Hillary Clinton got the internet talking about misogyny ― again.
On Tuesday, Clinton agreed that hatred of women played a role in her defeat last November. Speaking at a Women for Women event in New York, she initially blamed her loss on herself, FBI Director James Comey and Russian hackers.
Did misogyny also play a role? asked journalist Christiane Amanpour.
“Yes, I do think it played a role,” Clinton said, echoing comments she’d made in April to New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. She said she would go into more detail in her forthcoming book, due out in September.
Apparently, her remarks made people curious ― about the word “misogyny.” Merriam-Webster tweeted that lookups for “misogyny” jumped 10,042 percent, making the word its “#1 lookup.” It’s unclear what exactly those numbers mean. The percentage hike sounds like a lot, but it could very well have been an increase from one lookup.
Still, people are thinking about misogyny, and that’s good because misogyny, gender bias and sexism are everywhere. If we want to advance gender equality, we need to talk about this.
Clinton’s experience of sexism is singular: No other woman has ever come so close to the Oval Office. But it’s also mind-achingly universal.
“Misogyny affects women every day, often in very small and repetitive ways,” said Michelle Ryan, an organizational and social psychologist at the U.K.’s University of Exeter. “It’s often unremarkable because it is so pervasive. It becomes almost background noise. What is noteworthy about the misogyny faced by Clinton is not its content ― that is, unfortunately, oh so familiar ― but rather that it happened on such a big stage.”
Misogyny poured out in the anti-Clinton rhetoric during the campaign: All those terrible remarks, posters and chants about her looks. Donald Trump’s absurd “nasty woman” comment during a presidential debate. The fact that so many voters judged her untrustworthy for not being forthcoming about those emails while supporting her opponent, who lied with breathtaking regularity. And just imagine how Americans would have reacted to her joking about sexually assaulting men.
Women are held to different standards than men. All over corporate America, in academia, in journalism, loudly over-confident men regularly beat out better qualified women for jobs. I’ve worked with countless competent women over the years who were deemed “bitches” because they had the audacity not to smile very much while working.
I’ve lost track of the number of people who said they just didn’t like Clinton but couldn’t express why. Part of it surely had to do with well-studied expectations about gender roles: Women are supposed to be submissive, compliant helpers. Men are leaders. And when men and women switch roles, people go a little bonkers.
For women in leadership roles, this creates a double bind. If you act like a leader, you’ll be called out for being a bitch. If you attempt to act “nicely,” you’ll be judged an ineffectual leader.
So female CEOs and politicians and many other women walk a tightrope. Clinton endlessly sought to recalibrate her appearance, to amp up her warmth, to get people to like her.
Even in defeat, after winning the popular vote, she was extra nice. According to a Fortune magazine analysis going back to 1952, Clinton was the first losing presidential candidate to apologize in her concession speech for not winning.
To be clear, I’m not saying Clinton didn’t have other problems. She brought to the election a long record, some parts of it more admirable than others. And, of course, many voters didn’t agree with her policy positions.
Still, the hurdle remains: Lots of Americans don’t like it when women aim for the ultimate power. Remember, Clinton was a well-liked secretary of state. She was unthreatening then ― when she reported to a man.
You could even see the bias in the reaction to Clinton’s comments on Tuesday.
“It’s completely plausible that Comey or Russia or misogyny made the difference,” Philip Rucker wrote in The Washington Post. “But ‘absolute personal responsibility’ suggests you are taking total accountability for the outcome.”
It’s unclear why “total accountability” would mean refusing to recognize the obvious.