Hillary Clinton’s very being draws vitriol from both sexes

Otherwise reasonable and intelligent women rant against her with a boiling rage

November 11, 2016

Perhaps the election was rigged but it was rigged against a powerful woman in ways we did not entirely perceive or admit to ourselves. In truth, there was almost an ennui in advance, as if there had been a female president already or, if there had not, the feeling was, there may as well have been.

But this, like many other perceptions of this outlandish race, turned out to be wrong. What we seem to have underestimated is the fierce, irrational, wide-ranging antipathy towards ambitious women in the US, not just from men but from women as well.

We know by now that angry, white uneducated men turned out for Donald Trump in unexpected numbers. What we are confronting a little less is so did educated white women.

As I scan the news in the disillusioned drizzle of the post-apocalypse, one statistic leaps out: only 51 per cent of white women with college degrees voted for Hillary Clinton. That is a very far cry from the surge in female voters we expected her to mobilise in this cycle, if only out of sheer self-preservation or outrage at Mr Trump’s vivid misogynistic commentary.

Much was made in the media of Mrs Clinton’s problems with “likeability”. We have never “liked” her. We would prefer she had the charm of her husband or the ease of Mr Obama, but in America charm and ease are the luxury of male candidates who do not have people criticising them for not smiling enough, or for smiling too much, or criticising their laugh or how they look from behind.

Bill Clinton could afford to play saxophone on television and answer questions about whether he wore boxers or briefs, but his wife could not.

If she did not seem natural, if she seemed careful or studied, if she did not appear entirely relaxed or warm or spontaneous, it is because she was navigating — and has been for decades — that unprecedented amount of scrutiny and judgment.

The problem, though, was not just that women did not like her but that many hated her with a fury that broke down under rational questioning: it felt as if she had committed a crime, only no one could quite say what that crime was. The private emails almost seemed like an excuse, a way to pin the anger to something tangible, since most of the people who referred to them seemed to have no idea of their content or much interest in finding out.

I often scroll through furious Facebook posts from university-educated women about Mrs Clinton. Otherwise reasonable, nuanced and intelligent women rant against her with a rage that is not all that far from the beer-bellied Trump supporters in an arena shouting “Lock her up! Lock her up!” or wearing “Hillary for Prison” T-shirts. In other words, what she was facing was not dislike but boiling rage.

 It is not a coincidence that Mrs Clinton’s popularity surged when news of Bill Clinton’s infidelities were beginning to be fleshed out in the press. When she was suffering and possibly humiliated in a public way, we liked her more.

When she was working hard, and succeeding, or even seemed to be moving past or rising above those infidelities, we liked her a little less. She seemed cold again, a virago.

She wrote a sad line in Living History, her 2003 memoir: “Some people were eager to see me in the flesh and decide for themselves whether or not I was a normal human being.”

We would prefer to think that there is something about Mrs Clinton’s particular personality that people do not like, some chemistry that was missing between her and the voters, and that may be true.

But another part of this dislike is the generic resentment of a strong woman in the public eye. The truth is that we in the US like the idea of powerful women but we do not much like powerful women themselves (look at the vitriol aimed at Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook and Marissa Mayer of Yahoo).

I think an important and possibly submerged message of this election is that it is not just angry blue-collar men who are suspicious and resentful of driven, ambitious women; who do not like them and may even hate them. It is women as well.

We may feel as though we have long been ready for a female president but I am afraid the truth is that we are nowhere even close. And, when it comes to coolly ambitious women like Mrs Clinton, as we like to say in this country: “Hate Trumps Love”.

Now the election is over, the poor woman should be able to breathe without our thinking she might be doing it the wrong way, or possibly trying to cover something up with a particular kind of breathing, or somehow breathing in the style of the elites, or, you know, breathing coldly in that calculated way of hers.


This article appeared on The Financial Times