If You Rolled Your Eyes at Hillary Clinton for Reminding Us She's a Woman, You Missed the Point

I swear I could feel you shaking your head last night when former secretary of state Hillary Clinton defended herself against Bernie Sanders's suggestion that she's part of the "establishment" by reminding us she's a woman running for president. I get it, but listen, she's got a solid point.

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Sure, Hillary has been a fixture in the highest levels of American politics for decades. She seems to have the backing of every single heavy hitter from Hollywood to Washington, DC, right in her pantsuit pocket. But it hasn't always been that way, and the fact that she's a woman does put her on the outside of the male-dominated world of high-stakes politics.

Just look at the attacks Clinton has spent her entire career dodging. She was relentlessly hammered during her husband's presidency -- and, in fact, is still having to answer questions about why he humiliated her by having an affair. As if she was somehow responsible for his shady behavior or that it's somehow a reflection of her own.

Despite a lifetime spent in public service, her motivations are always questioned -- as if a graduate of Yale Law School could do something other than just comfortably settle into a cushy job in corporate America raking in piles of money. Instead she moved to Arkansas and tried to roll up her sleeves and support her husband's political ambitions, in no small part because they were far more attainable for a man.

She did, in fact, take up issues related to helping children and families in poverty. But somehow all that good work just gets glanced over for far juicier accusations of being a lesbian or being some robot driven only by an obsession for power.

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Her gender isn't a card. It's something she's had to contend with over her entire career. And I would argue that is the difference between her opponents' having genuine disagreements over her politics versus the full-on hysterical hatred she gets from all sides. Her very participation as an American leader really seems to offend people. If that's not because she's shaking things up in a big way, then how else can you explain it?

Can you think of a single other politician -- much less First Lady -- who's gotten raked over the coals so thoroughly? Is it her policies people find so upsetting? I don't think so. And she's not the first woman politician to be treated as less of a leader because of her gender.

Once she made it to the White House she spent eight years getting vilified for being a First Lady who dared to take policy positions. She was dismantled in the press for trying to lead the charge on health-care reform instead of assuming a more suitable, less influential role as First Lady.

But she charged on.

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She's been accused of murdering her friend Vince Foster, as part of the Whitewater investigation into her real estate dealings. She's been dragged through the mud for everything from her willingness to bake cookies to her interest in working.

All the pundits prognosticated that she'd never win a Senate seat in New York, but she did. And guess what? By all accounts she was a really good senator. She ran for president and was beaten, but she took on the consolation prize of secretary of state. And after her work in the State Department was finished, her former opponent and boss, President Obama, said she killed the job.

The point I'm trying to make is that you can't ignore that she's become such a national polarizing figure because she dared to redefine what a woman in big-boy national politics acts like. And for that she deserves a bit more of our respect.

That's not to say that disliking her politics, or preferring Bernie Sanders because he's staked out bold positions to the left of Clinton, isn't fair. It totally is. But let's not pretend for one second that her path to that podium in last night's debate in New Hampshire wasn't a whole lot more treacherous than Sanders's. Because it was.

Even after all these years, she still faces down questions like the one from that punk in Iowa about how people don't think she's "honest." And there's nothing that will convince me that a male politician of the same stature would never have been treated so disrespectfully. She's criticized for shouting and for how she looks -- something not many male candidates have or will spend more than 20 seconds thinking about. Ever.

So yeah, Clinton deserves our respect and a whole lot of feminist cred. Her standing there at that podium with dignity, head held high and taking on all comers, is a radical feminist statement in and of itself. The fact that she dared to run for president again after getting beaten by President Barack Obama is a testament to her fortitude, not her audacity -- a critique her far more nakedly ambitious male colleagues never seem to get.

So go ahead and roll your eyes when Hillary brings up the big old balls it takes her to stand shoulder to shoulder with the men and speak her mind. And I agree, no one should vote for Clinton just because she's a woman. She's a whole lot more than that. And no one can deny that being a woman vying for the most powerful position in the world puts her at a disadvantage. And that's outsider enough for me.

 

 Image via Brett Weinstein/Flickr

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