I am a Hillary Clinton supporter.
I might as well get that disclosure out of the way right now, because there are people who will be keen to use it against me when they read the rest of the piece, especially if they believe I somehow sought to conceal it.
I am a Hillary Clinton supporter who does not hate Bernie Sanders, who has said plainly that I will support Sanders if he is the eventual nominee.
I am a Hillary Clinton supporter who has not always been one. She was not my first choice in 2008.
But it was during that campaign I started documenting, as part of my coverage of US politics in a feminist space, the instances of misogyny being used against her by both the right and the left, amassing a “Hillary Sexism Watch” that contained more than 100 entries by the time she withdrew from the primary. And it was hardly a comprehensive record.
I have spent an enormous amount of time with Hillary Clinton, although I have never spoken to her. I have read transcripts of her speeches, her policy proposals, her State Department emails. I have watched countless hours of interviews, debates, addresses, testimony before Congress. I have scrolled though thousands of wire photos, spoken to people who have worked with and for her, read her autobiography, listened to her fans and her critics.
And what I have discovered is a person whom I like very much.
Not a perfect person. Not even a perfect candidate. I am not distressed by people who have legitimate criticisms of Hillary Clinton and some of the policies she has advocated; I share those criticisms.
What is distressing to me is that I see little evidence of that person in the public narratives about Hillary Clinton. Not everyone has the time nor the desire to deep-dive into documents the way that I have. If I hadn’t had a professional reason to do so, I may not have done it myself.
I may have—and did, before I was obliged otherwise—relied on what I learned about Hillary Clinton from the media.
Which, as it turns out, is deeply corrupted by pervasive misogyny.
The subtle misogyny of double-standards that mean she can’t win (even when she does), and the overt misogyny of turning her into a monster, a gross caricature of a ruthlessly ambitious villain who will stop at nothing in her voracious quest for ever more power.
This is a view held, and promulgated, by people who have a vested interest in stopping Hillary Clinton, or anyone who espouses even the most rudimentary progressive agenda. People who have long been watchers of and/or participants in the political process, who are old enough and sophisticated enough to know better.
It is also a view held by a startlingly large number of younger people, whose misperceptions are somewhat understandable, given that the ubiquitous campaign of misogyny-based dehumanization of Hillary Clinton has been around longer than they have been alive.
Many observations have been made about the fact that Bernie Sanders polls significantly better than Clinton among young people. (Specifically, young white people.) And I think there are a number of reasons for that, but chief among them is that, as my friend Kate noted, “Twenty-five-year-olds have literally never lived in a time where there weren’t whispers (or nationally televised shouts) about Hillary Clinton’s evil schemes.”
Young people, and people of any age who are newer participants in the political process, are coming to politics at a time when literally decades of demonstrably unfounded smears against Hillary Clinton—or “The Clintons”—have become cemented as historical fact.
I am old enough, and have been an engaged political nerd long enough, to remember Rush Limbaugh’s 1990’s TV show, back when he was busily coining misogynist slurs like “feminazi.” And now I see left-leaning Clinton opponents using those phrases, and invoking the unsubstantiable lore about her aggressive dishonesty and villainy invented by Limbaugh and his cohorts, as though they are something other than the fever dreams of intractably misogynist dirtbags with a nefarious agenda.
David Neiwert has long documented, particularly in his terrific book The Eliminationists, how people like Limbaugh are “transmitters” of rightwing rhetoric, serving as conduits for bringing fringe ideas into the mainstream. They take the most odious conspiracy theories, ever rife with naked bigotry, and repackage them for larger consumption by conservative movement leaders and media, who then repeat ad infinitum these despicable lies and demeanments until they make their way into the mainstream media, where a guise of objectivity turns them into “fact.”
I have watched this happen to Hillary Clinton in real time, over and over. And I am angry at seeing people new to political engagement regurgitate this swill without understanding, or caring about, the toxic stew from which it emerged.
There is a cavernous dearth of critical analysis in the media—and no wonder, since the media is happily complicit in facilitating the factizing of this rubbish. One can’t depend on a media which endlessly discusses Clinton’s “likability,” and casually refers to her as “Godzillary” and “a Lovecraftian monster, the Cthulhu of American politics,” and depicts her with devil horns, and portrays her as a towering man-crushing monster, and constantly subjects her to Remember Your Place pictures, and says she “must be stopped” to provide useful context about the source of misogynist narratives about Hillary Clinton: History’s Greatest Monster.
This is a world in which claims of media objectivity function as little more than self-absolution from any duty to be accountable.
It is also a world in which many consumers of media rely heavily, if not exclusively, on social media for their political news. The “facts” that Hillary Clinton is a liar, that she is basically a Republican, that she is an “entitled bitch” are reduced to memes, endlessly dispensed across Facebook and Twitter, with no context or source.
Memes like the “compare them on the issues that matter” posters, which “jokingly” purport to represent Clinton’s and Sanders’ views on issues such as wolves and Harry Potter, propagate across Reddit and Tumblr, reinforcing misogynist narratives that cast Clinton as uncool and opportunistic.
Annie Zaleski wrote, on the aforementioned meme: “The obvious goal was to play up Sanders’ perceived complexity and contrast it with Clinton’s supposed #basic nature, in order to illustrate why the former was a better, hipper candidate.”
In a way that quickly and succinctly evokes all the same contempt when something is dismissed as something a mom would enjoy.
Sanders is five years older than Clinton. The humor, such as it is, isn’t rooted in Clinton’s being old, but being an old woman.
There is an infinite stream of this stuff populating the internet. All day every day, anyone going online to seek out political news is likely to encounter photoshopped images and unsourced less one-liners about Hillary Clinton’s alleged grotesquery—and far less likely to encounter in-depth analysis of how it is both misogynist and deeply dishonest.
And this, in an uninterrogated context in which all the things we are admonished to admire about Bernie Sanders—that he is passionate, that he is unpolished, that he is impolitic, that he doesn’t need to provide detailed plans on how he will accomplish his big picture agenda, that he doesn’t give a damn about what you think, man—are things that the very establishment he allegedly wants to dismantle do not afford his female competitor.
Perhaps it isn’t just that young (white) voters are disproportionately attracted to Sanders because of his policies. Perhaps it is because the way we consume media has changed and favors silly memes the inherent conciseness of which naturally relies on invoking the shorthand provided by bigotry.
Perhaps it is because Sanders is allowed to be his authentic self in a way Clinton is not and never will be, by a media that endeavors to conceal her authentic self at every turn.
It has taken me years to find the real Hillary Clinton behind a brick wall of impenetrable misogyny.
And this is the reality with which we all need to reckon: A brick wall is infinitely more difficult to shatter than a glass ceiling.
I have said this before and I daresay I will be obliged to say it again: I have not been a reflexive defender (or supporter) of Hillary Clinton the politician. I have made criticisms of her campaigning and her policy. I expect to continue to make them, because I have significant points of disagreement with some of her positions and because she makes mistakes.
I have, however, I will openly admit, become a reflexive defender (and supporter) of Hillary Clinton the person. Certainly, it is partly out of self-interest, because I am myself demeaned and caricatured by misogyny, and because I want to see more female representation in politics and don’t want enormous hurdles standing in their way.
But mostly it is because it profoundly grieves me to see the way she is treated.
It hurts my heart—and it angers me—to have uncovered a person who cares, if imperfectly, so deeply about other people and observe the many ways in which she has been turned into a monster. It is intolerable.
And I flatly refuse to abide the rank dehumanization of Hillary Clinton in silence.