Hillary Clinton and Hardworking Imperfection

Written about the 2016 U.S. election, tragically still relevant to the 2020 U.S. Election :(

So, can we talk for a minute about “effortless perfection”? When you google that term, this is your first hit:

That’s kind of incredible — that a 17-year-old study about collegiate women so completely owns this phrase. But it’s because it’s so true to most women’s experience of the world. Take a second and either think to yourself, or talk to a woman about how they’re treated when they TRY. Examine how women’s flaws are resented, not in proportion to the impact those flaws have on others, but merely for existing at all.

My rationale for illustrating this piece with gifs of Anne Hathaway hosting the 2011 Academy Awards should be entirely self-explanatory.

And then think about it in terms of Hillary Clinton, whose alternate campaign slogan could be “Hardworking Imperfection.” No one could ever accuse Hillary Clinton of not making an effort — quite the opposite. So much of the incoherent, gut-level distaste people have for her is tied directly to how hard she tries all the time, to how AMBITIOUS she is. She’s fake, she’s a liar, she’s a robot, she’s a flip-flopper, she’ll say anything as long as it’s politically expedient — in every one of these claims, there’s some truth. But in the vehemence with which they’re said, in the frequency with which they’re repeated, there is evidence of a visceral discomfort in seeing someone TRY so damn hard, and hide it so poorly. Especially a woman, whose goodness is supposed to be innate. TRYING in this way is disliked in politicians of all genders — just look at Jeb! and poor ole Mittens — but where it can make a male politician into a figure of fun, it renders Hillary loathsome.

Truly, my reasons for associating this image with the concept of “double standards” can be no mystery.

Then there’s her imperfection. No one, not even people like me who have been in the tank for her since the primaries, ever calls her perfect. In fact, even with very smart, very liberal friends, friends who’ve rarely made me feel embarrassed for trying hard or being imperfect, the only way I could have a productive conversation about my eagerness to vote for Hillary Clinton was to open by acknowledging all of her shortcomings. Sure, she’s a Washington insider, sure she’s deceptive, sure she’s self-serving — but she’s more on my side than anyone else, I’d say. And wouldn’t it be NICE to have a conniving political manipulator on our side for once? Even when voting for John Kerry in 2004, a man who at that time shared most of Hillary’s pretty run-of-the-mill political shortcomings and none of her astounding accomplishments, I never had to couch my support in so much cynicism. I did not have to show my math to liberal peers before I ever hinted at a sum, to prove I was worthy of having an opinion. Flawed and uninspiring white men are routinely accepted as legitimate political aspirants — that phrase, after all, describes roughly 80% of all our presidents to date. With Hillary Clinton, however, the mere fact that she possesses flaws common to all career politicians, regardless of the degree to which she possesses them, regardless of said flaws’ concrete impact or lack thereof on her policies, is enough to make her at best “an evil” (even if only “the lesser of two”) and at worst below consideration for the office of president, even when her opponent is a giant toddler with tendencies that might generously be called fascist.

Even when she’s pretending to be imperfect, she’s also trying too hard.

I don’t want to say there are no just reasons to struggle with Hillary Clinton’s legacy or candidacy. I did not vote for her in the 2008 primaries and, although living through her last candidacy is what made me a vocal feminist, I still feel like that was the right choice. But that does not mean that all the negative feelings I had for her then and still struggle with now are strictly or exclusively fair. Living in a misogynist world means, inevitably, internalizing some misogyny, and I am no magic exception to that rule.

Like ALL red-blooded Americans, this gif DOES makes me cringe self-consciously.

Internalized prejudice is rarely an isolated strand of thought. It’s not a weed you can learn to identify and then uproot entirely. It’s an inextricable part of your ecosystem — just like global warming, unchecked, leads to warmer oceans and more extreme weather patterns, the human tendency to prejudge, combined with un-examined imbibing of received wisdom, leads to more violent, unfair opinions. The oceans aren’t going anywhere, and hurricanes aren’t going anywhere — but if we focus our energy and elect someone who cares about our environment, we can hopefully prevent them from devastating our coastal cities. Similarly, humans will always prejudge others, and received wisdom will continue to be dubious at best. But if you pay attention to yourself, you can see the way your internalized prejudice amplifies certain negative feelings, how it takes you from a mild dislike to an incoherent loathing, and you can focus and correct for it. If you see that your distaste for Hillary Clinton is amplified by a gendered demand for “effortless perfection,” just turn down the volume.

XO/Dame Margaret.