Allyson Hobbs remembers the night in Chicago’s Grant Park in November, 2008 when Barack Obama was elected president, and asks “Why Aren’t We Inspired by Hillary Clinton?”
If Hillary Clinton wins the Democratic nomination and the national election, can we expect the same gathering of crowds and the same emotional outpouring? Would the historic election of the first woman President evoke a similar thrill and sense of wonderment at the leaps that this country is capable of making?
Probably not. But why not? Is the election of a black man more revolutionary than the election of a white woman? Of course, one cannot compare the moment of an election victory of one candidate to a moment during another candidate’s campaign, a year before the election. And much of the excitement about Obama derived from the dissatisfaction with the President he was replacing. But the question remains: what’s behind the shortfall of enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton?
There are myriad reasons, and Clinton, of course, is not remotely as inspiring a speaker or campaigner as Obama. But another obvious explanation is the persistent problem of gender bias in American culture. Perhaps the sexism—in both overtly hostile and less visible but still insidious ways—has helped stoke the fires of animosity towards Clinton while, at the same time, creating an almost impossible standard for her. Unlike her male opponents, Clinton has to be far more careful and measured in what she says and does. To be free from a strict choreography of words and actions is a form of male privilege that Hillary Clinton cannot access.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Clinton can’t seem to get out of her own way in her campaign, which surely doesn’t help. (Here even I’m trapped by sexist language–the first thing that occured to me was “stepping on his own d!ck.” Is there a woman’s equivalent to this salty expression? If there is, I probably don’t want to hear it.) Then again, in 2008 she didn’t really seem to catch fire until it was a real competition. She’s good in debates–just not so good in the performance of retail campaigning that the political press wants to see at this early stage.
Get ready for more claims that “I’d vote for a woman for president–just not that one!” like we heard endlessly in 2008 about Clinton and Sarah Palin. With all of the disgusting speculation about her pregnancy, children, family life, and her daughter Bristol’s sexual activity, Palin proved that premenopausal women can’t win; Clinton may prove that postmenopausal women can’t win either.