There has been a lot of discussion lately about what it might take for Bernie Sanders to rise up and defeat Hillary Clinton’s lead in the race for the Democratic nomination. Can he ever get enough individual support to beat her corporate fundraising? Can he possibly hope to topple her favorability ratings?
The answer, I think, is yes. Hillary does not have a guaranteed win for the nomination, and here’s why: she’s a woman. Before you gasp and clutch your pearls, hear me out.
Whether or not people are talking about it in these terms, gender is having an impact on the way the political race is shaping up, and it will continue to, because no matter how much we deny it, all of us are influenced by the misogyny that permeates our national identity.
Wait, really? Misogyny?
Isn’t that word a bit too strong?
No, it’s not. Here’s why.
Misogyny is defined as a hatred of women. Sure, it can be a personal prejudice, but that’s not what I’m referring to. I’m referring to the misogyny inherent in the oppressive systems which keep women from enjoying their rights to a position of equal power in society. This means having equal agency to make our own choices, equal influence within the economic and political institutions that shape our lives, and equal benefit of the doubt when earning credibility, trust, and respect.
Living as a woman in America is a Catch-22.
Have you noticed?
Women who prioritize their femininity are demeaned for their priorities, shamed for their failures, and “rewarded” for their successes with a secure but passive position of honor in the margins of society. In the margins, they are subject to the whims of society, with no power to influence the larger world they live in, completely dependent on the protection and support of chivalrous men.
Women who prioritize anything deemed masculine and/or who attempt to escape the margins of society, are considered bitchy, ugly, unlikeable, untrustworthy, and dangerous. They are systematically undermined, discredited, and rejected from positions of power in society and from places of honor in the margins.
Women who try to find a balance between feminine and masculine pursuits get slapped in the face with a tasty mix of both realities. They are demeaned for their feminine priorities, mistrusted and disliked for their masculine priorities, shamed for their failures, and “rewarded” for their successes with passive positions of marginalized honor. They are sometimes able to acquire positions of power in society, but face heightened levels of scrutiny and suspicion when they do, drawing more attention to their failures and nit-picking their successes. Failures are amplified. Successes are questioned and debated. If the success is considered feminine in nature, it is amplified and used to demean and marginalize. If the success is considered masculine in nature, it is either ignored or undermined.
If you begin to look, you will see misogyny everywhere. It’s not hard to find.
But in order to notice it, you need to realize that the first category of women, who prioritize their femininity (either by choice or through lack of it), are mostly invisible as people. They live in the margins of society. You will see them paraded about as sex objects and trophies, or you will see them working quietly behind the scenes, doing the necessary jobs that get very little attention. Apart from those women you know personally, you are unlikely to see who they are as people; you will only hear them praised for their usefulness or disregarded.
You also need to understand that the second category of women, who appear to show no regard for feminine pursuits or who cast off the shackles of marginalization, are even more invisible than the first. They aren’t paraded about as sex objects, and they aren’t praised for the work they do. This can include butch lesbians, trans*women, and feminists who make too much noise, to name a few. Apart from those you know personally, you are unlikely to see who they are as people. Where visible, they are caricatured and mocked as a way to strip them of power and influence.
Finally, you need to realize that the third category comprises almost every woman you will find. Some are powerful and highly visible. Some are powerful and mostly invisible. Some are powerless and highly visible. Some are powerless and mostly invisible. All of them are juggling time bombs of misogyny, struggling to land on the perfect balance that will let them participate in society and leave their mark on the world.
I challenge you to observe these dynamics on social media, on talk shows, in comedy, in movies, in family traditions, in religious sermons, in academic books, on television, in marketing ads, in pornography, in linguistics, and in the courtroom.
And before you vote, I challenge you to observe the misogyny in politics.
Before the first Democratic debate on October 13, a Jimmy Kimmel contributor walked the streets of New York, asking people how they thought Hillary Clinton did in the debate. An astonishing number remarked on her unpreparedness and said they were unimpressed, despite having not seen the debate because it had not yet happened.
Immediately after the debate, a CNN contributor remarked on how intelligent and composed Hillary Clinton appeared, as usual, but noted that it probably didn’t affect her poll numbers much since she didn’t manage during the debate to increase her “likeability.”
Fox News later held a focus group of democrats reacting to the debate, and a vast majority agreed that Bernie Sanders won, because he appeared “strong,” “straightforward,” “confident,” “direct,” “sincere,” “smart,” and “powerful.” Their favorite moment, unanimously, was a moment “about Hillary Clinton but not delivered by Hillary Clinton,” the moment when Sanders shouted about the “damn emails.” This made him likeable, one woman said, because he was “protecting [Hillary] and being a man about it–a gentleman.” One man commented on his disappointment that Hillary didn’t do something similar, saying: “he was stronger on the issue than she was, which scared me, because I wished she would have said it to protect herself.”
All of these examples and more are evidence of the scrutiny Hillary has to wade through, in response to the power she has attained and the power she seeks. Bernie Sanders does not face that same scrutiny. Imagine if Hillary had in fact gone off on a rail the way Sanders did, shouting “I am sick and tired of hearing about the damn emails!” It is highly doubtful that would have earned her the praise it earned Sanders. In fact, I am almost positive her “likeability” poll would have dropped even more.
Is it a tight race? Yes. Is Hillary likely to win the nomination? Probably. But is it guaranteed? No, I think not, partly because of political issues, but also because of the societal misogyny which always permeates our political process.
Just something to think about.