Get Ready for the B-Word

Can  you redefine a sexist culture even as you strive to excel in it?

Say Hillary Clinton does get elected president. A lot of people will be pleased. A lot of people will be unhappy.

And a lot of people will unleash misogyny like hounds of hell.

That’s what Michelle Cottle of The Atlantic magazine says, anyway. “A Clinton victory... promises to usher in four-to-eight years of the kind of down-and-dirty public misogyny you might expect from a stag party at Roger Ailes’s house,” she writes. “You know it’s coming.”

Gender anxiety finds its megaphone

Cottle explores the idea that men will see a Clinton (woman-version) presidency as proof that their status in American society is tanking. Leonie Huddy, a professor of political science at Stony Brook University, sees this as a latent fear in many American men, and posits that it will flare when Clinton begins addressing female-centric issues like equal pay and child care.


Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University, agrees, and sees Trump actively aggravating the fear. “He has really motivated a lot of his supporters to be concerned and sort of feed on this gender resentment—the idea that women are getting too far, that Hillary is getting too far and is not really qualified, and that the only reason she has been successful is because she is a woman,” said Lawless.

Sexism is convenient

At the same time, says Cottle, sexist verbal abuse may simply be the handiest rock for any angry citizen to hurl at Clinton. She’s a menopausal monster. She’s a c**t. She’s a bitch. Or, more subtly, She’s a woman—that’s why she’s making so many mistakes and that’s why we can’t trust her to do the job, let alone a good job. She’s too aggressive. She’s too passive. She’s too emotional. Her Chief of Staff must be on the rag. Attacks against Clinton will inevitably be couched in her anatomy because they can be. And because there is a full and ever-growing number of ways to diminish and insult women based on their being, you know, women, there are a lot of rocks to throw.

Stemming the backlash in your office

Cottle offers advice for women and men at all levels of leadership and political stripes to handle the sexist tsunami possibly on the way and “to avoid further pressurizing the situation, and setting Hillary up for massive failure.” Here are a few suggestions from Cottle's piece in The Atlantic.

  • Control expectations. “Try to control expectations in terms of what the first woman president can accomplish. One challenge for Clinton will be to strike a balance between living up to the existing cultural norms of the institution even as she redefines it.”
  • Clear your own lens. “Take care to avoid (even subconsciously) seeing Hillary’s inevitable stumbles and failures through the prism of gender...Because Clinton would be the first woman to hold the post, people might see her performance as somehow tied to being a woman.” (Not only is that inappropriate for Clinton—we don’t do that for men), but many women leaders will have to endure a strengthened cultural belief that their gender is a universal weakness.)
  • Call it out when you see it. “Speak out—loudly—against this kind of nonsense in all its forms. Vigorous public debate about a president’s decisions is ‘100 percent legitimate. But as soon as the gendered bit starts raising its head, men and women of good will should be saying: ‘No. Stop that.’”
  • Take heart. “Things are always brutal for the first person to challenge a norm, but then it gets progressively easier.”
  • Reclaim the word bitch. “Seriously. Bitches of the world unite! Indeed, if Hillary wins in November, I am immediately ordering a dozen hoodies emblazoned with the theme of that brilliant Saturday Night Live riff Tina Fey did about Clinton’s 2008 run: ‘Bitches get stuff done!’ All my girlfriends should expect one for Christmas.”

Read more from Michelle Cottle on misogyny and Hillary Clinton.

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