by Doctor Science
A few weeks ago Sprog the Elder, who was born in 1989, asked me to explain why some people hate Hillary Rodham Clinton so very, very much. She knew that it went back to the Bill Clinton administration, but had no idea what it was based on. This is more or less what I told her:
It was misogyny, of course. But explaining the particular flavor of anti-Hillary misogyny involves both what I remember from the 90s, and things that have only become clear in retrospect. The simplest way to put it: as Sady Doyle says, she disrupted the narrative--which meant people were culturally prepared to cast her as the villain.
From the start of the 1992 campaign, as I recall, Hillary refused to sit in any of the usual boxes -- even the feminist/not-feminist ones. Every modern First Lady is expected to have a policy interest, and Hillary's has always been children's health and education. This should be perfectly ladylike and even conventional, but she never addressed it in a ladylike way.
Hillary's basic personality is Hermione Granger: she's the nerd girl who knows too much, whose hand is always up first, who studies the hardest and who always has the damn right answer. Even in fiction this can be irritating, and in real life (as you know) it really gets a lot of people's backs up, especially coming from a woman.
Even Michelle Obama fits into the "conventional First Lady" box more easily than Hillary did. Michelle has her signature policy issues (children's nutrition, for instance), but they're in a separate area from the "big issues" that men take seriously. And Michelle's persona as First Lady has been "the cool smart mom", more relaxed and friendly than Hermione could be.
For all his faults (and boy howdy, there are lots), Bill Clinton was always upfront about how much he respected Hillary's abilities, how he (a Rhodes Scholar) thought she was the brains of the outfit. During that 1992 campaign, Bill said that by electing him voters would get "two for the price of one" because Hillary would come, too.
In retrospect, "two [Presidents] for the price of one" was a prediction more than an exaggeration, but the implications were way too feminist for a lot of people to deal with. Not just conservatives, either: look at The West Wing, supposedly based on the Clinton White House but with one particular person conspicuous by her absence.
So I think that from the very beginning, Hillary was hated not just for being a woman who "didn't know her place", but because Bill himself had implied that she might want to be, and be able to be, President. Eleanor Roosevelt also was the target of vitriolic hate, and like Hillary was called "That Woman" -- for being uppity, for political activism, for civil rights. But Eleanor didn't have the smell of ambition, of the drive for power found in someone who's seriously going to run for President. That kind of ambition is considered acceptable and even admirable in men, but in women it really goes against the grain of our culture.
I remember talking with Mr Dr Science toward at the end of Bill Clinton's Presidency (around when Hillary was running for NY Senator) about a tabloid headline I'd just seen in the grocery store. It proclaimed "Hillary's Secret Plan to Run for President!" -- and we laughed and said, what secret? I also remember riding up to an Iraq War protest in early 2003 with a bunch of other rank-and-file Democrats, talking about how we were looking forward to Hillary running for President in 2008.
It's as though the campaign against Hillary becoming the first female President started in 1992--even though no-one was conscious of it in those terms, yet.
Since I talked to Sprog about this, I've concluded that another element was also involved, related to what Anil Dash calls the Law of Fail:
Once a web community has decided to dislike a person, topic, or idea, the conversation will shift from criticizing the idea to become a competition about who can be most scathing in their condemnation.This isn't just an online thing: this happens in all kinds of human communities, from 6-year-olds on up. Oddly, I can't find a term for it in social psychology or sociology. Outgroup derogation misses A) how the outside element doesn't have to be a group, it can be an individual, an idea, a style, a tool (… an operating system, type of music, clothing, food, car, pet, you name it); and B) the positive feedback cycle of derogation. It's a kind of performative hatred, almost completely detached from its object. It's easy and can be a lot of fun, showing off how witty (obscene, insightful, sarcastic, scatological, depending your group's style) you can be, without attacking any of your fellow group members.
I think performative hatred toward women is a big ingredient in the Trainwreck phenomenon Sady Doyle writes about. You can also see a lot of performative hatred toward things associated with women: Justin Bieber, for instance, or yoga pants. It makes a fun, competitive game out of misogyny, one that both boys & girls can play. … Yeah.
What I noticed pretty early on in Bill Clinton's first term was that Hillary became a performative hate target for a *lot* of people (not all of them Republicans). It was possible to make a career out of Hillary hatred, even in the periods when she was most popular, and that has continued to this day.
When I see commenters here & elsewhere talking about how Hillary is an obviously "terrible candidate" and Democrats should have nominated someone else, it seems to me they're looking at Hillary Hatred and either buying into it, or else they think being hated should disqualify her. (And for those of you who think she's a criminal, a habitual liar, or corrupt: that's the Hillary Hatred bubble talking, I'm not even going to argue against it any more.) Frankly, it really burns my grits, because I don't think the first woman to get to the brink of the American Presidency could *not* be hated.
What I and other Hillary supporters see, in contrast, is someone who could endure and get work done in the face of decades of brutal, slimy, ceaseless attacks. We see the toughest, most determined and self-controlled person in American politics, with a truly astounding strength of character. But of course toughness, determination, and steely self-control are traditionally more masculine than feminine virtues, so they also disrupt the usual narrative.
It's interesting, then, that so many journalists & others have talked about Trump's campaign as being disruptive & driven by a desire for change, while overlooking how Hillary's candidacy and (probably) Presidency will disrupt our baked-in stories about what is possible in this nation and even in the world. I mean, there a a bunch of other countries where women have been elected leader, but I don't know if any have done so on such an explicitly feminist platform, before. That's what I really never expected to see in my lifetime.
I looked for various pictures to go with this post and got really depressed, so I think I'll just do videos.
Hillary supporter Beyoncé covering "A Change Is Gonna Come" (including all-female chamber orchestra):
"Roar" from the Hillary Campaign, song by supporter Katy Perry:
And later tonight, a livestreamed rally in Philadelphia with both Clintons, both Obamas, and NJ icons Jon Bon Jovi AND Bruce Springsteen.