Home | News | Senate

Frustrated female senators say Clinton is victim of sexism

Women serving in the Senate say Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonThe Trail 2016: Digging up dirt LA mayor: 'Donald Trump will not win California' Clinton berates Trump over housing market crash MORE is being subjected to an unfair, sexist double standard on the campaign trail.

Criticisms of Clinton’s tone of voice have become prominent in recent weeks, stirring strong feelings among Senate Democratic women who say they too have had to battle the stereotype of the shrill female. 

ADVERTISEMENT
“She’s often judged by a double standard,” said Sen. Barbara MikulskiBarbara MikulskiThe Trail 2016: Sanders who? Dem senator to Sanders: 'When it's over, it's over' Dems pressure Obama on vow to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees MORE (D-Md.), the dean of the Senate women. 

“Many of we women feel that there’s a double standard. What’s being said about Hillary is what women have heard for centuries. You’re too loud, you’re too aggressive, you’re too pushy. Why do you want the vote?”

Senate Democratic women have raised their concerns about the public treatment of Clinton in private conversations with their colleagues, with lawmakers keeping close watch on her primary battle with Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Trail 2016: Digging up dirt LA mayor: 'Donald Trump will not win California' Our political leaders need to set examples of reasonable conduct MORE (I-Vt.). 

“There are many Senate men that feel the same way. It’s an equal opportunity for frustration. When are we going to start talking about ideas?” Mikulski said.

Female lawmakers were particularly galled by recent statements by Washington Post columnist Bob Woodward, one of the nation’s most respected journalists, characterizing Clinton’s tone as “screaming.” 

“She shouts. There’s something unrelaxed about the way she is communicating,” he said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” 

The comment prompted the show’s host, Joe Scarborough, to interject, ”I was watching her and I said to myself, ‘Has nobody told her how the microphone works?’” 

The conversation provoked a backlash, mainly from liberal media outlets, but so far neither Woodward nor Scarborough has apologized. 

Mikulski, the first woman to ever chair the Senate Appropriations Committee, wasn’t amused.  

“I think Woodward ought to stick to judging foreign policy rather than the tone and tenor of women’s voices. His analysis is really dated,” she said.

The New York Times reported that Clinton received additional media training after Woodward aired his critique.

Scarborough tweeted after the interview that calling Woodward sexist “for analyzing a woman’s speaking ability” is itself sexist.

But women who have had long careers in politics disagree. They think the focus on Clinton’s demeanor is indeed sexist. 

“I think women go through a magnifying glass that men do not. Look at [GOP presidential frontrunner Donald] Trump. Talk about braggadocio, talk about arrogance, talk about shouting, talk about demeaning, talk about insulting. It’s all there,” said Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinApple hires leading security expert amid encryption fight Dem slams GOP for skipping vote on 'back doors' in devices Morley Safer of '60 Minutes' dies at 84 MORE (D-Calif.), who was first elected to the Senate in 1992 and before then served as major of San Francisco from 1978 to 1988. 

Feinstein said she “felt it dramatically” when she was first elected mayor.

“I would not go into anything without being doubly prepared because the press pressed the question always,” she said. “You stand on your own two feet and you have to.” 

Feinstein said that Clinton sometimes comes across as defensive on the campaign trail because she’s fighting an uphill battle in trying to become the first woman elected president.

“That’s some of what I think is coming through. It’s her battle armor that’s on,” she added. 

“Each and everyone of us have experienced that issue,” said Sen. Tammy BaldwinTammy BaldwinDem introduces bill to block new government hacking powers The Trail 2016: The campaign that never sleeps Dem senator: 'I am a human being and a superdelegate’ MORE (D-Wis.). 

Female senators say it’s ridiculous that Clinton gets maligned for shouting while Sanders gets a pass. 

When asked about the perception that Clinton shouts, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen Jeanne ShaheenSenate panel approves funding boost for TSA Dems: Warren ready to get off sidelines Dems pressure Obama on vow to resettle 10,000 Syrian refugees MORE (D-N.H.) quipped, “unlike Bernie Sanders who’s so relaxed.”

“He shouts the whole time. Give me a break,” she said.

Shaheen said there was a double standard after the Iowa caucuses when the media focused on reporting that many younger women had supported Sanders over Clinton. 

“The whole story has been, ‘Ask these young women why they didn’t support Hillary.’ Well, ask the older men why they didn’t support Bernie. Give me a break. The fundamental premise of that question is sexist,” she said.

“If there was as much scrutiny of Sanders’s record and what he says as there’s been about Hillary and her record, we would see a different view of the race,” Shaheen added.

Even some Republican women see a double standard, though they argue it applies to women across the political spectrum. 

"I think women just generally get greater criticism of their appearance and their style, their speaking style," said Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiOvernight Energy: Lawmakers closing in on chemical safety deal GOP chair pushes Obama official on Arctic drilling plan McConnell touts 'Senate squad' in Wes Anderson-style video MORE (Alaska), the Republican chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee. "I don't disagree with Sen. Mikulski that that is a reality we face. 

"It's something that women who are public figures encounter," she added. 

In the past, Clinton was regularly scrutinized for her hairstyles and fashion choices. While those topics haven’t come up as frequently this election cycle, they still surface. 

Matt Drudge, the conservative media magnate, in November started a Twitter debate on the question of whether Clinton wears a wig. Around the same time, Trump mocked her “massive” hairdo. 

“Hillary has such good ideas. They don’t seem to be able to criticize her ideas so instead they criticize her. She doesn’t part her hair right — it’s too far to the right. Oh my God, there she goes using hairspray again,” Mikulski said. 

In recent weeks, the focus has been more on Clinton’s tone, especially among conservative commentators.   

Peggy Noonan complained that Clinton’s voice becomes “loud, flat and harassing to the ear” when she emphasizes applause lines.  

“She lately reminds me of the landlady yelling up the stairs that your kids have left their bikes in the hall again,” she wrote. 

Fox News commentator Geraldo Rivera earlier this month compared Clinton to former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, whose 2004 campaign went down in flames after his infamous scream after the Iowa caucuses. 

Fox News host Sean Hannity on the same program said Clinton “looked angry, she sounded angry” during her remarks after finishing in a virtual tie with Sanders in Iowa.

This narrative of Clinton as a candidate has started to bleed into more mainstream media coverage. 

The New York Times reviewed her performance at one debate as “tense and even angry at times,” while The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza called her “hyper aggressive” at another debate. Frida Ghitis pointed out this trend in a column she wrote for CNN titled “The shrill smear against Hillary Clinton.” 

While it may be part of a double standard, the criticism appears to be gaining traction, something Clinton herself may recognize. 

Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women & Politics Institute at American University, said Clinton appeared to make more of an effort to control her tone during Thursday’s debate with Sanders.

“The discussion about her voice and whether she’s shrill and whether she’s yelling has applied to her in a way that it has not been applied to Bernie Sanders, even though he yells all the time as well,” she said. 

“During the PBS debate it was clear that she had decided to speak differently. She had moderated her voice. She was far more calm, cool and collected,” she added. “I don’t think it’s fair that she has to do that in a way that Sanders is not being asked to do it.”