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Fri Sep 15, 2017, 01:41 PM

the LIKABILITY of Hillary Clinton (considering all the crap we are listening to again)

Last edited Fri Sep 15, 2017, 02:12 PM - Edit history (1)

(a repost from last year, and still relevant, considering the hysteria and angst with the publication of her new book):


My first book, "Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Hate, Mock and Fear... and Why," is coming September 2016 from Melville House. Pre-order here to read the book people have described as "I have no idea what's in there, I have to pre-order:" http://www.mhpbooks.com/books/trainwreck/

My affection for Hillary Clinton is hard to explain. It wins no fights and earns you no friends to admit it: Actual warmth, even protectiveness, toward this impossible, frustrating, contradictory, polarizing, disappointing woman. My finding Hillary intensely “likable” is weird, and I admit it. It doesn’t signify universal approval of her decisions. I can and do disagree with Hillary Clinton, regularly and strongly. But some part of me also hopes that Hillary Clinton is having a nice day.

I’ve come to believe that, in some ways, saying nice things about Hillary Clinton is a subversive act. I spent much of this year working on a long project on how women are demonized in the media. Hillary Clinton was a fairly large part of that story – she had to be; if you want to talk “women that people hate,” she’s kind of unavoidable – and I spent a while sorting through Clintoniana, dating back to the early ‘90s, to find nasty things people had said about her, or common narratives about her personality. It wasn’t pretty – the worst stuff for Hillary was way worse than I’d expected, and there was way more of it than I expected to find – but it was also illuminating, in some key ways. I got a better sense of the pressures that she has to live with, and how they’ve informed her decisions.

I also realized that, unless you really take a look at those pressures, the narrative around Hillary Clinton’s “likability” is doomed to be inaccurate, in some way. She might even be very easy to dislike, if you weren’t looking at those narratives, or if you underestimated their severity. But, in my experience, trying to parse Hillary Clinton without also parsing Hillary-Hate is like trying to drink water without touching the glass. As long as you refuse to deal with the container, the actual substance tends to stay permanently out of reach.

For example: Female politicians are stereotyped as “soft” and incompetent when it comes to foreign policy and national security. It’s a basic, entrenched form of sexism: Only boys know how to fight, or play with guns. So, in order to be taken seriously, Hillary has to prove that she’s as tough as any man, or tougher. But she can’t actually be as tough as any man, or tougher; that plays into the stereotype that women are fonts of petty malevolence, prone to irresponsibly starting conflicts for no reason. (Here’s a joke I first heard from my father, and heard from many men throughout my lifetime: “Why can’t you elect a female President? Because, when she gets her period, she’ll launch the nukes.”) She has to look either “soft” and passive, or “hard” and aggressive. Either one is bad for her.

This plays out on the level of personal expression, too: Women are supposedly over-emotional, whereas men make stern, logical, intelligent judgments. So, if Hillary raises her voice, gets angry, cries, or (apparently) even makes a sarcastic joke at a man’s expense, she will be seen as bitchy, crazy, cruel and dangerous. (Remember the “NO WONDER BILL’S AFRAID” headlines after she raised her voice at a Benghazi hearing; remember the mass freak-out over her “emotional meltdown” when someone thought she might be crying during a concession speech.) She absolutely cannot express negative emotion in public. But people have emotions, and women are supposed to have more of them than men, so if Hillary avoids them – if she speaks strictly in calm, logical, detached terms, to avoid being seen as crazy – we find her “cold,” call her “robotic” and “calculating,” and wonder why she doesn’t express her “feminine side.” Again, she’s going to be faulted for feminine weakness or lack of femininity, and both are damaging.

Okay, so she can never be sad, angry, or impatient. That’s not a ban on all emotion, right? You’d think the one clear path to avoiding the “bitchy” or “cold” descriptors would be to put on a happy face, and admit to emotions only when they are positive. You’d think that, and you’d be wrong: It turns out, people fucking hate it when Hillary Clinton smiles or laughs in public. Hillary Clinton’s laugh gets played in attack ads; it has routinely been called “a cackle” (like a witch, right? Because she’s old, and female, like a witch); frozen stills of Hillary laughing are routinely used to make her look “crazy” in conservative media. She can’t be sad or angry, but she also can’t be happy or amused, and she also can’t refrain from expressing any of those emotions. There is literally no way out of this one. Anything she does is wrong.

And we should linger on the “witch” thing, because this is important. Women supposedly have an expiration date, typically in their thirties or forties, and Hillary Clinton is sixty-eight years old. One of the key lines Republicans ran against her candidacy, early on, is that she was “out of touch,” senile, “forgetful,” too old for the Presidency, representative of the “twentieth century” (unlike that charming young twenty-first century whippersnapper Marco Rubio). Images where she looks her age have routinely been used to discredit her: On Rush Limbaugh’s blog, a photo of an exhausted-looking Hillary on the campaign trail was posted, next to the argument that she couldn’t be President because people shouldn’t be forced to “stare at an aging woman.” So Hillary Clinton can’t look or act her age. On the other hand, if she acts more youthful – by paying special attention to her appearance, or making youth-culture references – it’s “pathetic,” “pandering,” and “desperate.” She’s running “the thirstiest campaign,” trying too hard to get the youth vote. Conservatives whisper about “Hillary Clinton’s secret face-lift;” progressives can’t stand the frivolity of her answering a question about Beyonce, or running a social media account that uses Buzzfeed-popularized slang. She’s a useless old biddy if she looks or acts her age, and a pathetic, desperate old cougar if she looks or acts any younger. Again, there is no right age for Hillary Clinton to be.

There are no right politics for Hillary Clinton to have, either. As an openly feminist woman on the national stage, she has been accused since 1992 of “radical feminism,” far-left wingnuttery (she knew Saul Alinsky! RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!!) and a multitude of progressive sins up to and including, yes, socialism. ( “She’s a Marxist.” - Conservative criticism of Hillary Clinton, circa 2007.) So if she wants people to take her seriously, she’s got to prove that she’s not a Maoist hippie, and that she can cooperate with the opposition. On the other hand, if she does that, she’s No True Liberal, a secret conservative, a compromiser, “no different than a Republican.” She must disprove the Thatcher Theorem – because one female head of state was a wretched conservative, all female heads of state will be wretched conservatives – and appeal to the further left members of her party (including, yes, you and me). But she must also be moderate enough to win over the centrists who comprise the majority of her party, carry a national election, and be taken seriously as a representative of something other than the radical fringe.

Because Hillary Clinton, you see, would like to be President. And the thing is, there’s no right way for her to do that, either. The problem is that, if she campaigns too hard, or works too much, she (again) looks “pathologically ambitious,” obsessive, “ruthless,” selfish, and over-confident in her own abilities. (Unlike, say, anyone else who thought they deserved to be the leader of the free world.) On the other hand, if she actually wins anything, or succeeds in any way, everyone is pretty certain that she didn’t earn it: She slept her way to the top! The media is being unfair to Bernie! This whole thing is rigged!!!! She works too hard, and wants to succeed too much, but when she succeeds, it’s apparently never due to all that hard work. The only way for her to campaign “appropriately,” in this scheme, is to sit back and let a male opponent win. Or to not run at all.

And finally: You’d think, given the impressive amount of unfair and often cruelly personal scrutiny this woman faces from the media, it would make sense for her to be pretty cautious about how she presents herself in public. Any misstep or miscalculation will result in a flood of negative headlines, and stands to damage her. Well, apparently, that doesn’t make sense at all. Hillary Clinton, you see, has a reputation for seeming “distant” to the press, not “open” enough to media exposure, “secretive,” “paranoid.” That public presence of hers sure does seem “calculating.” I mean: It’s almost like, after over twenty straight years of being attacked for her appearance, personality, and every waking move, breath and word, Hillary Clinton is highly conscious of how she is perceived and portrayed, and is trying really hard to monitor her own behavior and behave in ways people will accept. Which is disgusting, of course. Nowadays, we want “authentic” candidates. Hillary Clinton isn’t “trustworthy.” She doesn’t seem “real.”

Again: Remind me of exactly how well the public and/or the media reacted the last time she showed up in public without makeup. Or raised her voice. Or laughed. Or went to the goddamn bathroom. Or did any “authentic” thing that a real life person does every day.

Hillary Clinton is the impossible woman. The pressures she lives under, every moment of her life, are so numerous and so all-encompassing that she barely has room to breathe. She doesn’t have an inch of leeway, a single safe option; there is no version of Hillary Clinton that won’t receive visceral hatred, and loud, personal criticism. And the version of Hillary Clinton we get – this conflicted, conflict-inspiring candidate, the woman who has a genius-level recall of global politics but has to assure the world she’ll spend her Presidency picking out flowers and china, the lady who books a guest spot on Broad City but can’t pronounce “Beyonce,” the woman who was twenty years ahead of the curve on women’s rights but somehow thinks it’s a good idea to throw in a Bush-esque 9/11 reference at a debate – is the inevitable product of these pressures.

And so is the fact that I like her. My apparent new career as Hillary Clinton’s self-appointed Anger Translator is a weird choice, maybe even a self-destructive choice, but honestly, ask yourself: How long would you make it, if people treated you the way you treat Hillary Clinton? Would you not just be furious, by now? Would you not have reached levels of blood-vessel popping, shit-losing rage, or despair? Because the fact that she’s dealt with it at all, and kept her shit together, is admirable. The fact that she’s been dealing with it for decades, and keeps voluntarily subjecting herself to it, and, knowing exactly how bad it will get, and exactly what we’ll do to her, is running for President again, and (here’s the part I love, the part that I find hard to even wrap my head around) actually winning? To me, that is awe-inspiring.

And her story moves me, on that level, simply as an example of a woman who got every misogynist trick in the world thrown at her, and who didn’t let it slow her down. On that level, she’s actually become a bit of a personal role model: When people yell at me, or dislike me, I no longer think oh, how horrible this is for me. I now think, well, if Hillary can do it. Seriously. If Hillary Clinton can be called an evil hag by major media outlets for most of her adult life and run for President, I can deal with blocking ten or twenty guys on Twitter. She’s dealt with more shit than I have. She’s still going. I really have no excuse not to do the same.

But she shouldn’t have to deal with it. This is all the byproduct of a misogynist culture. If you can cut through those expectations, or change them, a different woman – potentially a very different candidate – would emerge on the other side. So saying nice things about Hillary Clinton, for me, isn’t just something I do because I feel good about her. It’s not even something I do to piss people off. It’s a way to shift cultural dialogue, to allow for a world where women aren’t suffocated or crushed by our expectations of them – a world where Hillary, and every future female President or Presidential candidate, can focus on the task at hand, and not have to climb over a barbed-wire fence of hatred in order to change the world.

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