The Hillary Problem: Women Should be NICE


Everybody wants to tell me how they feel about Hillary.

Super Tuesday has come and gone. In spite of the fact that Hillary Rodham Clinton won the majority of the votes on that day, which usually cements the leading presidential candidates for both parties, her nomination as the Democratic Party candidate is not at all secure.

Obama has won eight straight primaries, and leads the race by a small but significant margin, aided by the fact that he continues to win over voter demographics that have been, in the past, more inclined to vote for Clinton.

This is, of course, fascinating – a close race, an important decision – and I’m more than willing to talk about the candidates’ policies, track records, voter bases, etc. with anyone who shows a vague interest in the subject. In fact, I keep getting suckered into conversations about it, only to face, again and again, the ugly truth: when it comes to Hillary C., her politics are the last thing that anyone wants to talk about.

Most of the folks who want to talk Hillary with me forgo any discussion of her career. They’d rather focus on her personality – which is, according to most of the folks in my vicinity, cold, harsh, ambitious, calculating, conniving, aggressive, angry, bitchy, and even (gasp!) lesbian.

God help me, I try to engage with these people. But at some point during the endless recitation of Hillary’s character flaws, my eyes glaze over and I tune out. Because, I swear, no matter what they say, the translation software in my brain supplies the same meaning over and over again: not a girl, not a girl, not a girl

We all know the stereotypes: women are gentler, kinder creatures than men. We focus on relationships and cooperation. We’re emotional. We’re nurturing. We share. We care. Why, we women are just great big muffin baskets full of puppies and sunshine. We’re definitely nicer than those goal-focused, aggressive, decisive, competition-minded men.

It seems a little sad to be raising this point in 2008, but these stereotypes still control the way that many people view the world. Women, especially women in power, are still expected to put way more energy into nurturing and appeasing people than men are. When we don’t, we’re perceived as incompetent, or just plain mean.

One recent study measured bosses’ ability to perceive subtle emotions, then compared the results to employee evaluations. They found that the women who didn’t notice feelings got mainly negative evaluations from their employees, whereas men with the same poor people skills got mostly positive feedback.

Other studies, done in colleges, found that students (especially, but not only, male students) rated their female professors poorly if they did not spend more one-on-one time with their students than male professors. The dynamic is pretty clear: it’s not enough for women to be smart and capable. We have to do more emotional work than men to get the same rewards.

And, not to belabor the point here, but if you think that none of this applies to Hillary – goal-focused, aggressive, decisive, competition-minded Hillary – you’re dreaming.

Hillary’s behavior is no different than that of most white male senators. I have issues with many of her policies, but I don’t see anything about her personality that makes her more offensive than, say, John Kerry. People just seem to hate her because she doesn’t have that caring feminine touch.

I want to live in a world where I can speak my mind – and vote my conscience – without having to worry about whether I’m violating the unspoken laws of my gender. I want to live in a world where people make decisions about their representatives based on how well they do their jobs, and not on their own fears and assumptions about what power ought to look like and who ought to wield it.

I know I don’t live in that world. None of us do. The only option on the table, right now, is to keep examining how these realities inform our reactions. That way, when we do make a decision, we can at least do so in full consciousness of our reasons.



  1. Melanie says:

    update: after yesterday's primaries, the slim lead belongs to obama.

  2. Eliza says:

    I voted for Obama myself, but I can honestly say that it was due to poiltics. Am I a fan of Hillary? Not particularly, but her personality is the least of my concerns. I agree with you completely. Women are called bitches, mean are called strong. Women are cold-hearted, men are cool and collected. It's two sides of the same coin, but it's rarely seen that way. Remember the whole Martha Stewart fiasco? A women who is strong and runs a successful business is viewed in a much harsher light than a man doing the exact same thing is. I work as a veterinary technician at a practice run by a woman. Is she a bitch? Hells yes, but I respect her because the practice is excellent. I've met men exactly like her and people love them. She, however, is an acquired taste to most people. I voted for Obama not because he's male (look at George W Bush- he's a male and he's messed this country up all the way to hell and back), nor because he's black. My mother, on the other hand, voted for Hillary because she's female. I don't think that voting against or for her strictly based on gender is going to get us anywhere.

    Did that make any sense? I apologize if it didn't…it's rather all over the place. But in summary, I agree with you.

  3. Jenn s says:

    I completely agree with this article, everyone i talk to chooses to rag on hillary about her personality but they know nothing of her policy. I can honestly say that I have been following both obama's and clinton's campaigns and know NOTHING of obama's actual plans regarding how he's going to go about bringing change. Obama is a daydreamer, it is Hillary that has the experience and actual plans to bring change.

  4. K says:

    I actually didn't vote for either Clinton or Obama (contrary to popular belief there are other candidates)…but that being said, I definitely agree with Jenn. Although I didn't vote for Clinton or Obama I've still been following their campaigns and what they're running on..and Obama is a daydreamer…Hillary might be a "bitch" by the media's standards, or this country's standards, but she has to be. If she went around being the "typical woman" people would say she was too weak, etc. It's a shame that we still have to deal with that as a country, especially when such a "bitch" might just have some good ideas for us.

  5. lee says:

    I am from NY and I was in Lower Manhattan on September 11 2001 and I remember in 1993 when the World Trade Center was attacked the first time. I will never support any candidate who believes fighting terrorist here is better than overseas. Hilary's husband did NOTHING after the '93 attach. We must stay in Irag as long as it takes. Lets not turn this into another North Korea where we leave and have to address it again with a much more dangerous enemey.

    Also, what did Hilary do as first lady? Didn't she promise her "job" was to better the health care system? Well that is still a mess. Thanks to clinton in office for 8 years. George Bush inherited a lot of what Clinton left incomplete or totally just ignored therefore, hating and balming Bush. Do you really think 9/11 was masterminded in less than 9 months? duh!!!

  6. Stephanie says:

    I dislike the way Clinton treats people. When Bill was in the White House, the servants were instructed to not look Miss Hillary in the eyes, and duck out of her way when she was coming down the halls.

  7. Jamie says:

    Saying that Hilary is no worse than John Kerry is a poor choice, he lost because he was viewed as snobby, she'll lose because she is not a people person. If she won the primaries, that would ensure that republicans keep the presidency for another four years.

  8. ... says:

    In regards to lee's comment: Bush was the one that bombed the towers, there is evidence.. there is no need for the soldiers to be in iraq because iraqi's are not the terrorists – the bush administration is. and the us had no business in korea… or vietnam.. or iraq.. or bombing japan with experimental nuclear weapons.. war brings in money.. thats why your government keeps screwing around with other countries..

  9. ... says:

    .. those soldiers are in iraq for bush, not the citizens.. he just wants the oil and hes using your sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, grandchildren(the soldiers) etc to get that oil..

  10. Alex says:

    hmm…i agree with the article…a candidate shouldn't be judged on personality but on policies. I've ran into too many people who harp on her personality. Also, this goes to Lee, if the former president is the cause of all the problems we have today, why do there seem to be more problems now than then? I mean bush has had 8 yrs to fix them, same time clinton was in office. Also Bush is considered on of the worst presidents ever by statistics and survey's while clinton is voted as one of the best.

  11. lee says:

    Everyone seems to forget that Bill Clinton was impeached. Thats history. Do you guys not know the threat we have with North Korea?? I think they are our biggest threat. We should not have pulled out when we did and lost that war. As far as Iraq. We are also trying to help those people get liberated there. Women can NOW VOTE. THey have rights. I would think all of us who are so liberal would want us to be over there to help them get freedom of speach, freedom to vote and say and do what you want like we do in this country. If they talked about their leaders over there like we do here they would be excuted on the spot. So I really dont understand how all the liberals here dont want to help them be more of a democracy. How else do you propose to do that? It would be a haven for terrorisim if we just leave them alone.

  12. alex says:

    what was our original reason for storming iraq? It certainly does not add up to what we are doing now. As for clinton being impeached, that was so biased. Most of the republians voted to impeach him and most of the democrats voted not to. Also look at all the criminal charges and indictments of the bush admin. its ridiculous. anyway, i am very much off topic and this is my last post.

  • You Might Like