I Am Hillary
By: Nicole M. Anzuoni
Earlier this week during the CNN Democratic Presidential Town Hall, the first question Hillary Clinton faced from the audience was from a rumpled, twenty-something, introduced as leaning towards voting for Bernie Sanders. He proceeded to ask the former First Lady, United States Senator and Secretary of State why his generation showed little enthusiasm for her candidacy, and posited that many people his age think she is “dishonest”.
My reaction to this query/statement was pretty visceral. I understand, as does Hillary, that when you are in the political arena, you will be subject to withering examination and critique. That’s the deal. You must be prepared to answer any and all questions lobbed your way.
But, still, to direct the word “dishonest” in so cavalier a fashion to someone of Hillary Clinton’s stature seemed jarring. Comparably, I have not heard anyone ask Bernie Sanders, “why do so many of my contemporaries think you are a little kooky?” Or to Martin O’Malley, “my friends wonder how you deal with your irrelevance in this race?”
I could not help but feel like, “who does this kid think he is to speak to Hillary Clinton like that?” The tone was so cutting, entitled. It was so – familiar.
I, and many others, know this male privilege condescension well. Not in the exact terms or context as Hillary endured on Monday night (and throughout her career), but with the same subversive, sexist undertone. What do I mean?
By way of example:
• After hosting a successful fundraiser at my home for a progressive organization on which I served on the board of directors, the male head of the organization called my efforts “sweet”. (NB: sexism is not limited to any one movement or political party).
• Following my suggestion of a solution to a particularly vexing business issue, my male boss declared to the conference room filled with my colleagues, “Nicole gets a gold star for the day.”
These specific episodes happened years ago, but they remain with me. I knew my contributions were being undercut by this infantilizing language. Is this how these male leaders treated other men? No, I knew it was not. Rather, my male counterparts received, among other things, obsequious accolades such as, “he has a truly nuanced view of the complexities of the business”.
I realized it was not surprising that I was so offended by this particular question during the Town Hall.
Because I am Hillary.
I have more experience than many of my colleagues, work hard to ensure I am thoroughly prepared on all issues for which I am responsible, and yet my accomplishments are routinely devalued and diminished. I do not mean just the insidious ridicule-masked-in-praise language I have faced, which some will dismiss as merely being overly sensitive. I mean I have been paid significantly less than the men in similarly situated positions with whom I have worked. The words are just used to reinforce my lack of standing. This is fact, not a feeling. Men get the laudatory praise and the lucrative promotions. When I have asked to be compensated fairly based on my merits as well as relative to my male colleagues, I have been labeled “over-reaching” and “ungrateful”.
How can any of us who experience these realities expect anything different when the most admired woman in the world regularly encounters similar obstacles? In Hillary’s case, just substitute polls for pay.
Despite what pundits said early on in the presidential race about Hillary’s candidacy being inevitable, many knew this time around would be a trudge just like her 2008 campaign. Eight years have passed, her resume has grown even more impressive, the country has evolved in certain ways, but one thing has not changed: she is still a woman.
Her detractors say they will support “anyone but Clinton.” Change the name on the 2016 ballot to Bill Clinton and I do not think the “anyone but Clinton” proclamation holds. Isn’t it really more accurate to say some voters will support “anyone but a woman?”
Others will say their issue is voting for this woman as President of the United States. She has “too much baggage”, she is “conniving”, she is a “crazy bitch”. Funny, these phrases sound an awful lot like the unpleasant descriptions hurled by men about their ex-wives or ex-girlfriends. But this is the rhetoric we hear too often associated with opposition to Hillary Clinton as President, not a sophisticated parsing of her policy positions. I find it remarkable that Bernie’s loud, generally grumpy and gruff disposition has been labeled “authentic” and “endearing”. Hillary’s resolve in confronting unending attacks, however, makes her “untrustworthy” and “unlikeable”.
And yet like a no frills, venerable Timex watch, Hillary “takes a licking and keeps on ticking”. Hillary absorbs hit after hit. That’s what all of us Hillarys have to do in our everyday lives. What choice do we have? We have to believe that by getting up from every pushback, we move ever so much closer to eliminating the inequity, to changing the dialogue, to making things a little easier for those who come after us.
While not a total solution, having a woman in the highest office in the nation would be another step towards a more gender enlightened country. And there is no one with more experience or better preparation (and there probably never will be in my lifetime) to take up that mantle than Hillary Clinton.
If none of this resonates with you, if you have never experienced anything like what I have described above, well, you are most likely either (a) lucky or (b) the perpetrator of such affronts (consciously or unconsciously).
Ask your grandmother, your mother, your aunt, your wife, your daughter-in-law, your sister, your cousin, your daughter or your granddaughter if she has had to abide such indignities, such assumptions about her skills or her character, and I bet many of them will also say, “I am Hillary”.