I have read an awful lot about Hillary Clinton over the years. I've probably forgotten more about Hillary than most people will ever know about her.
There are, however, certain things that really stick in my mind. Like the time she said, "It's not a yurt—it's a ger." Or the time she was asked, one of many times, about her favorite designers:
Interviewer: Okay. Which designers do you prefer?That will probably stick in my mind forever, her asking: "Would you ever ask a man that question?" even though she already knew the answer.
Hillary Clinton: What designers of clothes?
Hillary Clinton: Would you ever ask a man that question?
Interviewer: Probably not. Probably not.
It sticks in my mind because it's one of the few times she's presented an interviewer with that rhetorical inquiry. And because it came in response to this particular question. So banal, and so insidious. So casual in its sexism.
There are questions to which Hillary could offer the same rejoinder every day. Questions that are less overtly sexist and, simultaneously, incalculably more pernicious.
Sometimes it's the questions themselves, and sometimes it's just the way they are asked. Sometimes it's the fact that the same questions are asked of her whether she loses or whether she wins. Like: What will you do to reach out to your competitors' supporters?
She was asked that question when she lost to President Obama in 2008. And she's being asked against now, after defeating Bernie Sanders. In both cases, somehow, she's expected to orchestrate the reconciliation.
Compromise is woman's work. Apparently.
It's quite the expectation we put on Hillary Clinton—a painfully similar expectation to that we have imposed on President Obama—to be both steadfast leader and deferential arbitrator. To speak with the loudest voice, yet never shout. To be impervious to sustained personal attacks, but remain vulnerable enough to be seen as human.
Even as certain human emotions are set firmly off-limits. Like anger. Especially at the aggressive injustice of having one's identity ruthlessly exploited by one's opponents, but never being allowed to even mention it oneself, lest one be accused of playing the gender (or race) card.
Would you ever ask a man any of these questions? I don't know how Hillary manages to get through her every day, rife with the petty indignities and shameless attacks, without screaming that question. I want to scream it on her behalf.
The double-standards are intolerable to behold. But she carries onward, because she's resigned herself to the sickening reality that this is the cost of being first.
She puts on a smile, and whatever invisible armor she wears to find a way to keep enough of it out of her gut to keep functioning, and she walks out into her day, knowing what's coming.
The questions that would never be asked of a man. The standards to which a man would never be held. The expectations and denigrations that are reserved for women.
That's what greets her. Every day.
But so do the women she meets along the campaign trail, who know what she faces. Who face the same things, and whatever additional oppressions they face, by virtue of complex identities. Who share her fortitude, because we are all so obliged. Who appreciate that she does it on such a visible, unfathomable scale.
She smiles for us. And I hope that sometimes she smiles because of us, too—because she knows we've got her back, just as she has ours.
[Photo by Barbara Kinney for Hillary for America.]