Brendan O’Neill

Feminists want to ‘protect’ Hillary Clinton. Do they realise they are doing her dirty work?

Feminists want to 'protect' Hillary Clinton. Do they realise they are doing her dirty work?
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‘Do you really not like Hillary Clinton, or are you just sexist?’ Cosmopolitan actually asked that question last week. Claiming that much anti-Clinton commentary is ‘gender-specific’, with Hillary frequently described as ‘dishonest’ or ‘shrill’, the mag asked Clinton’s critics to search their souls to see if they really do oppose Clinton the politician or just hate women in general. Americans who would rather chew tin foil than vote for Hillary: are you misogynists or what?

Cosmo’s implicit branding of Hillary’s critics as sexists — all of them? All those millions of people? — is only the latest stab by the Hillary fanclub to chill criticism of their leader. Never has feminism been wielded as cynically and censoriously as it is by the Clinton-backing set. Anyone who rails against Hillary, who fires at her the kind of ridicule and mocking that politicians receive all the time, is likely to find themselves branded a sexist.

The Hillaryphiles are constantly expanding the glossary of unacceptable things to say about Clinton. So it no longer only includes words that most of can agree are ‘gendered’ — like Clinton being called out for her ‘bitchiness’, which, as New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof says, is a ‘standard put-down of a strong woman’. It now also includes words like ‘dishonest’ (a criticism with ‘gendered origins’, according to Cosmo); ‘too establishment’ (which writer and actress Lena Dunham says is a ‘gendered’ criticism); and ‘shouting’ (Clinton herself hinted that Bernie Sanders was being sexist when he said she was ‘shouting’ during a speech in which she, err, shouted).

Soon, we won’t be able to say anything about Hillary without risking the ‘misogynist!’ rebuke. Indeed, Dunham, one of Clinton’s loudest celeb cheerleaders (is it sexist to say ‘loud’?), says she ‘literally want[s] to make a list that we hand to media outlets that says these are the words you can’t use when you’re describing [Clinton]’. Wow. A politician’s de facto youth spokesperson fantasising about drawing up a blacklist of words the media shouldn’t use about said politician? The authoritarian imagination is clearly strong in the Clinton camp. (No sexism intended by the words ‘authoritarian’ and ‘camp’.)

Dunham’s examples of ‘rabidly sexist’ words hurled at Clinton include ‘shrill’, ‘inaccessible’, ‘difficult’, and ‘plastic’. Okay, wait. I’ll give you ‘shrill’ — that is indeed a word used more often about women than men. But ‘inaccessible’? ‘Difficult’? ‘Too establishment’? Or, going back to Cosmo, ‘dishonest’? Are you serious? How are these gendered slurs?

Pretty much every politician on earth has at some point been accused of dishonesty, annoyingness, being too cosy with the establishment. And the idea that only female politicians are mocked for their speaking style or looks is utter bunkum. Consider the commentary on Ben Carson’s weird, whispering, serial-killer voice. Or Trump’s mad hair. Or Sanders’ suits, which look like they were ‘pressed under a mattress’, according to the Washington Post. For good or ill, it is a politician’s lot to be slammed not only for his or her ideas, but also for his or her looks, style, shoes, inability to eat a bacon sandwich in a civilised fashion, and so on.

But here’s the real problem with the shrill (I mean it this time) demand that we watch our words around Hillary: she is an establishment figure; she is dishonest. Clinton is the most establishment of all the presidential candidates; her email shenanigans suggest she does have a rather flimsy relationship with the truth. (I would use the word ‘flimsy’ for a male politician too!)

So the policing of Hillary-related speech is fundamentally about chastising people for speaking the truth, or what they feel to be the truth. What presents itself as a nice, PC effort to clean the sexist muck out of politics is really about forcefielding one of the most powerful women on earth from being called out on her connections and actions. It’s the playing of the victim card to protect an extremely powerful person from the stings and criticisms of the press and the people. Now that really is dishonest and ugly, and don’t you dare describe those words as ‘gendered’.

We’re witnessing the marshalling of feminism to the dastardly end of freezing political discourse and protecting an establishment figure from ridicule. Feminists should be far more offended by this than by hacks’ attacks on Clinton. If you believe that women have the same moral capacity as men to negotiate public life — with all its ups, downs, madness and insults — then nothing should rile you more than the Hillary camp’s desire to police public life in order to make a female candidate’s life easier. It isn’t the person who says ‘inaccessible’ or ‘shrill’ who is setting back the cause of women in politics; it’s Hillary and her Orwellian fans.