Woman at Work

Hillary Clinton: Trouble maker or saint? For decades, she has been at the crossroads of two conflicting interpretations: She’s been named, on the one hand, too idealistic, too manipulative, too meddling, and on the other, ambitious, clever, and independent. Either way, she illuminates the pressures and stigmas that women face. For her and for other women, encountering these biases are the price of persistence.

From a young age, women are held to a higher standard of responsibility and stability than young men. They are identified as flaky when they change paths, indecisive when they brainstorm, and hostile when they protest for their rights. There is a parallel to be drawn here with Hillary Clinton—criticism of her extends to her pro-Iraq war decision and her complicity in Benghazi, although these decisions stretched across many federal actors. Her policymaking skills are consistently evaluated by her day-to-day decisions, isolated and judged as separate letdowns; male politicians, on the other hand, are afforded a judgement based instead on through the cohesive narrative of their successes. Hillary’s cohesive narrative seems to get lost in the isolated criticisms.

Microaggressions—subtle, hostile statements that intentionally or unintentionally undermine—become plainly evident during debates. Female competitors are often told to look sufficiently professional, since being “too plain” portrays a lack of ambition but being “too quirky” resonates as rebellion. They must speak at a balanced volume, since “being screechy” reveals psychotic tendencies but being “too quiet” implies timidness not conducive to decision-making. They are told to keep a balanced composure, since being “too aggressive” shows anger-prone cattiness but being “too meek” shows blind submission to others.

When Clinton is forced to walk this thin line,, it showcases the pressure that other powerful women face as well. Several commentators have often criticized Clinton for exterior faults, ranging from overly bright pantsuits to her tone of voice. Fox analyst Brit Hume went so far as to ask why she was “shouting angrily” after a victory. By using “tasteful” discrimination, commentators have convinced themselves that their style of combat is ethical.

For Hillary Clinton, maintaining her public presence is a constant internal balancing act between what the people want her to be and the platform she wants to advocate for. She must take a progressive stance towards domestic and military policy, yet she can’t be too strong, in fear of being the callous woman. She can’t be too rational, in fear of being calculating and cold, and she can’t be too empathetic, in fear of being weak. With every stereotype that emerges—old, heartless, manipulative—there is an accompanying comment on a physical feature. Clinton’s elderly age and “unsettling” smile are viciously mocked through viral videos intended make her look unhinged and unpredictable. Yet when she tries to seem connected – making ‘hot sauce’ references paralleling a recent Beyoncé song or using social media to appeal to the liberal youth-  she’s viewed too desperate to even be in the game.

The emphasis on physical features as a measure of Hillary Clinton’s intelligence and capability, as well as the negative interpretation of many of her qualities, are not accidents: they are a consequence of media bias against females, and it affects the public’s perception of all prominent women. The thin line that women must walk and the threat that anything they do will be viewed as wrong would scare away most enterprising male candidates—yet Hillary Clinton stands to tell her tale. And maybe this fact—that she’s resilient, that she’s gotten through every misogynistic hurdle thrown at her—is why she makes a qualified candidate to be President of the United States.