Having carefully observed the misogyny and double standards with which Hillary Clinton had to contend during her campaign, I closely watched the reactions to the release of her book, What Happened. Clinton had been keeping a low public profile since the election, but her re-emergence for the book launch predictably coincided with a return of her detractors.
You can feel any way you want to about Clinton’s political record, her candidacy, her policies, or her campaign. But to question whether she has the right to share her personal account of one of the strangest electoral campaigns we’ve ever witnessed, and in which she played a starring role, is simply ludicrous.
An imperfect politician
Clinton was the United States Secretary of State from 2009 to 2013, a U.S. Senator from 2001 to 2009, First Lady of the United States from 1993 to 2001 and the Democratic Party's nominee for President of the United States in the 2016 election — the first woman to win a major party’s presidential nomination in American history. She also won the popular vote by three million more votes than the current sitting president. Clearly, her story matters.
Like many career politicians with an extensive track record, she is hardly without faults. But no perfect candidate exists and politics is a game of compromise and strange bedfellows. Given her uniquely privileged access to the past 25 years of American government, and decades of advocacy for children’s and women’s rights, I can think of few people better qualified to write about U.S. politics or the treatment of women in public life.
And yet I’ve seen dozens of published op-eds urging her to “go quietly into the night!” or “Shut the f*ck up and go away”. I’ve seen commentators on social media call her “delusional,” and repeatedly use gendered slurs like ““creepy old hag,” “bitch,” “witch,” and “cunt,” while denying sexism played any role in her defeat. I’ve seen them cynically point out that her book deals and speaking fees have made her money, as if she’s different from any other former political figure who has done the same.
Bernie Sanders’s book Our Revolution,for which the Vermont Senator made almost a million dollars in advance fees, was released only a week after Donald Trump was elected. He earned a similar advance for his recently published Guide to Political Revolution.
Yet, I have seen no cries for Sanders to “go away” or “stop talking,” despite him never even getting out of the primaries, and despite bashing Clinton in his own book. That venom seems to be reserved for Clinton. And while many begrudge her speaking fees and book advances, the very same people seem perfectly fine with Sanders being a millionaire who owns three homes.
Even though Clinton and Sanders voted the exact same way 93 per cent of the time while serving together in the Senate, Sanders continues to be perceived as a likeable and principled man who extols the virtues of socialism, while Clinton has consistently been portrayed as hawkish, opportunistic, untrustworthy and only out for herself. There is a clear double standard at play and those who claim not to see it are willfully blind.
Clinton devoted an entire chapter on the role sexism played in her defeat. Some have alluded that this is merely a convenient excuse, but experience has taught her that sexism undermines women in politics, as well as in Silicon Valley and businesses of all kind. How one can honestly deny that double standards exist while the U.S. has a self-proclaimed pussy grabber as president is a question that future generations will have to grapple with. We’re still in severe denial.
Backlash and rollbacks
Trump’s presidency, and the backlash against feminism and women’s rights it has both encouraged and facilitated, has forced many younger generations of women to take a hard look at the rights they thought had been won, and acknowledge that they were only somewhat acquired. The conservative movement in the U.S. is threatening to roll back women’s reproductive rights, with renewed vigour and purpose. The Women’s March, and the female fear and defiance it represented, didn’t materialize out of thin air.
It’s been both disconcerting and sobering to witness this familiar backlash to what a powerful and intelligent woman might have to say, during the same week that a man was appointed to lead the Canadian Women’s Advisory Board — again. The very same week that Google was sued for allegedly paying women less than their male peers. The very same week that Nikon picked 32 photographers to try out their new camera and — coincidence of all dastardly coincidences — all 32 were men. The very same week that Quebec held its collective breath while a police manhunt was underway for a kidnapped six-year-old boy whose mother, Veronique Barbe, was found murdered. As is so often the case, the boy’s father, and the victim’s estranged husband, is the prime suspect. Just one of many daily cases of conjugal violence that are so frequent and so unremarkable, yet continue to be treated by the media as rare and sad “family dramas.”
Domestic violence; open hostility towards opinionated, ambitious, and vocal women; all-male experts’ panels and all-male upper management; unequal pay and employment discrimination in spite of legislation assuring us otherwise: these are not singular exceptions and are not unrelated. They all form pieces of a puzzle and a systemic pattern that remind women, daily, that living life as a woman means you’ll be up against additional barriers.
Despite the many vocal naysayers, there are many who deeply care about what Hillary Clinton has to say, because of her insight, her intelligence, and her many years of political experience. Telling someone so uniquely qualified to tell her story to shut up is telling all women that our voices don’t matter.