Donald Trump doesn’t understand, or care, how culture works; what it means to be a woman; or how indecent it is to imagine away Hillary Clinton’s womanhood in order to attack her for being a woman.
After both of them solidified their places as their respective parties’ nominees, Donald Trump used his victory speech to go after Hillary Clinton: “Frankly,” he mused, “if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote.”
There’s a lot wrong with that statement, not least of which is the embedded implication that being a woman is somehow beneficial in US politics—though the low percentages of women at every level and in every branch of government certainly does not bear that out, not to mention the little fact of our never having elected a female president.
But the most significant, if less obvious, problem with his statement is that it presupposes if Hillary were a man, she’d be the same person she is now—just with a different gender.
And that is fundamentally false, representing Trump’s incomprehension of—or indifference to—how culture works. We do not grow up in a vacuum, but are socialized within a context steeped in oppressions that shape us.
If Hillary had been born a boy, she wouldn’t be the same person that she is today, because her entire life’s journey wouldn’t have been undertaken on a path littered with gender barriers and sexist double standards.
(Which is to say nothing of the practical differences that would have manifested throughout her life if she were not a woman: Higher pay, more professional opportunities, never having to balance pregnancy and career, decreased likelihood of gendered violence, and all the other attendant benefits conferred by male privilege.)
Certainly there are male politicians who center women and girls in their advocacy, but none quite the way Hillary has. And none of them with the lived experience she has by virtue of her womanhood.
If Hillary were a man, she would not be the same person she is, and she would not be the same candidate.
Trump’s hypothetical male version of Hillary Clinton just wouldn’t exist. And that is a problem—because he casually suggests that such a person could exist, in a way that undermines her authority and experience as a woman.
It’s not just that she is a woman that matters, but that being a woman confers a perspective that informs her candidacy.
And, crucially, it is being a woman that opens her up to sexist attacks precisely like the one Trump is making.
There is a particular cruelty in his imagining an impossible scenario in which Hillary Clinton were a man, while simultaneously attacking her on the very basis that she isn’t one.
As I have previously observed, Hillary can’t escape the context of her womanhood by wishing it away, and the people who attack her don’t get to wish it away, either—especially not for the reason of accusing her of playing a gender card.
Trump will almost certainly revisit this fantastical image of a male Hillary Clinton, in order to justify his attacks on her. When he does, it will be just as unfair as it was this time. And just as ignorant of the fact that one cannot wrench a woman’s womanhood from her personhood.
He might well wish that he were running against a man, given his extensively documented problems with women, but he’s not. Hillary is a woman—and that is not a problem for her; it’s a problem for people who don’t respect or understand women.
(Photo: Hillary for America)