Hillary Clinton does not fit, neatly, into the frame of white hegemonic masculinity; Similarly, Michelle Obama does not fit into the traditional framework of American femininity. In 1915, Frank Clark, an American politician, expressed his views on the American woman and the suffragist movement:
I do not wish to see the day come when the woman of my race in my state shall trail their skirts in the muck and mire of partisan politics. I prefer to look to the American woman as she has always been, occupying her proud estate as the queen of the American home, instead of regarding her as a ward politician in in the cities…the American mother, the American woman has my admiration, my respect, and my love—
Clearly, Clark’s definition of American womanhood is synonymous with a myopic view of white femininity, which is characterized by homemaking and motherhood. Clark overlooks women of color and poor white women as he argues against the suffragist movement. The suffragist movement argued that women should be allowed to vote because all men and women were created equally. This argument from justice can be seen in the Declaration of Sentiments, which was drafted at the first women’s rights conference in the United States. Although the Fifteenth Amendment of the United states was ratified in 1870 and it prohibited the government from denying a citizen the right to vote based on the citizen’s “race, color or previous condition of servitude,” this right to vote was not extended to black women. There was lack of diversity in the American Suffragist movement.
When Clinton became the first woman to be nominated for president by a major party in American politics, she referred back to the 19th amendment, which prohibited citizens from being denied the right to vote based on their sex. In light of this Danielle highlights that,
Even though this constitutional change meant women were allowed to freely participate in the electorate process, Black women in the South, and other jurisdictions that employed tactics such as poll taxes and literacy tests to discriminate against African African Americans, were not able to exercise this right. Instead, Black women would have to wait 45 years until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed.
In “The Discursive Performance of Femininity: Hating Hillary,” it provides that female public advocacy is met with resistance because the role of public advocate has traditionally been a masculine role. Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign ended in a devastating loss and in hindsight we see that it is necessary for there to be a psychological breakthrough, among American men and women, in order to establish equality between the sexes. This article will focus on how much of the media’s criticism of Hillary Clinton is sexist and how both she and Michelle Obama function to break the mold of the traditional First Lady.
How much of the media’s criticism of Clinton is sexist? Is the United States presidency a place where hegemonic masculinity is perpetuated and reinforced?
In “Cable News Has a Sexism Problem” we see how male hosts, on cable news, constantly belittle women. In response to this sarahparente provides that Fox news is designed to serve a certain mindset, and does so effectively; she agrees that a large portion of the American public ascribes to these misogynistic ideals, otherwise outlets such as Fox news wouldn’t exist. The fact that many Americans find it acceptable, for a presidential candidate, to be blatantly sexist is evidenced in the outcome of this election. In a post responding to “Cable News has a Sexism Problem” yimchristina highlights that sexism is not the creation of cable news. She posits that the misogynistic views of women are deeply embedded in the psyches of many, if not all, people within in our society. It just so happens that cable news uses these ideals for financial gain.
How did the characterization of women as harpies, shrews and uncontrollably emotional creatures affect Hillary Clinton in her campaign for the presidency?
As Hillary Clinton tried to step into a role that functions primarily to reassert a mythical hegemonic masculinity, she was met with blatant aggression and ultimately rejection. In “Mama Hillary for Prez” by Theodore Wallace, he highlights that Hillary Clinton was characterized as “hawkish” in the article, “The Libya Gamble: Hillary Clinton, ‘Smart Power’ and a Dictators Fall”. This characterization of Clinton as “hawkish” is sexist; it aligns with the archetypal shrew of modern myths. Hillary Clinton has been consistently accused of screaming when she speaks yet, her opponents were not.
There are preconceived notions of how the American president should look and behave and it is not surprising that in the American psyche, the president is expected to look like an older white man with a strong jaw line.
He’s impassioned. She’s a shrew. He’s impassioned.
The double standard is clear. There is a double bind that pits femininity against competency. According to benmizel, the dominant perception and narrative is that authentic femininity is in conflict with competence, therefore for any female rhetor, authenticity is in conflict with competence. In “”Rhymes with Rich”: “Bitch” as a tool of Containment rhetoric” we see how gendered labels are used to limit the agency of female politicians. Anderson focuses specifically on how the word ” bitch” is used as a rhetorical strategy that is used to dismiss female politicians, and simultaneously limit their influence in the public and political sphere.
The American presidency is a gendered office. In a post akreichman emphasizes that it was expected that Hillary Clinton performance of femininity would be criticized, when she was First Lady, but it is strange that it was the subject of scrutiny in the 2016 Presidential Campaign. It is strange in light of the fact that there wasn’t an emphasis on her gender when she was running for senator.
In a previous post I noted that Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche expressed that the first lady, Michelle Obama, had to flatten herself to fit the mold of the ideal first lady. She continues to assert that,
Women, in general, are not permitted anger–but from black American women, there is an added expectation of interminable gratitude, the closer to grovelling the better, as though their citizenship is a phenomenon that they cannot take for granted.
During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Michelle Obama played an instrumental rhetorical role in Hillary Clinton’s campaign. The role of First Lady allows for the intersection of a traditionally private role with a political position. Through questioning, sarahparente highlights that there is a conflict in the psyches of those who view the First Lady as an illegitimate power. That is, if the power of the first Lady is solely dependent on the power of her husband then why is the position of the First Lady a political position? Is it simply a symbolic position? Is it representative of the illusion of power? I would argue that Michelle Obama was a stronger rhetorical force in the 2016 Presidential campaign, when compared to her husband,President Obama. Therefore, the influence on the First Lady is real, even if it is easily contained.
Gender plays a significant role in in delivery and visual rhetoric. There is a double standard, which inhibits women from being as brash and direct and flawed as their male counterparts have the privilege to be. When we viewed “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” we saw a very feminine Hillary Clinton; many of my peers characterized this speech as powerful and strong. When viewing the speech, there was no blatant conflict between her femininity and her competence. But then again we are examining her rhetoric twenty-one years removed from its immediate context.
In 2016, there is a defined conflict between Clinton’s femininity and her competency. Throughout the the 2016 campaign she was continuously characterized as inaccessible and untrustworthy, and therefore inauthentic. Was her inability to be excessively emotional one of her downfalls? How could that be? Isn’t that one of the main criticisms of women, in general,: we are too emotional.
Thus the reason women in the public political sphere and the private arena use silence as a rhetorical strategy.
So Hillary Clinton loss the election. The tone has shifted. We are no longer excited for the future; instead, we are anxious and weary. She managed to rise above the misogynistic rhetoric of Bernie Bros and break a glass ceiling when she was nominated as the Democratic presidential candidate. Immediately after the loss, we looked for a group to blame, but there in no one group to blame. This election defined the role of women in American politics, or the lack there of. It felt the ultimate rejection of womanhood in all its complexities, diversity and brilliance.