The Public Perception of Hillary Clinton Illustrates the Problem of Gender Bias in Our Society

War on women! You have heard that phrase uttered before. Yes, most liberals believe the GOP have been waging war on women for years now. There are numerous reasons for that and unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past several years,  you do not need me to list those reasons. The GOP, of course, denies that with equally numerous reasons why they don’t believe that’s the case. But before you dismiss this as another silly ideological piece, I urge you to hear me out. The unequal treatment of women is far more widespread than a simple ideological squabble between liberals and conservatives. It’s a problem that cuts across all classes of our society.

There's no other case that illustrates this more than  Democratic Presidential front-runner, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was a victim of her husband and former president, Bill Clinton’s marital infidelity. His alleged cheating and other right-wing generated conspiracies were the news staple of the 1990s and indeed throughout Bill Clinton’s administration. Interestingly, as big as those scandals were, the general public just did not care for it. They were able to put things in perspectives, by ignoring the sensationalism of these stories and sticking to real issues of concern to their daily lives. Not only was Bill Clinton elected after the Gennifer Flowers’ story and others that came to light in 1991/1992, he went on to win re-election in a landslide in 1996. He had his highest approval ratings during his impeachment proceedings for lying about the Monica Lewinsky’s saga two years later. But Hillary, who he cheated on was not so lucky. Traditionally, the spouse of a cheating partner is accorded the sympathies and understanding as the aggrieved one. But in the case of Hillary, this has not been the case. The public, aided by Republican witch-hunt efforts has bought into the idea that even though she is the victim here, she does not deserve such sympathies or understanding as others do. They claim she is too ambitious, too aggressive and not feminine enough. Progressives fault her for choosing to stay with him and not seeking a  divorce. 

But that was then and this is now. We now live in a media obsessed, sensibility-warping, 24-hour news era, where the Media has abandoned their traditional role and now acts like a tabloid. It is in this era that we now have to re-live the 1990s, thanks to the egomaniacal, racist and xenophobic presumptive presidential candidate of the Republican Party, Donald Trump. In search of credibility, he has promised to and indeed has begun to bring up all the sordid 1990’s salacious details of Bill Clinton's extramarital affairs that we had already dealt with. The difference, this time, is, that these issues are no longer treated dispassionately as a joke that it was in the 1990s. Instead, it is now okay in modern day America to shame the wife of a cheating spouse, or as Donald Trump calls her, “an enabler”. First, it does not appear to matter to the millions of Trump followers that he is three times worse than Bill Clinton when it comes to cheating on his wives or significant others. His record are public for anyone to see and it boggles the mind that his adherents, (who are predominantly less educated), cannot make the simple judgment of questioning the credibility of  a “pot calling the kettle” black.

Be that as it may, the second and most disturbing question is: when is it ok to shame a victim for the acts of a perpetrator? Will this happen if the victim, in this case, was a man? For all those who want to relive this sordid part of our recent history, would you apply this standard if the person involved is your mother, sister or member of your family? The corporatization of the press and laziness of its members has made it ok for us to distance ourselves from the reality of our politics. Clinton may not be your warm and fuzzy kind of person, but does that mean she’s not a human who deserve the same sympathies and understanding accorded to other aggrieved spouses? And what about the ridiculous accusation of being an enabler? What does it mean in the context of a marriage? How many women in public life go out of their way to procure, make it possible or “enable” their spouse to cheat on them? This is not only ridiculous, it does not make any sense at all, unless of course, you are a hyper-partisan member of the Republican Party and a Donald Trump follower.

Then, there is the Clinton’s email problem. She deserves the criticisms that she’s received about this because she circumvented the process irrespective of whatever reason she may have had. But here again, we run into serious gender discrimination. Even though past secretaries of States such as Madeleine Albright, Colin Powell, and Condoleeza Rice - all used personal emails to some degree or another, it was not until Hillary Clinton’s case that it became overly politicized. Why was she treated differently from past Secretaries of State? Sure, there were two female Secretaries of State before her who did not receive harsh scrutiny as she did. Still, the question had to be asked: why did the Republicans choose this time to go after her just when she had a legitimate chance of becoming the first woman president of the country? Is it just a matter of happenstance or a function of our innate unconscious bias? More importantly, why did the majority of the public buy into this bias to the point of depressing her favorability ratings? 

Feel free to form your own conclusions about these questions but before you do, consider this. Her record of accomplishment are outstanding As First Lady, she helped establish the Children's Health Insurance, Adoption and Foster Care. She served two terms as US Senator from New York. During  her second term, she was appointed Secretary of State and served for four years during Obama's first term. She left office with 70% approval ratings. So how is it then that between then and now, her public image is as low as it is now? The answer to that is very clear. The Republicans have stated on record that they wanted to drive down her approval ratings and public perception of her image. To achieve that, they used the power of their office in the House of Representative to set up a bogus investigation into the 2012 Benghazi incident which had already been exhaustively investigated. So when you hear the Press talk about how weak she is for this election and that she has one of the highest unfavorable ratings, Know that more than $40m of your taxes were used to accomplish that. 

But here is where the question of bias enters the equation. No matter what your feelings are about what went down at Benghazi, the findings from numerous Senate and House committees, including independent investigation, did not find any wrong-doing by any government official or departments. This was not the first time we have faced attacks abroad. During Reagan's administration, 241 Marines were killed in terrorist attack in Beruit. There was no inquisition type investigation to take down the then Secretary of State who was a man. During Bill Clinton's administration, there were numerous attacks on US missions abroad but again, there were no over politicized investigations against the Secretary of State who was a man. More than 4486 Americans died in Iraq because of a war based on a lie. There was no investigation against President Bush and his administration who sold that lie to us. He and most of his cabinet secretaries are men. You can blame the political environment for these investigations and that definitely may have contributed to it. But how do you account for the public's (who gave her such high marks for her performance before these investigations began)  perception going from very high to very low? Today, you hear the common person on the street who don't know her personally and who do not know her records of accomplishment say "I don't trust her". Worse still, they cannot point to one thing she has done wrong as a reason for their distrust. My take on this is clear. Our ingrained and socialized gender bias against women is at work here and we must be honest enough to admit it and confront it head on.

Unfortunately, this problem is not limited to conservatives in the Republican Party. The Democratic left, specifically, Bernie Sanders’ hyperactive and violence prone followers are doing the same thing. All the things that Sanders' criticize about Hillary Clinton were in place during Obama’s two successful presidential runs and no one complained about them. We celebrate and marvelled at the genius of his ideas. He by-passed public campaign funds, opting to raise his own in order to be competitive with the Republicans. Bernie Sanders was not only in Congress during Obama's run, he was in Congress when Bill Clinton ran for two presidential terms and he did not say a thing.  For 25 years, he did not see fit to crusade against anyone until now. Why now? Why did Sanders not run in 2012? He is not a Democrat and does not need their permission to run. Could it be that it is easier to run against a woman whom it is easy to paint as a caricature of corruption than it is to run against a man, especially the first African American president? If you listen to him, he has characterized Hillary as corrupt and unqualified to be president essentially for doing the same thing every man who ran before her did. Why is there a double standard even among self-professed progressives? We all like to think we have progressed to the point where the problems of yesterday no longer apply to today. But the facts remain that women are still judged harshly and with  different standards than men in today’s America. That’s a food for thought for all of us.

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