The Treatment of Hillary Clinton Shows Sexism Pervades Society

We have only ourselves to blame.

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Hillary Clinton ran a flawed campaign, which she launched as a flawed candidate (she had very high negative ratings from voters). That said, however, if the sexist derision and insults hurled at her during her run (being called a she-goat, her laugh being called a cackle, etc.) had been translated into racial slurs and used instead against Barack Obama, they would never have been tolerated. Yet, to this day, no one has been forced to apologize to Clinton for all the gender-based abuse she had to endure.

Right-wing radio mouthpiece Rush Limbaugh made derogatory comments about Clinton, asking whether the nation wanted to watch her age in the White House (as if he could walk down a runway in Milan).

I wrote last year that the debate on whether American society is more racist than sexist began more than a century ago, when freed slave, abolitionist, editor, orator, and women's suffragist Frederick Douglass and women's-rights activist Elizabeth Cady Stanton came to oratorical blows over it.

Although both freedom fighters worked to advance the rights of women and freed slaves, Stanton was outraged that black men were able to vote after the Civil War (even though, for most blacks, the right was fleeting) and women were not.

White men still feel more comfortable sharing power with men of color than they do with white women or women of color. The 15th Amendment to the Constitution, granting black men the right to vote, was ratified in 1870. The 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting women the right to vote on the federal level, came 50 years later.

The first black man elected to the U.S. House of Representatives was Joseph Rainey, who won his seat in 1870 during Reconstruction. The first woman was Jeannette Rankin in 1916.

Part of the reason for women's slow progress is women ourselves: Organizing women along political lines is like herding cats. African-Americans, on the other hand, stand up for members of their community. Recall the Rev. Jesse Jackson's boycotts in the 1980s of companies that did not promote enough African-Americans or of franchises that discriminated against African-American owners. One could never get women to boycott a company because it refused to hire enough women. Until we get there, we need to accept responsibility for holding ourselves back.

  • Read more by Bonnie Erbe.
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