ELHAM NUMAN/THE VARSITY

The current US presidential race has been one of consecutive disappointments in many ways. The general sentiment surrounding the election suggests that regardless of the outcome, Americans will be unhappy come November 9.

One effect of the highly negative media coverage of and social media reactions to the campaigns is ample misogyny directed toward Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Given how widely the election has been covered, this can harm women entering politics in the future.

Media reports on Clinton tend to focus on scandals rather than positive campaign achievements, and as former New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson recently conceded, Clinton has been burdened with an “unfair level of scrutiny” by the media, especially in comparison to male candidates.

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee, has arguably been advantaged by the media coverage of his campaign. After the second debate, media reports suggested that Trump “exceeded expectations,” despite the fact that he brought up his own tax scandal, threatened to jail his opponent, and proved how little he really knew about foreign policy — all in less than two hours. This calls into question what exactly these ‘expectations’ were and how low they had to be in order for him to be able to exceed them.

Even coverage of Trump’s threats to bring Bill Clinton’s cheating scandal into the debate focused more on the initial cheating scandal than on the fact that Trump was attempting to attack Clinton based on her husband’s decisions. The appearance that Clinton must face the media’s scrutiny even about her husband, while Trump may exceed expectations seemingly by just showing up to a debate shows how unequal the treatment of the candidates can be.

Predictably, this negative media coverage has both translated into and spawned from misogynistic perceptions of Clinton in social media. Media executives pay close attention to which stories get the most retweets and reposts — when references to ‘Crooked Hillary’ get the most online attention, it reinforces the idea that negative stories about Clinton are the ones that will sell.

It is also important to identify when and where criticism becomes misogynistic, if we hope to achieve gender parity in governments around the world.

However, the fact remains that both the media and social media users have a part to play in the perpetuation of misogynistic narratives about Clinton. The unfair treatment of politicians based on gender is jarringly evident when one considers the way people perceive Clinton as opposed to some male politicians. From serial tweeters to seemingly harmless meme-makers, social media users go to great lengths to show that Clinton’s personality is what makes her unfit for the presidency. Criticism of Trump, on the other hand, tends to focus largely on his lack of experience and his bigoted views.

Even when looking at social media users that publish more ‘serious’ content, the double standards are still painfully evident. The very same self-proclaimed progressives who unabashedly cheered on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau despite his shortfalls — his continued support for Bill C-51, harebrained plan to legalize marijuana before decriminalizing it, and approval of Stephen Harper’s Saudi arms deal, to name a few — are now slamming Clinton for the email scandal, her support for the Iraq Resolution, and having super PACs fund her campaign.

This of course does not excuse Clinton for any of the controversies she has been caught up in, but it does call into question the motives of her critics.

There also exist more insidious forms of criticism that seem valid on the surface but are unfair in their application. In the hours after the second debate, Twitter exploded with users bashing Clinton for avoiding direct answers to questions about controversies in her candidacy. Yet, beating around the bush is a tactic male politicians use — and get away with — regularly. This reinforces the Crooked Hillary narrative that not only Trump but also many media outlets gleefully push, which further discredits Clinton in the eyes of the American public.

This is not to say that dishonesty should be excused in politics. Trump’s entire campaign has been built on falsities and bigoted generalizations that have real repercussions for those he accuses of causing all of the United States’ problems. These aspects of the race, however, were all but buried under mass tweets about Clinton’s dishonesty and lack of commitment to transparency. Lying, or even omitting the truth, has been treated like something novel in relation to Clinton throughout this race, and when accused of misogyny, people naively assert their right to critique presidential candidates rather than assess their own biases.

This toxic combination of misogynistic media coverage on both ends has a very real potential to discourage women from pursuing politics. Even the most subtle signs of disrespect, such as focusing more on Clinton’s appearance than Trump’s or calling her ‘Hillary’ rather than ‘Clinton’, can have a major impact on young women who aspire to obtain positions of political power.

In that sense, the message being sent is painfully clear: there is no room for a woman to make mistakes in the patriarchal world of politics. The most personal aspects of a woman’s life will become equivalent to public property the moment she dares to run for office; they will be twisted to paint her as either cold and heartless or irrational and emotional. Essentially, people will take aim at her for the characteristics they ignore in men.

This sets a dangerous precedent for gender dynamics in politics: one that holds comparatively higher expectations for women in anticipation of their failure. The fact remains that while Trump is doing what all politicians do by attempting to ruin Clinton’s character, the same should not be expected of the media or its consumers.

It is important to criticize candidates, especially if said criticisms are in relation to a lack of transparency or waging unnecessary wars, but it is also important to identify when and where criticism becomes misogynistic, if we hope to achieve gender parity in governments around the world.

Saambavi Mano is a third-year student at Victoria College studying Peace, Conflict, and Justice Studies. Her column appears tri-weekly. 

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