A Woman’s Place Is in the (White) House

“Trump That Bitch,” “Hillary for Prison 2016,” “Hillary Sucks, But Not Like Monica,” “Don’t be a pussy, vote for Trump in 2016,” “Life’s a Bitch – Don’t Vote for One,” “KFC Hillary Special: 2 Fat Thighs, 2 Small Breasts… Left Wing.” These were among the anti-Clinton, pro-Trump slogans promoted by vendors at the Republican National Convention, as documented by “The Atlantic.” As seen in these products, there has been a deep misogynistic disrespect for Secretary Hillary Clinton throughout this presidential campaign.

This isn’t about Clinton’s policies or decisions – not everyone does, or needs to, support her as a presidential candidate. But one fact is indisputable: Despite her enormous political experience as first lady, senator, and Secretary of State, she is treated remarkably unprofessionally. During the 2008 Republican Primary season, a supporter of Senator John McCain asked him: “How do we beat the bitch?” about his opponent, Clinton. McCain, who would become the Republican nominee, called it “an excellent question.”

Donald Trump himself said: “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?”

It is difficult to imagine Clinton, or another politician like President Obama or Governor Mitt Romney, bringing up an opponent’s sex life as legitimate criticism of their political candidacy. But for Clinton, comments like these have been part and parcel of running for office. The implication, of course, is that sex is a woman’s most important function – if she can’t even do that, how could she be president? And it is not just Clinton who experiences this phenomenon: Jennifer Berdahl, a professor at the University of British Columbia, found that, “women who deviated from traditional gender roles – by occupying a ‘man’s’ job or having a ‘masculine’ personality” were more likely to be sexually harassed. The attacks made on Clinton harbor a not-so-subtle imperative: Go back to your role.

I am troubled by these messages that are being broadcasted to young people across the country. I am fearful that girls will start believing that all women who step into leadership roles will be punished with graphic misogynistic insults. I am worried that women will learn that their voices are not valued, and that men will always speak over them. I am scared that women will learn that their qualifications do not matter, that no matter how educated and experienced they are, they will be treated with outrageous disrespect – even if their opponent has no political qualifications.

As a woman on campus, I have felt the same pressure that seems to shape many of Clinton’s actions. Even though I am a four-year Senior and an avid feminist, I still feel anxious speaking in class – scared of talking too much, too loudly, too confidently. As a club leader, I still feel pressure to seem kind and sweet above all, instead of assertive or confident. We do not have many models for how good female leaders are supposed to look – it seems that powerful women are criticized no matter what they do.

I am not telling anyone who to vote for. Instead, I am urging us all to think critically about the biases that inform our opinions of particular leaders. I want us to think deeply about why we interpret certain female leaders as bitchy or aggressive, and why we seem to like men in power more. It is easy to claim that some of these reactions come down to the specifics of one candidate or another. But in other cases, systemic and sexist stereotypes about women influence political viewpoints. After all, feeling strong “hostility towards women” has been found to be one of the greatest predictors of Trump support in voters. Regardless of who you’re voting for, it’s essential to consider politics through the lens of gender, sexism, and power.