Last week during the presidential debate we all gathered around televisions, laptops and phones to watch Donald Trump interrupt and hector Hillary Clinton. His remarks were not necessarily anything new, but it is important to recognize who they were pointed toward. Trump’s treatment of Clinton reveals a larger systemic sexism in politics that needs to change.
According to Politico, “Donald Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton 25 times in the first 26 minutes” of the debate. While some argue that this interruption is simply indicative of Trump’s character, there is validity to the claim that he interrupted Clinton even more than other potential nominees and interviewers because of her gender. Furthermore, the example set for viewers was that a man qualified enough to get the nomination of a major party, a man who many look up to, treats women with very little respect.
Trump also treated Clinton differently than other candidates when he brought up the legacy of her husband’s presidency. Clinton was measured by her husband’s accomplishments; she was unfairly evaluated by not only the legislation he passed, but also by his personal downfalls. While it is worth noting the work she accomplished as first lady, she has achieved more than enough as an individual.
Obviously the debate format requires arguing, disagreeing and discussing major issues, but Trump’s willingness to dismiss nearly everything Clinton said as “wrong” or “not true” regardless of Clinton’s experience and knowledge reveals a pointed disrespect.
This format is also indicative of the patriarchal political system as a whole. Argumentative and aggressive traits, those thought of as masculine, are favored in a debate setting.
Does this mean that a woman has no place behind one of those sacred podiums? Before last week, no woman had ever reached one of those podiums at a presidential debate. Clinton, however, was successful, because she conformed. She played the game. Should we really see that achievement as progress? This is a step in the right direction. The “ceiling has been broken.” But, this cannot be the end of the progress. Even if Clinton is not elected as our first female president, we cannot stop attempting to reform the system.
We have to look carefully at the systems of power and privilege at play in the election. We need to be honest: The Presidency and the campaigning system are a boys club and were created to be one. If we do not look critically at our culture and electoral system, as well as the ways they depict and treat women, then we can never even attempt to create a more equitable and prosperous society.