Despite the relentless drumbeat of faux scandals and ginned-up controversies around Hillary Clinton, such as Benghazi and with-this-much-smoke-why-can't-we-find-fire email story, the former secretary of state is still a formidable presidential candidate. And so it's back to the basics: Reminding people that she's a woman, and suggesting that it's scary letting that sort have access to the kinds of power previously reserved for men.
Fox News knows the value of putting the most offensively sexist remarks in women's mouths, so it was unsurprising that Heather Nauert was the one to go there. " I wonder how her remark about, oh, I'm certainly not an establishment candidate, I'm the first woman running for president," Nauert said on "Fox & Friends." "I wonder how that bra-burning is going to play this year. Maybe that was something that people liked four years ago, or previously, but it doesn't seem like that's going over too well."
For those of you who are not elderly right-wingers or pundits whose job is to pander to them, "bra-burning" is a reference to a '60s-era slur against feminists, who were called "women's libbers" back then. Hippies who liked free-wheeling fashions that scared the straights would often go braless, and some Fox News viewers have never gotten over it, or stopped blaming "women's libbers" for it, despite the fact that bras came resoundingly back into fashion and have stayed that way for over 40 years. We here at Salon are not in the habit of checking under Clinton's clothes, but we're pretty certain that even she wears one.
More subtle was some of the male terror coming from supposedly mainstream male journalists during the week. Bob Cusack, the editor-in-chief at The Hill, tweeted this bon mot during Thursday night's Democratic debate on MSNBC:
When Hillary Clinton raises her voice, she loses.
— Bob Cusack (@BobCusack) February 5, 2016
And on Wednesday, the pundits on "Morning Joe" on MSNBC could not get over the audacity of a woman raising her voice at a noisy rally, like she was a politician or something. "There is something unrelaxed about the way she is communicating," Bob Woodward complained, all aflutter that a lady is raising her voice above a soft, man-soothing whisper.
Cokie Roberts jumped in, pointing out, "These are rallies, though, and it’s hard to do that at a rally."
"I’m sorry to dwell on the tone issue," Bob Woodward, said, before bravely charging ahead, "but there is something here, where Hillary Clinton suggests that she’s almost not comfortable with herself." Women who are comfortable with themselves, you see, speak in low tones so as not to be heard. To communicate true self-acceptance, a proper lady will not speak at all. He's just concerned and trying to help, you see.
As writes like Ann Friedman and Amanda Hess, as well as the folks at "The American Life" have shown, policing women's voices is a time-honored way to make it clear to women the only way they'll be accepted is if they refrain from talking at all. This is a game Clinton cannot win. If she took this oh-so-concerned advice and started talking in a whisper, she'd immediately be accused of not presenting herself as an authoritative figure. You get to be a bitch or a bimbo, and the promised middle ground between the two is an illusion.
Rush Limbaugh doesn't work under the burden of having to pretend that his sexist vitriol is just well-meant advice and was far more blunt on Thursday's program:
So anyway, the question was brought up last night, like Anderson Cooper said, $650,000 to do a speech? How do you explain that? And Hillary looked at the audience and kind of struggled her shoulders, "well that's what they offered." That's not what they offered. That's now how it -- nobody's going to offer her 650,000 grand to hear her come and - she will put you to sleep. She's a screeching bore.
Blunter, but pulling the same trick as Woodward and Cusack: Portraying your hostility to women in power as a universal opinion, instead of evidence of your own sexism.
Clinton has been enduring this kind of nonsense since the '70s, when she was pressured to change her name from "Rodham" to "Clinton" to appease more traditional voters in Arkansas, where her husband was governor. (She gave in to pressure in 1982, to help him win his second bid to be governor there.) She can and has, in a sense, written a book on how to keep on keeping on despite all these sexist haters trying to drag you down.
And yet, in another appallingly sexist lie that the right likes to roll out, she's often portrayed as weak and simpering in the face of this overwhelming sexism. Laura Ingraham went on a rant on her Thursday radio show:
Hillary always wants to play the damsel in distress when it works for her. She's the put upon wife at the beginning of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. She's oh, it's the vast right-wing conspiracy. "I know what it's like to be knocked down," she said. "I know what it's like to be knocked down," on the cover of Time magazine. So she now wants to portray herself as this poor, put upon damsel in distress. How does that sit with the feminists out there. No wonder these young women are flocking to Bernie Sanders. These young, liberal women see this, like wait a second, how the heck is that independent and feminist? You want to play with the big boys in the big boy sandbox, but then you're upset when they throw a Tonka truck at you.
Well yes. Being beaned on the head by a Tonka truck tossed by a budding misogynist is and should be upsetting. You don't defeat sexism by pretending you're cool with it. You defeat it by calling it out and standing up to it. The little girl in the sandbox has a right to be there without being beat up just as surely as the boys do, and it's not "playing" damsel in distress to say otherwise. On the contrary, it's a sign of strength to stand up to bullying and abuse.
It's a sign of how far feminism has come that sexists resort to these tactics, telling women that acts of submission such as shutting up or submitting meekly to bullying are somehow empowering. Luckily, Clinton and her supporters are not so easily confused.