Throughout the semester, I have worked to see what causes the gap between the Hillary Clinton that the media portrays and the Hillary Clinton that her family, friends, and colleagues know. Between class discussions and the election season, we have seen that they are two different Hillary’s: the stiff, masculine, “monster” that the media leads us to believe she is, and the loving, motherlike listener that her family, friends, and colleagues work to convince nonbelievers that she is.
I looked specifically at the role gender plays on delivery and visual rhetoric and why, as a woman, Hillary has to control her emotions to stand equal to her male counterparts in the public sector and public eye. I continued by looking to see what starts to close the gap, between her likable factor after Trump’s “such a nasty woman” comment and her emotionally charged and inspiring concession speech. These things start to bring the two Hillary’s together, creating the start of the closing of the gap.
In American politics, female politicians are not only expected to be both good leaders and good women, but they are also expected to dress and look a certain way. The role of gender plays a big part in political rhetoric, especially when looking at Hillary Clinton and her male counterparts (i.e. Bill Clinton, Barack Obama). Paired together, her visual rhetoric and delivery causes a gap between the Hillary Clinton we see on the trail to presidency and the Hillary that her colleagues, family and friends know.
In Ezra Klein’s interview with Hillary Clinton, Understanding Hillary: Why the Clinton America Sees Isn’t the Clinton Colleagues Know, Hillary tries to explain the gap and why she comes across the way she does: “It’s always amusing to me that when I have a job, I have really high approval ratings,” Clinton said. “When I’m actually doing the work, I get reelected with 67 percent of the vote running for reelection in the Senate. When I’m secretary of state, I have 66 percent approval rating” (Klein). While Klein still does not believe that Hillary is telling the truth, he interviews her colleagues and they are all consistent in saying that she is “brilliant, funny, thoughtful, effective” and that “she inspires a rare loyalty in ex-staff, and an unusual protectiveness even among former foes”. Klein tries to make sense of this person she says she is versus the person that the press makes her out to be: “careful, calculated, cautious.”
The gap suggests that Hillary Clinton’s persona not only changes from what her family, colleagues and the American people see, but it also changes when she is campaigning for president and when she is on the job, showing that the rise of media and its growing influence is critical to how the public responds to people in the public eye . Once she is on the job, it is easy to see that she is the listener that her colleagues know her to be, thoughtfully listening and taking into consideration the issues surrounding the nation, trying her best to find the best way to execute agendas. This is a trait that is difficult to play to when campaigning to be president, a task that requires speeches as a way to influence the American people for their vote. As a natural listener, I imagine that public speaking skills do not come as naturally, something that needs to be built on. This may be an influence as to why she comes off as too stiff, masculine, or too executive.
This type of delivery ties into her visual rhetoric – Hillary Clinton’s dress and body language. Humans of New York (HONY) creator Brandon Stanton sat down with Hillary where she defended why she is the way is the way she is (in the her media portrayal) and how she became that way. Just by looking at her body language and what she is wearing during the interview compared to her usual campaign wear and demeanor, at a glance, she automatically comes off as warmer and more approachable. In a soft green pantsuit and sitting in a comfortable setting, Hillary defends herself saying, “I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions…you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off’… I don’t view myself as cold or unemotional.” Men (especially in the public sector) do not have the same problem with this as women in the public sector do. Women are often seen as putting their emotions at the forefront, whereas men have an easier time pushing them aside to talk about issues without an emotional bias.
With this, Hillary comes off as a softer person and as more relatable (to all women, and especially women in a male majority workforce), and we see where family, friends, and her colleagues would see her as the type of person that would lend an ear. In contrast, when we watch and listen to Hillary speak at campaign rallies, we see a Hillary that is dressed in bold colors, standing tall, speaking firmly, controlling her emotions, standing equal to her male counterparts. This is the Hillary that America sees, that comes off as masculine and little more distant to us.
Throughout the campaign the American public has been exposed to a media-created Hillary as well as Hillary mother, wife, friend, colleague, and the gap between them. However, this gap started to close the closer we got to the election, starting with the third presidential debate. With people that may have been on the fence about Hillary, her running mate Donald Trump verbally attacked her, calling her a nasty woman. Since this outburst, the “nasty woman” phrase spread like wildfire, launching the hashtag #IamANastyWoman as part of a feminist movement. This is what may have swayed women voters to vote for her – women everywhere have at one point and in some form have been victim of a sexist attack, and this one toward Clinton (in the public eye, no less) had more women empathizing with her.
Watching Trump show blatant disrespect toward his opponent sparked a lot of emotion in me, first in shock that Trump had said such a thing, and then in empathy and admiration for Hillary and how she handled the situation, writing it off with the upmost composure. It is this visual and verbal rhetoric response to Trump’s comment that shows the strength that Clinton has, and stands as a symbol for women everywhere. This begins to close the gap between the two Hillary’s, showing that Hillary can take such a comment and have it roll off her back as every women as for a long time.
Hillary Clinton’s concession speech also continues to cl
ose the gap between the Hillary in the media and the Hilary out of media. Around 11:00a.m. Eastern Standard Time, Hillary Clinton delivered her concession speech. A speech that was so humbly positive in the midst of a widely negative outcome. Looking first at Hillary’s visual appearance, she looks visibly tired after staying up for most of the night waiting for the election results. Dressed in a black pantsuit with purple accents, Hillary lets her emotions come through throughout her delivery, presenting a speech that I believe is the rawest throughout her campaign trail.
“I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions…you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don’t want to seem ‘walled off’… I don’t view myself as cold or unemotional.” It is this same quote that she used with HONY’s Brandon Stanton comes to play in her concession speech. The emotional walls came down, and she used her emotions in hopes to continue to inspire the next generation of women leaders, nation and worldwide.
The gap is caused by the differences between the media’s portrayal Hillary Clinton and the Hillary Clinton that her immediate community knows. With society’s gender roles, women are still seen as unable to hold a man’s role (specifically being President of the United States), causing Hillary to come off as masculine, trying to stand equal against her male equivalents. Though it took may have took sexist acts against her and her concession speech for people to start seeing Hillary as more relatable, it starts to close the gap. Hillary Clinton comes full circle in her career, and it is important to continue to recognize that gender plays a role in media driven delivery and visual rhetoric, especially as more women join the public sector.