Holding Their Ground
Attacks on Hillary Clinton have galvanized women voters.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
What surprises Rose Vasquez Colon the most about Hillary Clinton’s run for the White House is that a woman finally made it as a credible contender for the nomination of a major political party.
“I always said I would never see it in my lifetime,” says Colon, 45, chairwoman of the Monterey County Commission on the Status of Women. Sexism is still very much accepted and tolerated, Colon believes.
“People still believe that men should run the country,” Colon says. “[Women] tend to sort of get pushed out of the realm as leaders. We still have men who look at women and say we should be at home making kids…The same goes in Washington.”
She notes it has been mostly men saying Clinton should drop out of the race before the primaries end, which she is certain wouldn’t be the case if Barack Obama were trailing in the counts of delegates and superdelegates.
“They would say ‘Keep going’ to the man,” Colon maintains.
She makes a good point.
Not that Clinton hasn’t contributed to the erosion of her front-runner, presumptive-nominee status: her sense of entitlement to the office, allowing her husband to bask in too much of the campaign-trail limelight, her tap-dancing around direct answers on her vote in favor of the Iraq war.
CLINTON HAS BEEN TARGETED BECAUSE OF HER GENDER
But all that aside, the fact is Clinton has been targeted more often because of her gender than her politics in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination. The viciousness and snarkiness is everywhere, especially on “mainstream” political TV shows, where MSNBC’s Chris Matthews has been among the worst offenders. At one point, in all seriousness, he said Clinton was elected to the Senate and is a presidential contender only “because her husband messed around” and people feel sorry for her.
Such comments are just a fraction of the personal viciousness in print, on blogs and on TV.
Par for the course, says Jean Richards, coordinator for the Monterey Peninsula chapter of the National Organization for Women.
“I really do think it is definitely more accepted to put women down than to put a person of color down,” says Richards, 67. “Being sexist doesn’t seem to be as big an offense. A lot of people still think women are the lesser sex…Too often we’re viewed as second-class citizens.”
Attributes of strength and toughness usually are ascribed as compliments to men, but often regarded as unfeminine and inappropriate when applied to women. When Clinton became teary-eyed during a question-and-answer session before the New Hampshire primary, pundits excoriated her for being mushy and acting like a girl on the one hand, and calculating and political on the other. She was damned either way.
The same goes for looks. Clinton has been criticized for everything from her hairstyle to her dress size, which have nothing to do with leadership. Neither male contender faces such scrutiny. The closest pundits have come to criticizing Obama is questioning his lack of an American flag pin. As for presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain, his age is a constant issue, but only in relation to whether he would survive two terms as president, not as a question about his ability to be commander-in-chief.
The pressure for Clinton to drop out of the race—ostensibly for the good of the Democratic Party—has crescendoed since her big loss last week in North Carolina’s primary and her squeak-by victory in Indiana. She handily won West Virginia’s primary on Tuesday, and says she will press on.
Richards, for one, applauds Clinton’s moxie.
“She should stay in the race,” Richards says. “I look at Clinton as the first time [women] have a real shot at the presidency. I think the race should be about competence, and she is the most competent.”
For the most part, Clinton has ignored the sniping, even if the comments have affected public perception.
An unintended consequence, though, is that they’ve galvanized many women who grew up in the feminist movement, who will be even more ready to take on the misogynists the next time a woman runs for president.
Gloria Steinem, campaigning for Clinton in Texas, said in March there is “a great deal of pressure at play for her to act like her gender and give in,” according to The New York Observer. “It’s a way of reinforcing the gender roles, right? Men are loved if they win and Hillary is loved if she loses…”
The numbers are not on her Clinton’s side, but Colon thinks if the senator decides to end her campaign, she should do it on her own terms, not because she is bullied by party leaders.
And while the campaign’s end is a disappointing scenario for many women, there is an up side.
“[Women] have opened a big, huge door,” Colon says. “We definitely have laid the foundation to empower other women in the future to [run for president].”
That may well be Clinton’s most enduring legacy.