Singing My Life with Her Words



I’d copy large enough chunks of this essay to bump up against the “fair use” rules of copyright, but you really need to go read the entire (not very long) post.

Here’s a taste:

This plays out on the level of personal expression, too: Women are supposedly over-emotional, whereas men make stern, logical, intelligent judgments. So, if Hillary raises her voice, gets angry, cries, or (apparently) even makes a sarcastic joke at a man’s expense, she will be seen as bitchy, crazy, cruel[,] and dangerous. (Remember the “NO WONDER BILL’S AFRAID” headlines after she raised her voice at a Benghazi hearing; remember the mass freak-out over her “emotional meltdown” when someone thought she might be crying during a concession speech.) She absolutely cannot express negative emotion in public. But people have emotions, and women are supposed to have more of them than men, so if Hillary avoids them – if she speaks strictly in calm, logical, detached terms, to avoid being seen as crazy –  we find her “cold,” call her “robotic” and “calculating,” and wonder why she doesn’t express her “feminine side.” Again, she’s going to be faulted for feminine weakness or lack of femininity, and both are damaging.  

Okay, so she can never be sad, angry, or impatient. That’s not a ban on all emotion, right? You’d think the one clear path to avoiding the “bitchy” or “cold” descriptors would be to put on a happy face, and admit to emotions only when they are positive. You’d think that, and you’d be wrong:  It turns out, people fucking hate it when Hillary Clinton smiles or laughs in public. Hillary Clinton’s laugh gets played in attack ads; it has routinely been called “a cackle” (like a witch, right? Because she’s old, and female, like a witch); frozen stills of Hillary laughing are routinely used to make her look “crazy” in conservative media. She can’t be sad or angry, but she also can’t be happy or amused, and she also can’t refrain from expressing any of those emotions. There is literally no way out of this one. Anything she does is wrong. 

And we should linger on the “witch” thing, because this is important. Women supposedly have an expiration date, typically in their thirties or forties, and Hillary Clinton is sixty-eight years old. One of the key lines Republicans ran against her candidacy, early on, is that she was “out of touch,” senile, “forgetful,” too old for the Presidency, representative of the “twentieth century” (unlike that charming young twenty-first century whippersnapper Marco Rubio). Images where she looks her age have routinely been used to discredit her: On Rush Limbaugh’s blog, a photo of an exhausted-looking Hillary on the campaign trail was posted, next to the argument that she couldn’t be President because people shouldn’t be forced to “stare at an aging woman.” So Hillary Clinton can’t look or act her age. On the other hand, if she acts more youthful – by paying special attention to her appearance, or making youth-culture references – it’s “pathetic,” “pandering,” and “desperate.” She’s running “the thirstiest campaign,” trying too hard to get the youth vote. Conservatives whisper about “Hillary Clinton’s secret face-lift;” progressives can’t stand the frivolity of her answering a question about Beyonce, or running a social media account that uses Buzzfeed-popularized slang. She’s a useless old biddy if she looks or acts her age, and a pathetic, desperate old cougar if she looks or acts any younger. Again, there is no right age for Hillary Clinton to be.

I’d hazard to say that most professional women, if they’re being honest, will admit that they’ve experienced this phenomenon over, and over, and over again.  I have.

One of the most important points that Joan C. Williams makes in her important book What Works for Women at Work is that there are (SUPRISE!) no good answers for women in this Catch 22 situation (aka, living under Patriarchy, daring to be professional in a man’s world).  It’s not just you.  It’s not just that you haven’t yet read the right self-help book, and it’s not just that you haven’t yet figured out the exact combination of aggression and passivity that’s called for in today’s work world.  Shesh, if Hillary Clinton can’t figure it out, why do we think the rest of us can?

If you “lean in”, you’re “too aggressive, too ambitious, bitchy, a ball-buster, power-hungry, and controlling.”  If you play the nice girl, you’re “too weak, not strong enough, low-energy, someone without the balls, timid, not a star player.”

Telling that “bossy,” little girl (and I was told over and over, growing up, not to be so “bossy”) that she has “leadership skills” just sets the little girl up for failure.  She’s not the one who needs to change; it’s the culture that needs to change for her.

The game is rigged and it’s rigged for you to lose.  So take whatever success you have had and magnify it about five times.  You’ve accomplished that in spite of playing with a marked deck.

Hat tip:  NYMary

Picture found here.


2 responses to “Singing My Life with Her Words

  1. I’ve been a part of a “conversation” on Facebook today that illustrates this so perfectly, especially about Clinton. I did my best to be reasonable and calm but the level of anger and, frankly, misogyny, continued to rise. A rigged game on every level. But, by the gods, we love Bernie.

  2. Excellent post. What makes me especially annoyed is that it is often women who are more misogynistic than men. Why do we keep judging each other so harshly?

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