Hillary Clinton is an imperfect candidate. She is certainly not as squeaky clean as many voters would like. The shadow of The Clinton Foundation, Benghazi, and those damn emails loom large over her campaign, and despite all of that, Clinton may be the most qualified candidate. Gary Johnson and Jill Stein‘s ignorance are reaching dangerous levels, and Donald Trump is, well, Donald Trump.
In spite of her qualifications, though, the dialogue surrounding her campaign has been a deep mire of sexism. The sheer fact that Donald Trump is still standing as her opponent in this race is a testament to this. If Clinton was a mother of five children by three different men who had lost nearly a $1 billion dollars in bad business deals in a single year, would anyone treat her ambitions as viable? If Clinton had chucklingly participated in the introduction to a soft core porno back in the day, would anyone take her seriously anymore? If Clinton had summoned 2nd Amendment extremists to take out her opponent, would her campaign still have any legs today? The fact of the matter is that Clinton and Trump are being held to a double standard by the mainstream press and voters.
Trump’s blowhard antics are seen as “real,” while many feel like Clinton’s approach to the first debate was overly prepared and rehearsed, like being prepared is somehow disqualifying for someone who is trying to run the country. Despite every unhinged Twitter rant that Donald Trump goes on, Hillary has to constantly prove the obvious fact that she has the experience and temperament necessary to be President. External forces are just as much to blame as the Trump campaign, though. As the media obsesses over Hillary’s health (despite Trump being a 70-year-old man on the cusp of obesity who has established himself as a fast food aficionado), countless other articles and tweets emerge claiming that Hillary should smile more. Which, apparently, isn’t a requirement for high elected office unless you’re a woman.
However, the most disturbingly sexist aspect of the pushback against the Clinton campaign has been the near-constant references to former President Bill Clinton’s extra-marital affairs from the ’80s and ’90s (which make them older than a great number of young voters). After the first presidential debate, Trump acted like some kind of hero for not mentioning the affairs, with his son, Eric, calling him “courageous” for this bare minimum display of decency. That all figures to change during Sunday night’s debate with the twice-divorced Trump on the defensive after his disastrous Friday following the release of his vulgar past remarks about women. Trump will almost certainly call on the Clinton’s deeply flawed, 40-year marriage as some sort of black mark in an effort to give himself cover.
To be fair, there are certainly reasons to criticize the way that both Clintons handled the affairs. Beneath a calm demeanor, there are reports of ruthless attempts to smear and discredit the women who claimed to have had sexual encounters with President Clinton. These alleged tactics have given even her staunchest feminist supporters pause. But these charges aren’t new or hidden from view, and this isn’t about Donald Trump trying alarm women about Hillary’s alleged behavior towards those who came forward about her husband’s infidelity, it’s about trying to shame Hillary for her so-called failings as a woman. Calling upon the misogynistic idea that a woman whose husband cheats is to blame for “not keeping her man satisfied.” It’s red meat to his supporters who proudly rock t-shirts and share memes touting a crass “Hillary Sucks, But Not Like Monica” message.
Should Hillary Clinton be faced with this kind of attack on Sunday (or in the third debate), Clinton’s response will no doubt be scrutinized into oblivion. If she responds coldly, she’ll be accused of the same robotic answers that plagued Michael Dukakis after he dispassionately responded to a question about the hypothetical rape and murder of his wife during the 1988 presidential debate. If she responds with fire, the focus will shift from the attack to the attacker as the Jealous Wife label is pinned to her chest. As our first female presidential nominee from a major party, Clinton has been forced into a no-win situation. She’s scrutinized when she’s too stiff, and she’s scrutinized if she appears too happy. Meanwhile, as long as Trump manages to string some words together, he is continually handed a participation trophy as his own foibles with regard to his demeanor get dismissed after a moment (until the next time he starts shouting and spewing) while her lack of a just-right percentage of smiles nears “gate” status as a press fixation.
If Trump does decide to go even lower, to paraphrase Michelle Obama, it is the duty of the press to go high. If he flings these deplorable ideas across the aisle, the story needs to be “Donald Trump continues to cater to the very lowest of the low” instead of “If Hillary’s man has a wandering eye, how will she run America?” or another commentary that pays too much attention to her facial expressions. The press must judge Clinton and her policies on her own merit, not for the indiscretions of her husband. American politics is defined by its spin, but we have to do better.
As Trump continues to add to his distressing legacy when it comes to how we views women, we have to take a hard look at the double standard that Hillary Clinton has been fighting her entire career. As she punches her way through another glass ceiling, Trump needs to be the one called out for his own bad sportsmanship. His craven debate tactics are the story, not the unrelenting sh*t that Hillary has dealt with with a surprising amount of grace over the course of this campaign.