Photo Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque Graph Credit: Nate Silver/NY Times (Originally appeared in “Thinking About Hillary—A Plea for Reason,” by Michael Arnovitz.)
In her award-winning 1996 book The Republican War Against Women: An Insider’s Report from Behind the Lines, Tanya Melich details the conscious decision by the Republican party to add misogyny to an already-existing anti-civil-rights agenda they had put into place in the mid-sixties. A deliberate anti-woman platform—which Melich and other Republican feminists fought on multiple fronts—came into play around 1980: “The shift was subtle—in the late twentieth century, no major American political party could openly admit it opposed opportunity for 53 percent of the nation’s citizens. But the preceding decade had produced some scattered gains for women; and in reaction, the Reagan and Bush administrations actively sought to dismantle those gains. A different Republican agenda came into play.”[i]
While subtle in the mainstream media, the anti-woman agenda was clear behind Republican lines: Melich details many instances in which she and her fellow feminists attempted to preserve women’s rights within the party, including protections at educational institutions via Title IX and access to legal abortions for all women, not just affluent white women. She also details the rise of the Religious Right and their influence in transforming the party. Melich’s book reads like something you’d expect from a liberal feminist, someone who is clearly on the Left and fighting the Right with all her might. She sounds like the embodiment of what the Religious Right abhors: a self-possessed, self-determined woman who wants to further the human rights of all women.
This kind of woman—an outspoken feminist—soon became the target of the Right’s most vitriolic rage. By 1992, that rage had settled full force on Hillary Clinton. During the Democratic primaries that year, Hillary commented that the only way she could have avoided controversy would have been to “stay home and bake cookies.” (True that, my friends. True. That.) Her comment was taken out of context and used to paint her as a woman with no “family values.” [ii] The race was on to portray Hillary as a woman who would bring ruin on us all.
Both Susan Faludi, in Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man, and Michael Kimmel, in Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era, discuss the vilification of Hillary by working-class white men, who have been politically encouraged to believe that their only hope for power—and the solution to their very real problems—is in keeping women in their place. This Hillary-hatred is rife with paranoia and conspiracy theories, and rests on the bedrock of feminists-as-feminazis. Kimmel gives a prime example: “In Big Sister is Watching You: Hillary Clinton and the White House Feminists Who Now Control America—and Tell the President What to Do (1993), Texe Marrs argues that Hillary Clinton and her feminist coconspirators control the country and are threatening American’s rights and our national sovereignty.”[iii]
Sounds like it could have been written yesterday, doesn’t it?
Misogyny-against-feminists-and-especially-Hilary has fed a decades-long campaign in our media and politics to level charge after charge (from Whitewater to Benghazi to emails, oh my) against the only woman in our history who has served as First Lady, a Senator, and Secretary of State, and is now running to be our 45th president. In a June 2013 article for The Policy, Michael Arnovitz calls out the sexism behind our national distrust and hatred of Hillary—she is only hated when she is running for office (i.e., seeking power), and gets high approval ratings once she’s busy working for the American people. Arnovitz references Jill Abramson’s article in The Guardian about Hillary’s fundamental honesty—a trait Abramson can confirm after investigating Clinton for years: “I would be ‘dead rich’, to adapt an infamous Clinton phrase, if I could bill for all the hours I’ve spent covering just about every ‘scandal’ that has enveloped the Clintons. As an editor I’ve launched investigations into her business dealings, her fundraising, her foundation and her marriage. As a reporter my stories stretch back to Whitewater. I’m not a favorite in Hillaryland. That makes what I want to say next surprising. Hillary Clinton is fundamentally honest and trustworthy.”
This fundamentally honest and trustworthy woman—this woman who has served this country in myriad ways since I was in elementary school—had her face plastered on an inflatable sex doll outside the Republican National Convention, where one could also buy a T-shirt that reads “Hillary sucks but not like Monica.”
I cannot begin to describe how much this politically-and-institutionally-sanctioned sexual degradation enrages me, how utterly unacceptable it should be, how completely ridiculous it is to allow politics and misogyny to snicker together like Mad Men Gone Wild. And this treatment doesn’t just enrage me on behalf of Hillary, whom I admire greatly, or on behalf of feminists, who are my peeps. It enrages me on behalf of every girl and woman in this country: we are being told we are worthless, especially if we seek power.
Trump has taken this long-running strategy to its limit, in recently implying Clinton could be shot to prevent her from choosing Supreme-Court justices. Yep, that’s pretty much where hatred as political strategy leads, on a variety of fronts, and Trump has made it abundantly clear that he embraces the culmination of decades of racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia.
When will it end?
Tanya Melich had the answer to that in 1996: “The Republican war against women will end only when those candidates who have embraced the party’s bigotry are beaten at the polls. The war began when some ambitious ideologues discovered that backlash politics brought them power. It will end when Republican leaders discover it loses them power.”[iv]
[i] Tanya Melich, The Republican War Against Women: An Insider’s Report from Behind the Lines (New York: Bantam Books, 1996), 4.
[ii] “First Lady Biography: Hillary Clinton,” National First Ladies’ Library and Historic Site, http://www.firstladies.org/biographies/firstladies.aspx?biography=43, Accessed August 15, 2016.
[iii] Michael Kimmel, Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of Era (New York: Nation Books, 2013), 261.
[iv] Melich, The Republican War Against Women, 300.