are part of the problem.
Patriarchy doesn’t go away overnight, but in this most crucial of elections, each of us owes our country a searching evaluation of exactly how and why we support a particular candidate – is it out of sincere belief in their platform or is it because we’ve been conditioned to hold women to unfairly high standards? Do we “feel the Bern” because we have rational, objective reasons to believe a socialist agenda is the best choice for a fragmented nation or do we feel it because we have a shiny new male alternative to Clinton’s harpy? Did any of us know who Bernie Sanders was a year ago or have we flocked to his cause because, on some subconscious level, we believe the presidency to be a man’s job?
These are important questions to ask because the media, while giving Trump billions of dollars in free publicity, has simultaneously presented liberals with a David vs Goliath narrative which positions an underdog male (our savior) who's come to use his ethical purity (despite 30 years in politics) to take down the woman in power (that bitch) who has been bought by corporations (because corporate campaign contributions are universally bad).
I reject that narrative.
Sanders is not our savior, Clinton is not evil, and, lest we forget the role SuperPACs played in handing Obama the 2012 election, American corporations competing in a global economy realistically need at least some kind of (regulated) voice in national politics.
I wrote once before that we are in a Cold Civil War: polarization and enmity between and within both political parties is worse than ever. The United States is Balkanizing and liberals, poisoned against Clinton by years of misogynist attacks, are increasingly numb to the reality that pushing a hardline socialist agenda against monumental opposition would likely increase the cadence of reactionary legislation, government standoffs, and congressional guerilla tactics by conservatives.
And while I have been personally touched by Sanders’ truly righteous focus on income inequality, he is a thought leader, not a unifier. The cult of personality surrounding him has made it difficult for me to align with his platform amid the deluge of young white social justice bullies, tired anti-Clinton critiques, and Mother Jones articles.
Question the veracity of such an article? It’s because I’ve been brainwashed by the "bought & paid for media” in this country – the same media which gave us the underdog narrative above.
Question Sanders’ efficacy as president given our current congress? I’m an establishment patrician, tacitly supporting the monetization of our de facto oligarchy.
Announce my support for Hillary Clinton? I’m an uneducated fascist who hasn’t yet seen the light of social democratic policies (or if I’m a woman, because vagina).
Forgive Clinton for a gaff about the Reagans and AIDS? I can go to hell because no apology of hers short of “dropping out of the race in disgrace” is sufficient.
On this eve of the Washington caucuses, I won’t tell you to vote for Hillary because there are *many* rational, logical, well-founded reasons to vote for Senator Sanders.
But none of those reasons involve a media-induced hatred of Hillary Clinton or threatening a non-vote in November should she win the nomination. That brand of ignorant patriarchal zeal to follow the “pure” man rather than the “tainted” woman is ignoble and undermines the one institution that can reunify the nation: the Democratic Party.
Instead, I’ll offer this: lasting change is slow, incremental, and hard fought. Alignment is not sexy, nuance can’t be captured 140 characters or less, and compromise doesn't fill stadiums. But change, if it is to last, is inclusive and unifying. It does not come at the hands of a majority spitefully imposing its will on the minority – even when the majority is right. And it never comes from a position of insecurity, privilege, or misogyny.
In his final State of the Union, Obama remarked “Our brand of democracy is hard.” Our continent-sized nation is staggering in its diversity, unwieldly in its reach, and sickened from years of disunity. Despite my often biting rhetoric about conservatives, I still believe Americans are stronger together, even when we disagree.
It is my hope that our generation will rise to this challenge. It is my hope that our legacy will not be one of alienating our fellow Americans with hardline politicians, but that we may elect an experienced, highly qualified candidate, deeply committed to unity and compromise, and in so doing, finally, once and for all, shatter the glass ceiling.