Regarding Donald Trump’s insulting, diminishing assertion about Hillary Clinton that she is only succeeding by playing “the woman’s card” and that if she “were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote”: If Trump were a woman, he’d be lucky to do that well.
Clinton is on the verge of becoming the first female presidential nominee and perhaps the first female president. Certainly, gender and the historic nature of her candidacy have been a boost in that quest — maybe not as much as she might have hoped, but not the hindrance it would have been not many years ago.
Yet to imagine the female Trump is to recognize the lingering, embedded nature of gender stereotypes, and the continuing obstacles — the not-so-buried campaign land mines — that face women running for office.
To say “female Trump” is to summon the memory of Sarah Palin, the major candidate who most closely resembles Trump in their joint and stunning lack of policy knowledge. But Palin’s ignorance cost her. Trump’s is scarcely impeding his march to the nomination.
More significant, imagine how Trump’s blustery and boastful persona would grate on voters if he were a woman. A female candidate with similar levels of Trumpian self-promotion would alienate droves of voters.
Nice girls — even nice-girl candidates — don’t tell you how smart and rich and successful they are. Nice girls don’t call their opponents Lyin’ Ted and Liddle Marco. Egomania is easier to take when it wears a suit and tie. Alpha Male is hard to pull off if you’re a woman.
“I can’t wrap my mind around a woman behaving in the way that Trump does and getting other than just censure,” Kathleen Dolan, an expert on gender in politics at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, told me. “I don’t think women have the latitude to be that boorish and that nasty and that negative.”
Running for office as a woman requires a candidate to find and occupy an elusive sweet spot between assertiveness and likability, a balance not demanded of male candidates. After all, Palin ran as a hockey mom, promoting her pit bull toughness through the prism of gender.
Which brings us to Clinton’s “woman’s card.” To a certain extent, her race this year has been a campaign in search of gender insult, useful in riling up rather unenthusiastic supporters. When Bernie Sanders laughably terms Clinton unqualified or Trump describes how she was “schlonged,” Clinton’s allies have been eager to discern and denounce sexism where little if any exists.
But as the race narrows to a Clinton-Trump contest, Trump’s innate and florid sexism has begun to manifest itself. Hence his bizarre claim about Clinton that “the only card she has is the woman’s card, she’s got nothing else going” — this about a former senator and secretary of state from a man who has never held public office.
Hence his repeated references to Clinton’s alleged low energy. “She doesn’t have the strength, she doesn’t have the stamina,” Trump said again Tuesday night. This, again from a man whose public schedule is far less punishing than Clinton’s. Trump’s sly conflating of gender and age — notwithstanding the inconvenient fact that she is younger — plays on images of all women as weak and older women as shriveled in comparison to a still-virile man.
And hence, Trump’s remarks about Clinton, on Wednesday’s “Morning Joe,” that “I haven’t quite recovered — it’s early in the morning — from her shouting that message. . . . I guess I’ll have to get used to a lot of that over the next four or five months.”
The shouting issue is interesting because it is so subtle. Last fall, as she tangled with Sanders over gun control, Clinton seized on the Vermont senator’s remarks that “all the shouting in the world” would not solve the gun problem. “I haven’t been shouting, but sometimes when a woman speaks out, some people think it’s shouting,” Clinton said.
My instincts then were with Sanders; his references to shouting did not set off my sexism detector because they seemed to refer to the rancorous nature of the gun debate generally, not to Clinton’s personal style.
Trump’s comments evoke the stereotype of the beleaguered husband dealing with a shrewish wife, as when Trump tweeted last year, “I just realized that if you listen to Carly Fiorina for more than ten minutes straight, you develop a massive headache.”
Trump, according to Gallup, is viewed unfavorably by 70 percent of women. Talk about a massive headache.
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