Hillary the Nutcracker


Like a lot of Australians, I spent January in a house by the beach. One evening while watching the news, we heard Hillary Clinton had, against predictions, won the New Hampshire primary. All the women in the room – myself, my daughters, my sister and my nieces – leapt into the air and yelled with delight, like a group of football fans heartened by a goal in a close game.

Why? We live half a world away from Clinton and have no vote. Why do we care so much about this woman and her attempt to become the leader of the most powerful country in the world?

The answer goes beyond support for her policy positions, or admiration of her character. It’s about human history and women’s lack of place in it. Hillary Clinton strikes me as a brave, forthright and intelligent woman who wants to be President. And just as men have voted along gender lines for millennia, so would I. US feminist and commentator Robyn Morgan (who does have a vote) put it better than I could; "I’m voting for Hillary not because she’s a woman – but because I am."

To many women watching Hillary Clinton, even from afar, what is really disturbing is the way she is currently being attacked for daring to be an uppity female. It upsets us because it is the way most of us have felt attacked at some time or another, albeit on a vastly smaller and more private scale. Scorn, ridicule and vicious sexual insults have kept too many of us quiet for too long.

What is complicating the race for the Democratic nomination, of course, is that Hillary’s most serious rival is a black candidate for the US presidential nomination, Senator Barack Obama. I wish Barack no ill will. If Hillary wasn’t standing, I’d probably hope his candidacy was successful – after all, they agree on most things. And, as a black man, no doubt he has had to face his fair share of prejudice.

Nevertheless, while racism is endemic and terrible, if the response to Hillary is any guide, it does not seem to be quite as rampant as the hatred of women. Worse, the hatred of women, as this campaign reveals, remains acceptable in a way that racism no longer is. Bill Clinton has made some foolish remarks in defence of his wife – the most revealing that he can’t make her more male – and rightly been criticised for them, but they are nothing in comparison to the attacks on Hillary.

Image thanks to Lukas.


Robyn Morgan, in the same piece, gives a few horrifying examples of what passes for humour about Hillary in the US right now. She points out that if anyone yelled "Shine my shoes" at Barack Obama, acres of newsprint, TV time and cyberspace would have been dedicated to condemning the statement, whereas the idiot who screamed "Iron my shirt" at Clinton raised mostly laughs. John McCain, when asked "How do we beat the bitch?" replied, "Excellent question." Imagine if he’d made the same response to "How do we beat the black bastard?" In fact, Morgan herself squibs it here: the equivalent insult to bitch, I suspect, is nigger, but that’s a word you’re no longer allowed to use. Only one English word is worse, I think, and it starts with c.

Then the misogyny gets really scary. According to Morgan, there is a Hillary nutcracker on sale in US airports. It has the blades between Hillary’s splayed thighs. A Barack version of such a doll would be banned. And South Park has run a storyline where terrorists secrete a bomb in Hillary’s vagina – where’s the episode where they shove it up Barack’s or John McCain’s bum, I wonder? There is even a T-shirt that bears the slogan: "If only Hillary had married OJ."

This permission to viciously insult females with impunity is worldwide. Australians were scandalised when Indian cricketer Harbhajan Singh appeared to call Andrew Symonds a monkey. When it turned out he’d only called him a motherfucker, we all breathed a sigh of relief. It was only sexist, not racist, so who cares?

Even among those who prefer their sexism in more acceptable forms, Clinton is being battered on a daily basis. Judgements about gender are immobilising. Clinton can’t win, even if she becomes the Democrat presidential nominee. If she allows herself to show emotion – eyes welling with tears, perhaps – she will be judged as weak and not up to the job; if she hangs tough, she will be judged as a hard-faced bitch and so also not deserving. Only the other presidential candidates are human beings: Hillary is a woman. And we wonder why women are reluctant to put their hand up for leadership positions.

And that’s why I want Hillary to win. Her courage at even daring to do this in the first place is beyond admiration. Her dogged determination to ignore the insults, the scorn, the ridicule, the sexist assumptions of both men and women about what a "bitch" she must be to even seek power, is inspirational. If she does not win, it will not be because she wasn’t good enough, smart enough, strong enough or hard working enough. It will be because she is a woman.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.