Hillary Clinton’s path to the White House – successful or otherwise – has been a scary, angry ride. Nick Falcinella explains.
I don’t really fear it. Not in the way conservatives might fear the appointment of multiple liberal supreme court justices or the way some liberals might fear a return to the ‘triangulations’ and seemingly perpetual congressional investigations of the 1990s (or even today, if speaking of the latter).
Rather, I fear a Hillary Clinton Presidency for the very same reason I so hope to see one.
Of course, it is not news that Clinton would be the first. She has spent most of her life as the first; the first First Lady to hold elected office, the first Female Senator from New York, and eventually, the first female nominee of a major political party, among countless others. Only one ‘first’ remains unfulfilled, that of, as Clinton herself put it, the ‘highest and hardest glass ceiling;’ the presidency of the United States.
For Hillary Clinton to finally crack that ceiling would send a tremendous message, one of hope and progress to millions around the world. But what would become of that which is left behind, those dangerous shards of glass?
In Australia, Julia Gillard was the first. Gillard’s ascendance to the Prime Ministership in June 2010 was initially met with fanfare, the sort one would expect to accompany the demolition of a major societal barrier.
Granted, she did not assume the position in ideal circumstances, having deposed of her predecessor Kevin Rudd in a late-night parliamentary coup. However, at first, people were legitimately excited, it was a sit-your-kids-down-and-make-them-watch-the-news-moment.
That didn’t last long.
Gillard went to an early election, failing to win a parliamentary majority in her own right, but managing to cobble together what proved to be a remarkably stable minority government. What soon showed itself to be remarkably unstable was the response by far too many who should have known better.
Gillard was subjected to an endless torrent of gendered abuse; from those within the Parliament and the media, not to mention the average voter. A menu at a Liberal-National Party (her political opposition) fundraiser described the ‘Julia Gillard Kentucky Fried Quail: Small Breasts, Huge Thighs and a Big Red Box.’
Her direct political opponent, Tony Abbott, attended a rally outside Parliament House, standing in front of signs reading ‘Ditch the Witch,’ and describing her as another male politician’s ‘bitch.’
Not limited to these instances, the misogyny directed at Gillard also took the form of a more visceral hatred being accepted in the public domain than during the Prime Ministership of any man to come before her.
Sydney Radio ‘shock-jock’ Alan Jones undertook a personal vendetta against Gillard, suggesting that she should be ‘put in a chaff bag and taken out to sea’ before chillingly declaring to a closed-door Liberal Party fundraiser that Gillard’s father had recently died “of shame to think that he had a daughter who told lies every time she ran for Parliament”.
Sadly, it is not difficult to see parallels with Gillard’s experience and Clinton’s, going as far back as her emergence on the national scene as prospective First Lady in 1992.
Gillard herself has highlighted the gendered nature of responses to Clinton in this year’s election campaign. Clinton’s opponent, Donald Trump has attacked her ‘stamina,’ declared she lacks ‘the presidential look’ and has attempted to both intimidate her and hold her accountable for her husband’s previous behaviour. All could be considered gendered insults and tactics.
Trump supporters attend rallies wearing t-shirts emblazoned with slogans ranging from your run-of-the mill ‘jail my political opponent’, to more overtly gendered taunts such as ‘Hillary sucks but not like Monica.’
My only fear is that these examples would represent only the tip of the iceberg of gender-related vitriol if Clinton is to be elected.
One only has to scan the twitter mentions of a prominent female journalist or public figure to find affirmation that sexism and misogyny live on.
For this reason, I do fear a Clinton presidency, for what it will do, and honestly, has already done to public discourse.
However, Gillard has an answer for that apprehension. Speaking on the night she was deposed as Prime Minister, in a Shakespearean twist of fate by the man she ousted some three years earlier, Gillard’s voice wavered only once.
She declared, “What I am absolutely confident about is it will be easier for the next woman, and the woman after that and the woman after that, and I’m proud of that.”
In doing so, she showed just how important ‘firsts’ are, but also why none of us should really be afraid.
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