Deborah Tannen’s Op-Ed, “Our impossible expectations of Hillary Clinton and all women in authority,” published in the Washington Post last week, spoke to me as a young woman starting her professional career. Clinton’s treatment in the media is appalling, “She’s too shrill,” and “she should stop shouting” are unfair and juvenile attacks that have no place in presidential elections.
I grew up in Australia where I attended a co-educational High School, and when I graduated, I was voted most likely to be Prime Minister. I was always an opinionated news junkie and always in the minority. The boys at my school always felt comfortable discussing politics, but the girls usually remained silent. Reading Tannen’s article reminded me, that for many of us high school doesn’t end when we leave the classroom.
I’ve lost a lot of faith in politicians of late, and it’s not because of bad policy, it’s because of the way female politicians are treated all over the world. In 2012, Julia Gillard, Australia’s first female Prime Minister made a fifteen-minute speech to the Australian Parliament, in which she accused the leader of the opposition party, Tony Abbott, of being a misogynist. Her speech went viral with millions of views on YouTube from all over the world. Publications such as The Guardian and The New Yorker took notice too. World leaders like Barack Obama congratulated Gillard for standing up for women. As a result, of the speech The Macquarie Dictionary of Australia changed their definition of misogyny from a hatred of women to an overall prejudice towards women.
I never liked Gillard. I didn’t like her policies, and I didn’t agree with her leadership tactics. But in the days following her speech I began to question my blind faith in the opposition. Why had I accepted their endless attacks on Gillard based on her gender? Gillard faced accusations that she was “barren,” while phrases like “ditch the witch,” that her “father had died of shame” and that she was a “man’s bitch, ” had been circulating for months. It was disgusting. It was embarrassing. But why did I need someone to blatantly point this out to me? Why was I deaf? If I had been called that at school, the boys in my class would have been reprimanded. No question.
Tannen’s Op-Ed presents far more subtle, but no less important attacks on Clinton’s gender. When Googling Bernie Sanders and ‘ambition’, Tannen found results that described Sander’s “ambitious plans”. But when Googling Clinton, the results change drastically, with reports describing Clinton’s “ruthless “ or “unbridled ambition.” Thankfully, Clinton isn’t facing such harsh attacks as Gillard. But when I look back on the attacks on Gillard’s gender it probably started with little jibes about her, “ruthless ambition” or “shrill voice.”
It’s been four years since Gillard made her speech and it’s critical that we don’t forget it. As Gillard said at the end of her speech, “we are entitled to a better standard than this.” Speeches like Gillard’s remind us how women struggle to make themselves heard even at the highest levels of power. I’m afraid that, just as I did in 2012, I’ve become deaf to the attacks on Clinton. This election, we will not remain silent. We will demand better for our presidential candidates.
If we wouldn’t accept this kind of behavior in our classrooms, why should we accept it in our newspapers and on our screens?