Hillary Haters, out in force this summer, are spurring their coreligionists to greater vociferousness. But why is Hillary Hatred so intense, so committed, so sure of itself?
It’s because Hillary isn’t feminine or womanly, at least not in traditional ways. She doesn’t emote much publicly, she’s not spontaneous, she’s not touchy-feely. In short, she’s not vulnerable. And this is terrifying.
Women are emotional. Mothers are nurturers. Being a real woman means being spontaneous and responsive. Hillary doesn’t fit these stereotypes, and so she’s not a proper woman. This outrages many Americans, of both sexes.
In the media, displays of emotion confirm authenticity, especially but not only for women. Oprah cries. Ellen dances. Every StoryCorps segment on public radio includes some tears followed by a bit of silence to wallow in them. Weather Channel meteorologist Jim Cantore yells about thunder snow. Donald Trump sneers and mocks and rants. And so we are sure we know what they think, what they believe in their hearts.
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But not Hillary. Take the recent congressional Benghazi hearings. Clinton sat for 11 hours straight with cameras relentlessly aimed at her face. Yet until the end she controlled her responses, answering with concentration and without manifest irritation. She even cracked a joke when one of her interrogators asked if she was alone when she went home late from the office the day that the news of the attacks broke.
A real woman would have resented the remark and defended her honor, or at least blushed with undeserved shame.
Even brainy Rachel Maddow has a “charming” side. No matter how smart she is (MSNBC is touting her as “arguably the smartest person on TV”), she also is spontaneous and excitable, and she giggles at her own jokes. She has many seemingly unguarded moments.
Whereas we can pinpoint the instants when Hillary consciously switches on a smile. No doubt she’s remembering frequent pokes by colleagues and strangers, in pensive or unaffected moments, “Why so serious?” That she could be a person whose brain guides her actions more than her heart profoundly unsettles many, who then call her untrustworthy.
This dislike and fear of serious, reserved women is particularly American. Europeans, Latin Americans, Asians – women and men alike – are more restrained about showing emotions in public; overly strong or spontaneous reactions are for children who haven’t seen the world. Sophisticated and mature women can present themselves neutrally. That’s why many Americans find European women cold – they don’t automatically extend a smile your way.
It’s a double standard for Clinton, because gender roles have eroded for men in politics, making it acceptable and even desirable for them to show emotion. Back in 1972, Edmund Muskie, at the time a front-runner for the Democratic nomination for president, appeared to cry at a news conference while he was defending his wife against personal attacks. His campaign crashed soon thereafter. Today, President Obama tears up while speaking publicly about gun violence. And then there’s John Boehner.
So Hillary challenges what we all once took for granted. Presidents are men, and women behave in certain ways. Once seemingly reliable gender-based, binary definitions of male and female roles and deportment are increasingly irrelevant. That scares the daylights out of some Americans and makes them “mad as hell.”
Mary Roodkowsky of Pittsboro is a graduate of Wellesley College, but did not overlap with Hillary Clinton. She is a retired UNICEF official who lived for long periods in six countries.