Expectations of the Monster

[Content Note: Misogyny.]

Yesterday, I tweeted a great observation Eastsidekate made in an email to me, and now I also want to share it here, with her permission:
I was thinking about this last night, when NPR was interviewing a young woman (early 20s) who just felt like there was something vaguely untrustworthy about Clinton that she couldn't quite put her finger on. As some of y'all have mentioned, Republicans have been waging a campaign to discredit her since when, 1991? Twenty-five-year-olds have literally never lived in a time where there weren't whispers (or nationally televised shouts) about Hillary Clinton's evil schemes. Clinton has said just as much in response to questions about her unpopularity with young people. And yet the same media who unquestionably repeated the Republicans' lie for the past 25 years (and is totally in the bag for Clinton, natch) acts like the smear campaign has been a non-factor.
Also yesterday, I watched CNN's Wolf Blitzer grilling Hillary Clinton about why she wasn't more popular with young people in Iowa, in a tone that suggested she had spectacularly lost, rather than achieved a historic win. Clinton responded with her usual diplomatic competence, saying that she has to do a better job of reaching out to young people and communicate who she is to them.

There are several reasons why Clinton isn't more popular with young people, but chiefly is the reason that Kate elucidates: "Twenty-five-year-olds have literally never lived in a time where there weren't whispers (or nationally televised shouts) about Hillary Clinton's evil schemes." Whispers and shouts generated and/or amplified by a complicit media.

A media that not only fails to address explicit and implicit misogyny being used against her, but routinely engages in it. A media in which Clinton's "likability" is endlessly discussed. A media in which Clinton is casually referred to as "Godzillary" and "a Lovecraftian monster, the Cthulhu of American politics." Is depicted with devil horns. Is portrayed as a towering man-crushing monster. Is constantly subjected by news agecies to Remember Your Place pictures. Who "must be stopped."

A media that likes to pretend, as Aphra Behn has pointed out, that Hillary Clinton doesn't care about the Citizens United decision, because she loves Big Money so much, while eliding that the name of the group was originally Citizens United Not Timid (C.U.N.T.) and was seeking to air a hit piece called Hillary: The Movie. [NOTE: I was incorrect about this. These were two separate groups. Nonetheless, there was indeed a group with a slur as its acronym formed with the objective of smearing Clinton.]

This is, of course, but the merest tip of the colossal iceberg of misogyny I've documented in this space over the years, much of it care of the mainstream media.

The filter through which we view Hillary Clinton is so warped, so profoundly compromised, that even I—a feminist political writer who documents and deconstructs the misogyny used against her—have been utterly taken aback by the cavernous discrepancy in who she actually is and my expectations of who she is. Both when I saw her in person, and when I read her State Department emails.

Expectations that have been shaped by the media that cover her. Coverage infused with misogyny.

And then that same media create an illusion that they are objective by pretending that that misogyny doesn't exist at all, and that they are certainly not a part of transmitting it.

This morning, Scott Madin emailed me the link to a piece at the Washington Post by Dana Milbank, which couldn't be a more perfect, terrible example: "Cut Clinton Some Slack."

Milbank begins by documenting how the coverage of Clinton's win in Iowa was reported as though she had not won, and compares it to coverage of other (male) winners. And then he writes:
Why the disparate treatment? Some see sexism, which is difficult to prove. But there does seem to be a long-running game in which Clinton can never quite meet the expectations set for her, even if her actual achievements are considerable.
"Some see sexism." Mostly uncharitable feminists with long memories who recall that, in 2009, Dana Milbank was busily chortling about how then-Secretary of State should drink a brew called "Mad Bitch Beer."

He and his colleagues write the rules and serve as referees for that "long-running game" of misogynist double-standards of which he speaks, and then he has the audacity to pretend that it's "difficult to prove" that it's sexism.

Difficult to admit, maybe.

And his prescription is that we should "cut Clinton some slack." Dana Milbank, what Clinton doesn't need is "slack," as though she is incapable of being held to the same standards as men. What she needs is justice.

What she needs, what we all need, is for the media to stop engaging in rank misogyny and then pretending like it's something else. Like it could ever be anything else.

Of course it is misogyny. Of course it is. Misogyny is the first tool in the box for which people reach when they want to destroy a woman.

And the media's destructive instinct is all part of the vast rightwing conspiracy Clinton herself identified and has long been sneeringly derided for calling out.

At The Daily Banter, Chez Pazienza wrote about the caricature we have come to regard as the authentic Hillary Clinton:
Hillary Clinton's reputation is largely the result of a quarter century of visceral GOP hatred.

With the exception of maybe Barack Obama, whom they've irrationally loathed with the fire of a thousands suns, it's tough to name anyone conservatives have more vigorously derided throughout the years than Hillary Clinton.

...[Hillary] has always been cast as an arrogant bitch, a soulless bête noire, an irredeemably corrupt and fundamentally dishonest political hustler. From the very beginning of her time in the national political limelight, she was vilified for refusing to simply sit back and be an ornament on the White House Christmas tree, as she was apparently supposed to.

...She's a lying liar and a cheating cheat. She's a political Cthulu who drives men to madness by sheer force of her inhuman will and absolute malevolence. This is the caricature version of Hillary Clinton the right has carefully cultivated and hammered into the national consciousness for decades now. And if you're a liberal who believes these things about Clinton — if you see her as anything other than a liberal Democrat who's guilty of nothing more than being a politician with faults and with a plethora of enemies like every other on this planet, including Bernie Sanders — you've proven that the protracted smear campaign against this woman has worked. You prove that the GOP won a long time ago.

There are reasons you may choose not to vote for Hillary Clinton in 2016, but one would hope they're policy issues rather than problems with her personality — because the "personality" that's been sold to the American electorate is largely manufactured, and not by Clinton herself (another facet of the smear: that she’s a phony). The reality is that Clinton was one of the most liberal members of the Senate during her time there, ranking within ten points of progressive messiah Bernie Sanders and her history as a crusader for progressive causes is precisely what so motivated the GOP to destroy her in the first place.
This decades-long, relentless campaign to create a supervillain, led by the GOP and abetted by the media, is so insidious and ubiquitous that we don't even see it. We are merely left, at best, with a vague sense that there's something about Hillary Clinton we just can't trust.

The bitterest irony is that actually seeing Hillary Clinton, watching her in a live interview or a debate, where she isn't so easily turned into a funhouse mirror image of herself through selective editing and suggestive voiceover, can be jarring to people primed to expect to see The Monster.

And they reach for the explanation with which the villanizers have preemptively provided them: She's a fake. She can't be trusted. She's a cynical opportunist.

If you tune in with expectations of The Monster, and instead find a reasonably pleasant politician who is advocating policy more progressive than you'd anticipated, the ready-made resolution for this shocking discordance is that it's evidence of Hillary's cunning villainy.

That must be the explanation. Because the alternative, that Clinton has been demonized so thoroughly with heinous misogyny that her authentic humanity is truly unrecognizable, is unfathomably cruel.

Reading her emails, one of the things that became apparent is that this is not a person who is running for president in service to ego and unfettered ambition. This is a person who is running for president because she genuinely cares about people.

Which could not diverge more dramatically from the popular narratives about her.

There are good faith debates to be had about whether the policies she's pursued actually helped or harmed people. There are certainly policies she championed that she has stated she now regrets, because they clearly did not help people. Even she acknowledges good intentions don't axiomatically translate into good policy.

But this overarching narrative about her, that she is just this callous opportunist with a sociopathic drive to be president, sheerly for the sake of being president, is so fundamentally at odds with everything revealed in those emails. And by many accounts of people who meet her, like this one.

Not only do we have to ignore the neat misogynist framing of that description of her in order to accept it, but we have to ignore an abundance of accessible evidence that it's simply not true.

Over a decade of writing in this space, I have not been a reflexive defender (or supporter) of Hillary Clinton the politician. I have made criticisms of her campaigning and her policy. I expect to continue to make them, because I have significant points of disagreement with some of her positions and because she fucks up.

I have, however, I will openly admit, become a reflexive defender (and supporter) of Hillary Clinton the person. Certainly, it is partly out of self-interest, because I am myself demeaned and caricatured by misogyny, and because I want to see more female representation in politics and don't want enormous hurdles standing in their way.

But mostly it is because it profoundly grieves me to see the way she is treated.

It hurts my heart—and it angers me—to have uncovered a person who cares, if imperfectly, so deeply about other people and observe the many ways in which she has been turned into a monster. It is intolerable.

And I flatly refuse to abide the rank dehumanization of Hillary Clinton in silence.

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