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Guess What America, This Election IS About Gender

26/10/2016 12:37 PM IST | Updated 27/10/2016 8:35 AM IST
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Carlos Barria / Reuters

I came to America for the curly fries and cronuts, but ended up being served more than I bargained for.

I was warned about the giant portion sizes long before I set foot on US soil, but no one thought to prepare me for what qualified as mealtime entertainment.

And at first, the 2016 Presidential Election was just that.

"You will be surprised to learn that Republicans are not a myth," I joked, in my first email back home. "Their deity, a certain D. Trump, is very much the stuff of reality and can be relied upon to grace our TV screens with new pearls of *insert suitable word here* on a daily basis."

Being in America during the build-up to the country's most dramatic election yet has thus far thrilled the news junkie in me. I revel in the reality TV that passes for election coverage here. When my American friends ask me to explain India, I respond with a triumphant "Explain Trump."

Then there are the drinking games on debate night.

The well-timed memes on Facebook.

The caricatures of the Presidential nominees that the local burger joint has printed onto flyers advertising their signature wings.

All this time I have had no doubts about where I stand on the subject.

Of course, I'm anti-Trump. This is not an original position to take. (At this point what is there left to say about the man, that has not already been said, more eloquently and more bitingly sarcastically?)

Anti-Trump is the position every reasonable, left-of-centre American – scratch that, every reasonable human being – shares.

I watch John Oliver. I follow Emma Watson on Twitter.

I subscribe to the stereotype of the subculture to which I identify, with every fibre of my liberal, feminist self.

So, of course, I am anti-Trump.

It must then follow that, if I had an actual vote in this election, I'd go with Clinton. Not because her campaign has particularly impressed me but because in a dead-end ballot such as this one, The Lesser Evil argument must prevail.

Unsurprisingly, a substantial part of the Democrat electorate this season has arrived at a similar decision. Much of them identify as anti-Trump rather than pro-Clinton.

A Huffington Post article I came across chose to address this phenomenon in a piece titled Stop Pretending You Don't Know Why People Hate Hillary Clinton. The reason – the piece reveals several lines later – is because "Hillary is decidedly unafraid of 'the woman card'."

America wants Beyoncé, Michelle Obama and Justin Trudeau with a uterus all rolled into one.

Now much of this article is an exposé of double standards. It tom-toms the injustices Clinton has had to battle with, pointing out, for example, how many 'view her with contempt for opposing same-sex marriage in 2008, while fawning over men like Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders, who held the same position at the same time'. It perhaps even goes a little overboard by describing America's viewing of Clinton as a Lady Macbeth character, desperate to gain power.

Even so, I had to admit it was on to something.

I began asking people the same question Larry Womack, the author of the piece asked. Why is Clinton disliked? Why the hate for Clinton?

And like Womack, the answers I've turned up are unnervingly vague.

'Clinton seems untrustworthy.'

'She's not ready.'

'She just doesn't have what it takes.'

As a friend put it, Clinton isn't an ideal candidate, but she's faced hate disproportionate to her actions. It doesn't matter what her stands on actual issues are, we find it impossible to view her objectively because she's a woman. Women are just not held to the same standards as men, and with the 2016 Election people have given up even pretending to hold women to the same standards.

Women are just not held to the same standards as men, and with the 2016 Election people have given up even pretending to hold women to the same standards.

This is not to say Secretary Clinton has a spotless record. But no matter how grave the transgressions of the Clinton Foundation are, never mind how careless her emailing habits have been – all criticisms of her pale in the face of Donald Trump's shocking, and blatant, treatment of women both preceding and during the course of his campaign.

As the HuffPost piece asks, "What kind of society even considers the latter over the former for its highest office?"

I thought about these arguments and largely agreed with their analysis. What I remained unconvinced about, however, was that Clinton's womanhood itself was sufficient reason to explain the Left's lukewarm support of her.

After all, liberal America would happily support a woman candidate, right?

The truth is the American Left seems to have fallen prey to the human tendency to think in binaries. The purist in every anti-Trump voter wants to see the complete antithesis of the man in his political opponent.

And far from being disappointed by it, they delight in the fact that this saviour has taken the shape of a woman.

Why then do they find it so difficult to back Hillary?

The answer reveals an ugly truth.

Hillary Clinton is a woman. But she is not the woman.

Jim Urquhart / Reuters

What America seems to want, at this point, is a certain type of woman to run for political office. An Ivy-educated but uncontrived, smart, attractive, witty, bohemian, stylish, preferably ethnic minority, articulate sort of woman who holds her own behind a podium. America wants the kind of woman who comes with fiery rhetoric and memorable catch phrases. With the calm independence of a career woman but married, of course, in a modern, equal sort of way where she supports her man but doesn't outshine him. A woman who can shake her booty on Ellen and wipe the floor with her Caucasian male opponent at Presidential Debates. A woman who can play the good wife card and stay married to her cheating husband without somehow seeming diminished by the process.

America wants Beyoncé, Michelle Obama and Justin Trudeau with a uterus all rolled into one.

America wants a woman who can be a feminist icon in a certain way, and the unsexy candidature of Hillary Clinton just doesn't cut it.

And so it turns out that this election is about gender. Perhaps far more than we have realised, or are willing to admit. It's about gender bias, even from those who proclaim themselves to be above such base bigotry.

Clinton's mainstream approach to government has deemed her unfit to lie in the Procrustean bed the American progressives have laid out for female politicians. The point is, why should she aspire to fit the mould?

There's a word for this sort of expectation. It's sexism. Plain and simple. Even if this expectation comes from the very actors who are so quick to point out misogyny from their Conservative counterparts.

And that is what is so dangerous.

It is this pedigree of prejudice that makes it acceptable to counter accusations of Trump's past treatment of women with arguments that Bill Clinton has an equally sleazy rep. (Trump himself uses this argument.)

The fact is that Bill Clinton isn't standing for elections. Hillary Clinton is. And while it can be argued judging her based on her choice of life partner is not entirely unwarranted, the fact remains she should not have to answer for her husband's misdemeanours.

Any truly liberal viewpoint must acknowledge this.

The truth is the American Left seems to have fallen prey to the human tendency to think in binaries.

This election isn't about political ideology. It has caterwauled well beyond the familiar boundaries of Republican and Democrat, where the voting body can be appeased with the same tired arguments of left or right-wing policies.

Mike Segar / Reuters

This election calls for every voter to make a choice based on what they define their own identities to be. It has seen the Bible Belt loosen its clasps, because for the first time the Republican stronghold here, must choose between Jesus and Caesar. Trumps questionable moral standards are suddenly the greater evil, and professed Republicans must identify with Clinton not because they support her politics but because they believe themselves to be morally upright and reasonable. It is a sad time for democracy.

I don't hold American citizenship, and am not entitled to cast my vote in the upcoming election. Even so, I find it hard not to take every news story following the race extremely personally. And as a woman and a global citizen, why shouldn't I? This election will affect us all.

America, what you want in your 'woman candidate' is not on the menu. I know you're used to making special requests, but for heavens sake when you vote, remember that you're ordering for the whole table.

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