Monday, June 13, 2016

Mother of Media! What Glenn Close’s Portrayal of Hillary Clinton Can Tell Us About the Rhetoric of Sexism in the 2016 Election

The 70th Annual Tony Awards featured a brief political spoof, the likes of which are hardly uncommon in an election year. In it, Glenn Close and Andrew Rannells portrayed, respectively, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, starring in musicals by the names of “A Clinton Line” or “Book of Moron.”  But this skit was no playful joke at the candidates in which both parties were equally mocked: while Trump, a man one can only describe as simultaneously bumblingly offensive and calculatedly deceitful, was mocked for his policies and facial expressions, Clinton was portrayed as a desperate, shrieking woman whose only defining feature is a haircut. “I really need this job! Oh God, I need this job. I've got to get this job,” Close sang, much to the amusement of the audience.

This performance was simply one installment in a long line of jabs at Clinton for her appearance, demeanor, or supposed incompetence. “It’s just so pathetic. I mean, what has she even been doing for the past fifteen years?” a friend recently asked me. Clinton, who served as the first female senator from New York and as the Secretary of State, faces a kind of prejudice that no major party nominee has faced in the past, and it seems almost clichéd to say it is because of her gender.

What has changed in this election cycle from those of the past is the rhetoric of sexism used against her. While Trump continues to make openly incendiary remarks about her, media coverage of her campaign has been a bit more subtle in its discrimination. For every article on the content of a speech she has delivered, there are five article criticizing her fashion choice. Mere days ago, she was attacked for wearing a Giorgio Armani jacket during a speech, despite the fact that former Republican candidate Jeb Bush proudly sported a custom sport coat with his campaign logo on the lining to an art show. Occasionally, all candidates receive equal fashion critiques, as when Vanessa Friedman wrote about the sartorial choices of the Democratic candidates, but most often, Clinton faces the brunt of these condemnations.

Clinton herself has tried to use these expectations about her appearance to her advantage, cheekily claiming to be a “hair icon” and “pantsuit aficionado” in her Twitter bio. But try as she might, she will still face ridiculous criticisms based on her demeanor and sex. A mysterious website called (which came to my attention when its link was tweeted by a Bernie Sanders supporter) exists simply to share photos of Clinton that the creator deems to be unattractive. At the top of the web page are images of her screaming or compared to an animal, which are to be expected. But as one scrolls down, there are photos of Clinton as a young woman, before her political career was even a thought, squinting against the glare of the flash. In hazy old snapshots, she stands smiling by her future husband, or stares into the distance in her cap and gown. The site even features an image of Janet Reno, the first female attorney general, and the implication is clear: there is nothing uglier than an educated woman, let alone an educated woman in politics. Clinton’s only crime, then, is not one of lying or of failing the public or changing her opinion, but is that of daring to speak out in a male-dominated field.

The Tonys performance, while seemingly harmless, feeds into an endless stream of media that criticizes Clinton for being an ambitious woman. Beyond awards shows, Kate McKinnon’s regular portrayals of Clinton on Saturday Night Live describe her as a ruthless automaton rather than a woman who has played the political game longer than many of her Twitter critics have been alive. The simple fact of the matter is that we treat our politicians, all of them, as animals in a menagerie, poking and prodding them until something ugly happens. Hillary Clinton has received special interest because she is the first of her kind in this political zoo, but she will not be the last. Women have time and time again forged a path to greatness despite the odds, or the tweets, stacked against them: this year’s election will be no different.

--Madelene Nieman, MWPC Intern