Could a Clinton Candidacy Give Us a Healthy Debate About Sexism?

Hillary Clinton has had, let's say, a difficult relationship with the media. It isn't too surprising for someone who's been in the national spotlight for over two decades; outside of John McCain, I can't think of many politicians who love the press and feel like they always get a fair shake. But there's a piece in Politico today by Glenn Thrush and Maggie Haberman that goes into some interesting detail about Clinton's feelings on this topic, particularly about some of the sexism she's had to endure. "Look, she hates you. Period. That's never going to change," says one anonymous Clinton ally, referring to the media. Here's more:

If Clinton says yes, she'll have access to a bottomless pool of Democratic political talent and cash to match all those hyperbolic pronouncements about her inevitability. If she doesn't run, the single biggest factor holding her back will be the media, according to an informal survey of three dozen friends, allies and former aides interviewed for this article. As much as anything else, her ambivalence about the race, they told us, reflects her distaste for and apprehension of a rapacious, shallow and sometimes outright sexist national political press corps acting as enablers for her enemies on the right.

One of the things I find most interesting about the topic of sexism in Clinton's coverage is that she isn't afraid to talk about it, and say frankly that yes, I get a lot of crap directed at me that male politicians don't have to put up with. On matters like this, politicians are often advised not to air their own complaints, but to leave that to others, lest they end up looking like whiners. Politicians are supposed to paint themselves as heroes, not victims.

That's certainly the way Barack Obama has handled the topic of race—as infrequently as possible, and only with extreme care. He specifically addresses racial questions maybe once a year at most, and every time he does, conservatives scream, "He makes everything about race!" Obviously, the issues of his race and Clinton's gender are different in many, many ways. Just in terms of raw politics, 13 percent of the country is African-American, and nearly all of them are Democrats, whereas half the country are women, and many of them are independents and Republicans. So when Clinton talks frankly about sexism, lots of women, including many whose votes are up for grabs, nod their heads in agreement.

It also has to do with who she is as an individual. Because she has a reputation for toughness—indeed, the most common tropes in the humor about her are that she's either a castrating harpy, or not a woman and all but in fact a man (lots of jokes about her balls)—she has more leeway to talk about sexism without people concluding that if she brings up the issue, she must be weak.

I'm sure that wouldn't make it any more pleasant to be on the receiving end of the kind of misogynistic nastiness that will surely come her way if she runs for president. And it's going to come in a variety of forms, some more subtle than others. But perhaps it will be salutary for the country. We'll get to see the ugliness, she'll draw attention to it, and then we can talk about it and hopefully some minds will be opened. Or am I being too optimistic?