Hillary Clinton’s supporters released to the media a list of words that they don’t want used in relation to the former Secretary of State. These words, they claimed, are “coded sexism”, and sexism, of course, means that someone is being targeted exclusively because of their gender. The words on the list were surprising. None of them were terms that could remotely be considered sexist, such as “polarizing, calculating, disingenuous, insincere, ambitious, inevitable, entitled, over confident, secretive, will do anything to win, represents the past, and out of touch”. Most of these words could be used to apply to any politician, left or right, man or woman, and to claim they’re somehow sexist when applied to Mrs Clinton reeks of desperation and the faux-offence that many on the left drum up in support of their pet causes.
The dictionary definition of sexism is as follows: “prejudice or discrimination based on sex; especially : discrimination against women”. How does “ambitious”, which isn’t even insulting, possibly be sexist? Or “out of touch”, which applies to the kind of wealthy DC insider who, oh, I don’t know, hasn’t driven her own car since the mid-90’s? If anything, terms like “out of touch” are “wealth-ist”, but not sexist. “Polarising”? Find me a partisan politician who isn’t. That term could apply to practically anyone running for President. “Disingenuous” and “insincere”? Those terms could apply to someone of either gender who erases 30,000 of their own e-mails on their own private e-mail server to prevent Congress being able to read them. “Inevitable”? Another one that’s not an insult, merely a reflection of the political reality that Mrs Clinton is streets ahead in the polls. It’s not a loaded term, it’s an observation based on fact. “Entitled” could apply to anyone who believes that their “time has come”, regardless of accomplishment. Like someone who says it’s time for a woman President regardless of qualification, perhaps? “Over confident” seems the inevitable way someone riding high in the polls might be feeling. “Secretive”? Those e-mails again. “Will do anything to win” depends on the context, and while it could come across that way, in most cases it won’t. “Represents the past”? Like someone who first hit the headlines in the early 1990s, and has, as we’ve pointed out on Pitipaci previously, been around on the political stage for a quarter of a century.
Quite simply, none of these terms are, in and of themselves, sexist. Sexism is the active discrimination or prejudice against someone specifically because of their gender. A legitimate difference of opinion with Mrs Clinton does not make someone a sexist, any more than a legitimate difference of opinion with President Obama makes someone a racist. Though try telling that to the liberal Democratic Party base.
If anyone is being sexist here, it’s Mrs Clinton’s defenders. To say that these terms are discriminatory is a blatant attempt to shield the former Secretary not merely from criticism, but from the kind of language which crops up frequently in political journalism. The question is why. Why do they feel a need to keep her safe? Do they see Mrs Clinton as a damsel in distress? Do they fear she cannot handle criticism because she’s a woman? That smacks of sexism to me far more than any of those prohibited words.
And here’s the real issue – fake sexism like this detracts from genuine sexism and crimes against women when they do occur. If Mrs Clinton’s supporters will play the “sexism” card on a word like “ambitious”, they come across as incredibly petty, and ultimately they end up hurting their own cause both in the way they behave and in that when a genuinely sexist comment or criticism arises, people will dismiss it as “just more faux-sexism from the Hillary Clinton campaign”.
The uncomfortable truth is that the 2016 election, like the 2008 election before it, will be less about the issues and more about electing the “first” of something. In 2008, it was the first black President. Mrs Clinton and her campaign will try to make 2016 about electing the first woman President. And just like in 2008, if they can make that message stick, qualifications and personality will matter far less than the historical significance of electing a woman. It isn’t right, but it’s the political reality.
I won’t shy away from using the proscribed terms in reference to Mrs Clinton where appropriate, and nobody else should either. If we’re really in a situation where the media can be cowed into not using generic descriptive terms for a candidate because of fears of being called out on false charges of discrimination, then political correctness has really gotten well out of hand. There will be some people who will dislike Mrs Clinton because of her gender. There will be some people uncomfortable with the idea of a woman being President. But there will be an awful lot more, especially low-information voters, who will vote for her simply because they feel that “it’s time” for a woman to be President. Is that sexist? Yes. But I’m not going to call them out on it – it’s just the way politics works in a democracy. If people like me, who are naturally not inclined to support Mrs Clinton, want to see her defeated at the polls, we know we will have to work harder to overcome that notion. No point in whining about it, or else we’d end up sounding like liberals.