Hillary Clinton has miles to go before that triumphant historical moment can arrive.
First there is the still pressing primary need to once and for all vanquish Bernie Sanders.
Then she must pivot to face a bully boy opponent, so big lipped, out of control and menacing that if she were 12 and it was recess, she’d be flanked by a platoon of grim protectors.
Instead it was Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the chair of the Democratic National Committee, who had Clinton’s back on CNN on the morning of the Indiana primary, saying convincingly that in Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton would be facing “the most sexist, bigoted, misogynist candidate” they’ve ever had in presidential primary cycles.
The stage is set for a big old retro battle of the sexes in America.
Meanwhile, up here in progressive sunny ways land, our male PM proudly asserts he’s a feminist, and departing PQ leader Pierre Karl Peladeau weeps openly about his fragmenting family and the need to be with his kids. Evolving gender roles, folks.
In the U.S, not so much. They’re fighting bitterly over transgender bathroom rights, shutting down abortion clinics, and threatening to take that right away altogether.
The GOP has all but anointed a Republican front-runner who openly judges women on a scale of one to 10 (“A person who is very flat-chested is very hard to be a 10”), has called them fat pigs, and is now whining that Hillary Clinton is playing the “woman card” and benefiting from a “double standard” in terms of how her controversial remarks are treated. Said Trump, “Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 per cent of the vote.”
And if the Donald were a woman? As New York Times columnist Gail Collins put it “Do not ask yourself how many votes Donald Trump would get if he were a woman and he was the way he is. Truly, you don’t want to go there.”
This honking gender war will be nauseating, toxic (and admit it, occasionally grimly entertaining). But it will also, I hope, settle something along the way: what real modern women will put up with in a leader.
If Clinton vs. Trump comes to pass, here are three arenas of battle for the candidates, as seen through a gender lens.
Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, the bestselling feminist book on women and work, argued in it that women in leadership roles suffer from a “likability penalty” and that as they “get more powerful, they get less likeable.” I certainly have female colleagues who have felt increasingly unloved as they rose through the ranks.
In Hillary’s case, her unpopularity has plummeted and soared based on unique circumstances. Husband cheated on her? A globe trotting Secretary of State? Love that woman! A First Lady who tried to ram health care down Congress’s throat? Benghazi, errant emails? Burn her at the stake! Wall Street speeches, main street inauthenticity, she’s a disaster. But still? Consistently one of the most admired women in America. Hillary Clinton has weathered all levels of popularity. She is beloved by her long-serving staff and on the trail, and despite her default stiffness, there are hints of warmth, wit and real passion.
And how fortuitous for Clinton that she may be battling the most unpopular GOP candidate in history (Ted Cruz is even more loathed.) So far, with very good reason, Donald Trump is especially unpopular with women. He doesn’t seem to be doing anything to change that. So despite the “likability penalty” for women, I would give this advantage to Hillary.
Second, knowledge and experience:
Most women will tell you their male colleagues not only brag more about their achievements but they regularly apply for jobs well beyond their expertise. In Clinton vs. Trump, there isn’t a scintilla of doubt that, as a former First Lady, New York Senator, and Secretary of State, Hillary holds all the cards (yes, #womancard included) in terms of on the job experience. Trump will try to nail her on “stamina” and “judgment”. But his own judgment — even in his one area of expertise—business—has been at times disastrous. So again, advantage Hillary.
Tone may well decide the election. Look show brilliantly now PM Justin Trudeau did by countering former PM Stephen Harper’s grim, mean, fear-mongering tone. His optimistic platitudes — “in Canada, better is always possible” — worked.
Clinton will need to work hard on the right tone-upbeat, slightly humorous, knowledgeable, tough, but civil — to counter Trump’s id-fuelled toxicity. His tone will dispirit America in a way that nothing else has, but it will also guarantee him many more angry, needy and not so knowledgeable followers.
Trump may try to be “presidential” but in an added irony of this all out gender war, Hillary Clinton, at her simple best, exudes “presidential.”
So in theory, Hillary’s got this, right? That’s what will make it so confounding if she is not elected president. Politics is unpredictable. War is hell. And a political gender war is a very unpredictable hell indeed.