Hillary Clinton

Conversations We Didn’t Have About Hillary Clinton

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Taylor Romine

Journalist, classic rock aficionado, and feminist theory fanatic.

Since November 8th, there have been countless perspectives of how Hillary Clinton lost the election. While discussing America’s future and the outcome of the election, it is helpful to self-reflect on the aspects that went wrong, but it is also important to analyze how this election used gender as a double-edged sword. While this was thoroughly discussed (to the point where it seemed like beating a dead horse), few looked at gender beyond the typical parameters. Gender was used as weakness but also power, and the way it was symbolized reflects our culture’s internal debate of what womanhood represents.

The obvious has already been pointed out: what she wears, when she smiles, how relaxed her posture is. These are all the classic critiques that men and women alike have openly criticized. In all honesty, these attacks are to be expected when a woman has any position of power, and the criticism Hillary Clinton received was something she and her campaign were prepared for. The more technical conceptions of gender aren’t as apparent.

For example, the Clinton email scandal. This overrun story has been the highlight of Hillary’s campaign, characterizing her as a criminal who shouldn’t be eligible for election. The results of the FBI review have hardly deterred the skeptics, and to be fair, our intelligence system is so messed up that I don’t blame them. But let’s compare this to George W. Bush’s 2007 email scandal. Don’t remember it? Neither does most of the American population. The debacle, which started in 2003 and was discreetly closed in late 2008, focused on 22 million missing emails from the Bush administration from 2003 to 2007. What was especially concerning was the large chunks of Vice President Cheney’s emails about major decisions relating to invading Iraq that completely vanished. Not concerning enough? The Republican National Convention maintained a private server (the audacity of some people!) called gwb43.com to specifically handle “political content” for the White House staff. Worst part? Bush then refused to give the subpoenaed emails, claiming executive privilege.

Now to be clear, the Bush administration’s actions are all explicitly illegal. In response to the Watergate Scandal in Nixon’s administration, Congress passed the Presidential Records Act, which made all presidential and vice presidential records archived for the public after January 20th, 1981. But both Reagan and George Bush went against this act, causing an extended lawsuit. Every Republican president since this act was created has very noticeably gone against it. But when Clinton, who was not obligated by law to share her records, overwhelmingly cooperated with her private server, she was marked as someone who was hiding information.

This incident was turned into a scapegoat to call her every negative thing you can think of. A liar. A sociopath. A bitch. The list is endless. All the while, it was confirmed by internal sources that no one in the Secretary of State position has ever used a government email. What could she have done to prevent this situation? Very little, because this attack was less about her actions and more about what public opinion had to say about her.

Another popular topic to discuss is the outcry of Clinton potentially starting World War III. This rumor started with conversation of tension between Russia and the U.S. in the Syrian War, a situation that the U.S. is solely involved with to dismantle ISIS. Now, without context, this could make some sense. In her time as Secretary of State, she contributed to Libya’s collapse, was at least partially responsible for the lack of restructuring in Haiti, and supported the coup that lead to the downfall of Honduras. These actions resulted in the deaths of countless individuals, especially women of color, who she so adamantly claims she wants to ‘help’. But what is not understood is that her policy isn’t any different than the rest of the Democratic Party. Not to mention, it has been said the Obama was “the most controlling foreign policy president since Nixon.” To what benefit would a nuclear war with Russia be for her presidency? If elected, she most likely would have continued Obama’s work — sternly but carefully trying to deescalate Russia. This narrative is reminiscent of remarks that women will start wars while menstruating, but with a twist. It relies on the notions that Clinton is power hungry — and where do these notions come from? It could potentially be her wishy-washy tendencies towards policies, or that her political efforts seem to bounce off her husband’s. But regardless of these other factors, there is something we must admit: we have been systematically trained to be doubtful towards powerful women. Even for the “best” feminists, it is hard to detach ourselves from this, simply because it is so ingrained into our cultural fabric.

This does not make Hillary Clinton the best candidate or faultless for her wrongdoings; it just complicates the narrative that was dominant in public thought. The subtleties of oppression work within a complicated matrix of identity, and just because Clinton is a rich white person doesn’t mean we can exclude her from more intricate forms of gendered feminist analysis. Since there is a likelihood that women in politics, especially in powerful positions like the presidency, will become more mainstream, it is more essential than ever that we think outside the bounds of good and bad. Because just like everything else in the world, there is a lot of messy in the middle.

One comment

  1. I enjoyed this interesting essay. It is critical that we level the playing field and not judge men and women by different standards. It’s also critical that we keep our eyes on the prize, remembering always that the electoral-college system and resulting rural privilege mean that a Democratic candidate needs a 3-5% advantage in the popular vote to win the election. This only will get worse as more of the educated population is concentrated in a few states.

    To return to your topic, many of the anti-HRC attacks would not have been used against a male person. Another example are rumors about her health, which were reinforced by stereotypes of women as weak. Going a step further, one wonders if she might not have done better to choose a macho running mate (such as Gen. Allen, who spoke at the convention), rather than the gentle Tim Kaine. The latter — a fine person — did not satisfy some Americans’ desire for macho strength.

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