Views » June 20, 2016
You Don’t Have to Like Hillary Clinton—But Sexist Attacks On Her Supporters Are Shameful
The gendered attacks against Clinton and her supporters must come to an end.
One can disagree, even vehemently, with various of her stances and past actions—I have. But the sexism and misogyny hurled at her and her followers has become shameful.
I am sitting here like millions, so desperately sick of this endless, trivial, vicious and scary presidential race and the news media’s often irresponsible coverage of it. They have so much to answer for: their relentless emphasis on conflict, name-calling and insults; their utter acquiescence to Donald Trump’s set-the-agenda Twitter posts and impromptu phone calls; and their repetition of his fact-free, often fabricated assertions and allegations. And Bernie Sanders has legitimate criticisms of how he and his backers have been portrayed. Are there really legions of mostly sexist “Bernie bros” fueling his campaign? Dozens of writers and journalists, especially women, have shared the often obscene and truly disturbing tweets they have gotten in response to either negative comments about Sanders or positive ones about Clinton, but given the millions of women and older people who support him, as well as men who are not by any stretch of the imagination “bros,” the Bernie bro phenomenon seems media-inflated. Did Sanders supporters throw chairs at a Nevada convention, as was widely reported? Snopes.com fact checked that one and labeled it false. But these are the stories we’re getting, and they are stoking increasingly dangerous rancor among progressives.
The ongoing collapse of responsible broadcast and cable journalism and the explosive role that social media has assumed in this campaign have made for a nasty brew of invective, slurs and accusations tossed between Bernie supporters and Hillary supporters. But I have to say, as a woman of a certain age, and one who has followed the coverage of Hillary Clinton since the 1992 campaign, I really don’t know how she and those close to her stand it all. One can disagree, even vehemently, with various of her stances and past actions—I have. But the sexism and misogyny hurled at her and her followers has become shameful. Of course there’s the condescending advice by the likes of MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough to “smile” after one of her primary victories. And as Media Matters documented, right-wing commentators have complained that she “shouts,” “shrieks” and “screams,” while not castigating Bernie and Trump, who definitely shout and even scream. The Right has also called her “angry,” “bitter” and “[not] likeable.”
And now, with misogyny one of the biggest lava flows coursing through the internet and social media, it is for many the default framework for attacking Clinton and her supporters, branded, among other things, “Shillaries.” While a study by the Washington Post found that only 1.16 percent of tweets mentioning @HillaryClinton contained gendered slurs (they found no gendered slurs for Sanders), the vast majority were deemed “too crude to print,” which means they were cruder than the examples the Post listed: bitch, vagina, bimbo, old hag, slut, shrill, feminazi and witch. Most of these came from Trump supporters but at least 10 percent were from Sanders supporters, lending credence to reports from an early-May Clinton rally that pro-Sanders protesters had called the female Hillary supporters “whores.”
Back in January 1993, when the Clintons had barely moved into the White House, conservative male pundits fretted that Hillary was too left-wing (really!). Charles Krauthammer warned, “If she’s gonna play a hardball game, she’s gonna have to be prepared for attack hardball.” Well, here we are.
It appears that the slurs by the Right and the escalating attacks by Sanders and his followers—some of them legitimate policy disagreements, some of them indeed fueled by misogyny—are taking their toll. According to HuffPost, Clinton’s ratings in April 2009 were 57 percent favorable and 34 percent unfavorable; in April 2013. they were virtually unchanged. By this past April, her ratings were 41 percent favorable and 55 percent unfavorable.
This is pretty dangerous given how some Republicans are rallying around Trump. While both Hillary and Bernie supporters need to dial back the vitriol, only Hillary is forced to fight a rear guard action against rank misogyny. And what we really need to do is prevent one of the most brazen male chauvinists on the public scene (and proud of it!) who is dangerous on so many other fronts from ever gaining access to the White House.
Susan J. Douglas
Susan J. Douglas is a professor of communications at the University of Michigan and an In These Times columnist. Her latest book is Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message That Feminism's Work is Done (2010).