Every week, another “Hillary: will she or won’t she” article erupts in the mainstream press. If the amount of copy devoted to reading the tea leaves on Secretary Clinton’s 2016 ambitions were measured in decibels, the volume would be deafening, though we are years removed from the first primary. CNN’s John King once said “the media suffers from a Hillary obsession.” That much is true, yet Clinton will continue to be news. The website Hillary launched the day she stepped down as Secretary of State features the most presidential looking photograph of a woman I have ever seen. That she has signed with the Harry Walker Agency (the premier booker for high-end speakers) also telegraphs her wish to stay in the public eye. This week, she is appearing (gratis) at the Vital Voices Global Leadership Awards and the annual Women in the World Summit. She remains hush-hush about everything else, which has not stopped several SuperPACs from being created and launched in her name, banking that she will be our first female Commander-in-Chief.
Trailblazer is hardly a new role for Clinton, twice named one of this country’s 100 most influential lawyers, the first First Lady to be elected Senator (twice), New York’s first woman Senator, a successful Secretary of State, someone who has fought tirelessly on behalf of women’s rights worldwide for many years – and, as the Supreme Court deliberates over two cases concerning gay marriage – the first and only First Lady to march in Gay Pride parades. There is also the fact that last time out she won 18,000,000 votes, more than any candidate in primary history. Couple this with her current popularity and what political operative James Carville calls “the enormous pressure on her” to run, it is hard to imagine her turning down the opportunity. If the lady stays healthy, and remains the workaholic she has always been, I say she goes for it. The question then becomes, will she be kneecapped the second time around?
When she ran in 2008, the media (and her own party) treated her as a vile harpy standing in the way of “history.” As if the first woman after 43 male presidents would not make history. We were looking to elect Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces and leader of the free world. Big media was concerned with ankles and cackles, deriding Hillary as a “white b*tch” and “Nurse Ratched.”
Arguably, there are thousands, if not millions, of women and fair minded men who would make a bigger stink if the type of sexist media bullying that Hillary Clinton, and other powerful women, experienced were to once again rear its ugly head. But that doesn’t mean it won’t occur. Not unexpectedly, the current media narrative ignores sexism as having had any influence over the outcome in 2008, though respected studies have proven otherwise.
Sexism, ageism or any “ism” are but tools in an effective arsenal a corporate media has at its disposal, ready to fire at an inconvenient candidate. If it decides that it is “her turn,” that is a different story, but if a new, hot flavor of the month emerges, this will be an instant replay. Some may disagree that the bulk of mainstream media functions as a monolithic block, but whether the behavior is the result of a feeding frenzy started by one network and trumped by the next, or whether marching orders are coming down from on high, which in this era of vertical ownership is entirely possible, the result is the same: a narrative that defines the candidate in order to overwhelm and undermine the reality of his or her record.
While the pundit class, and indeed, some reporters, absolve themselves of responsibility for their callous disregard of fact in favor of predetermined narrative, media credibility has suffered as a result. There is a reason their numbers are in the toilet. And no, it is not because of sites like this one. Media outlets may lament our existence, yet we are their creation.
And for those who contend our battles with sex bias are over, just this week, The New York Times had to change its obituary of famed rocket scientist, Yvonne Brill, when readers took umbrage that more copy was devoted to her excellent beef stroganoff and role as a wife and mother than to her scientific accomplishments. President Obama had awarded Ms. Brill the National Medal of Technology and Innovation in 2011.
In our recent debates re gun control, Colorado State Rep. Mark Salazar (D) told women not to carry weapons on campus because if they “felt like they were gonna be raped” but they really weren’t, they might just turn around and “pop a round in somebody.” Women are such flibbertigibbets, aren’t they? Instead, he advised using whistles and call boxes for protection and that old college standby – women traveling in packs. Activist Zoe Nicholson recently said to me, “When an arsonist burns down a house – do we blame the homeowner?”
While Salazar later apologized for his comments, he was but one of a number of representatives to make inane comments about the disposition of the female of the species. Congressman Duncan (R) of Tennessee made the bizarre point that “women don’t handle violence as well as men.” Since women are on receiving end of far more violence than men on a minute by minute basis in this country – that is no wonder.
As to women being able to handle themselves and exercise the judgment these elected representatives seem to think women lack, someone might wish to inform Messrs. Salazar and Duncan that we now have not only a female director of the Secret Service, Laura Pierson, but a female Director of the U.S. Marshall Service, Stacia Hylton. Last time I checked, they both have impressive 30-year resumes and have been licensed to carry a firearm for quite a while. And they have never just “wheeled around” pell-mell to “pop a round in somebody.”
But men are not the only ones putting forth a narrative that has been limiting women for eons – both those on the ground and those who aspire to power.
Maureen Dowd, arguably The New York Times most powerful columnist, still misses no opportunity to diss Hillary Clinton, recently referring to her as a “Hitchcock Blonde,” i.e., a woman with ice for blood. She invented a feud out of whole cloth, accusing then-Secretary Clinton of an intention to throw Ambassador Susan Rice under the bus at the much covered Benghazi hearings; another “cat fight” that never materialized.
Opinion infested with trash talk over time must have an effect on the way we see that person. It worked before, after all…
Hillary Clinton was also just described in the news as a “paid speaker.” What? Do famous men speechify for free?
Susan Patton, one of the first female Princeton graduates just advised women to make one of their prime ambitions in college to obtain a husband since, unlike men, women have a “shelf life.” Have we been transported to an episode of “Mad Men”?
No one is advising that every woman aspire to an ambition to take the toughest job in the world. But if they can handle it and want it, then let the best person win.
Study after study tells us women excel in business leadership and decision making, women hedge fund managers got better returns on investment in 2012, studies have also shown that women get more accomplished as legislators, yet we are still outnumbered five to one in Congress and by even more than that in the board room. Surely, that is not all the by-product of women suffering a lack of ambition, racing to snag a husband, or a lack of willingness to “lean in” in the workplace when they are earning the majority of college degrees today.
Somewhere in our current societal norms and the hyper-sexualized depictions of women, we are still falling short of accepting females in a leadership capacity.
All this is to say, we still have a long road to travel in letting go of stereotyped thinking about women, and before we can assume that a media capitalizing on these kinds of innate biases won’t find purchase somewhere.
“Hillary 2016” may or may not turn into a reality, but if her campaign comes to pass, I am not deluded enough to think the fight won’t be just as tough.
Anita Finlay is the author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin, a shocking exposé of media bias, now available in print and Kindle editions on Amazon.
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