Feminist Fury and Journalists’ Venom: The Gendered Recriminations of 2016
Feminist Fury and Journalists’ Venom: The Gendered Recriminations of 2016

Feminist Fury and Journalists’ Venom: The Gendered Recriminations of 2016

It’s difficult for me to write about Hillary Clinton’s What Happened without revisiting my anger over the continuing injustice of her treatment by much of the press. Yes, there have been appreciative reviews of the book, reviews that recognize that Clinton, as Megan Garber puts it, “is doing the thing so many women politicians and citizens have done, recently, in a world that refuses to make space for them: It reclaims.” In doing so, it inaugurates “a newly emotional style of political engagement”—but without sacrificing the factual, as some other politicians have done. Yes, it’s a candid, warm, and sometimes angry account of Clinton’s experience; it’s also an astute, multifaceted analysis of the “perfect storm” that resulted in the disaster of 2016.[1]

The unvarnished malice of the negative reviews, however, makes it difficult to avoid the conclusion that many responses to the book are an extension of the same desire to castigate Hillary that pundits brought to their reporting of the campaign. The book is “useless” (Sam Kriss) and “essentially wrong-headed” (Sarah Leonard); it’s like “Hillary cornering you in a coffee shop, replaying the game tape.” And of course, there’s the “blames everyone but herself” theme, with which we’ve been bludgeoned since the night of the election.

Will We Ever Have A Female President?
Will We Ever Have A Female President?

Will We Ever Have A Female President?

The biggest obstacle any woman has faced and will continue to face in aspiring to the highest office in any country, at any time in history is that she is not a man. I know—duh. But the reality is that we haven’t yet begun to comprehend, let alone address, everything that flows from that seemingly simple fact. French philosopher Simone deBeauvoir remains the expert on it. In every era, in every culture, she pointed out, Man is the norm, and Woman is defined in terms of her difference from that norm. She may be reviled, she may be revered, but she is always judged by standards that are “special” to her sex, while the fact that men have a sex, too, goes unnoticed.

Here’s a banal but telling example: the suit was as much a uniform for the male politicians that Hillary Clinton competed against as it was for her. But for Clinton, the “pantsuit” was mocked (or cherished by some pro-Clinton feminists) as a special signature item. And here’s a non-banal one: while we accept it as “normal” when male politicians shout, interrupt, hog the stage, or aggressively interrogate, when Hillary raised her voice it was described as “screeching” and both Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris were told to shut up when they claimed too much time on the Senate floor.