3 Ways to Tell if Your Distaste For Hillary Clinton is Sexist

3451609579_c74b716245_zWith the presidential election now in full swing, the Ms. Blog is excited to bring you a series presented in conjunction with Presidential Gender Watch 2016, a project of the Barbara Lee Family Foundation and the Center for American Women and Politics. They’ll be tracking, analyzing and illuminating gender dynamics during election season—so check back with us regularly!

Hillary Clinton is an emotional and political lightning rod. Of this there is absolutely no doubt. If you do a Google search for why people dislike Hillary Clinton, you get over a million entries with titles such as, ”Our Love/Hate Relationship with Hillary Clinton Will Never End,” “The Jarring Reasons People Don’t Want Hillary Clinton to Be President” and “Why Do Young People Have Such Visceral Dislike for Hillary?” Her own advocates are willing to stipulate that liking her is not even necessary to vote for her.

Clearly, there is more to this question of likability that needs to be interrogated. Likability is not gender neutral. Neither are most of the decisions we make, despite our desire to be prejudice-free. The 2016 presidential election is awash in explicit expressions of racism, sexism and xenophobia, leaving me wondering about the ways in which race and gender are implicitly shaping ordinary citizens’ views of the campaign.

Implicit messages are more insidious because they are consumed and deployed beyond the realm of consciousness. We need not think deeply to identify the racism in Donald Trump’s depiction of Mexican immigrants as rapists or the sexism of his asking if Megyn Kelly’s tough questions were due to her being on her period. Identifying subtler racist and sexist cues is more challenging, however, because no one is immune to these subtleties, even those among us who have engaged in personal and public anti-racist and anti-sexist work.

There is a concept in the study of racial prejudice, called aversive racism, which is particularly instructive in helping to explain the visceral nature of some responses to Hillary Clinton. According to research published in Psychological Science,

…many people who explicitly support egalitarian principles and believe themselves to be nonprejudiced also unconsciously harbor negative feelings and beliefs about blacks and other historically disadvantaged groups. Aversive racists thus experience ambivalence between their egalitarian beliefs and their negative feelings toward blacks.

Because people understand that equality is optimal, behavior and perspectives that support unequal outcomes for blacks are to be avoided, and are damaging to how people think of themselves. As a result, prejudicial behavior will emerge as “often unintentional, when their behavior can be justified on the basis of some factor other than race.” This allows aversive racists to continue to see themselves as nonracist while simultaneously engaging in racially prejudicial behavior. Simply put, when there is no doubt that one’s behavior will be seen as racist, aversive racists avoid that behavior.

Alternatively, when there are other reasons beyond race that can be used to justify discriminatory behavior, racism will rear its ugly head. For example, an aversive racist might say that it’s not that they have a problem with blacks, they just want to live in a safe neighborhood. Thus, crime and safety become the explanations for refusals to live among blacks, even those of their own income class.

In recent months, I have thought often about whether a similar process is happening with Clinton—a form of aversive sexism. Let me be clear: Disliking or refraining from voting for Clinton does not make you a sexist, aversive or otherwise. There are legitimate reasons for not supporting her White House bid, reasons that have accumulated due to her long history of public service and the open fault lines that remain from the Clinton ‘90s. However, I suspect that there is some form of aversive sexism happening among Democrats and the political left.

It’s not enough to suggest that there may be a form of aversive sexism at play in judgements of Clinton though, so here are three practical ways to help judge for yourself.

1. If you dislike Hillary Clinton because of the policies and problems of the Clinton years but still love Bill Clinton, you might be an aversive sexist.

Any scenario that involves holding the spouse of the person in power to a harsher account than the person elected to do the job should give you pause. Bill Clinton was the president, and it was his job to serve the American people. Hillary was an engaged spouse who took the lead on several initiatives, for sure. But hating a heavily involved wife and not the primary decision-maker who occupies the seat of power is a view worthy of examination. There are people who look at Bill with a school boy wink, but cannot abide Hillary.

2. If you decided you hated Hillary Clinton first and then collected substantive policy reasons as justification, you might be an aversive sexist.

There are many people who have well-developed and evidence-based arguments for being anti-Hillary. There are many good reasons, and I have my own. They wax poetic about her vote for this bill, her claims made in that interview or other past indiscretions, but have only learned about these items on Clinton’s resume after they had a serious hate on for her. What looks like legitimate ire, in this case, is just pretense.

3. If you’re holding things against Hillary Clinton for which you have forgiven other politicians, particularly men, you might be an aversive sexist.

I see this process working specifically in legislative discussions. People often criticize her for using the term super-predator and connect this to the passage of Bill Clinton’s deeply damaging and racially targeted crime bill. (And she should be roundly criticized for it. There is no excuse. None.) Incidentally, those who are anti-Hillary also point out that Bernie Sanders spoke out against the bill as a sign of Sanders’ integrity. In the end though, Sanders, along with many members of the Congressional Black Caucus, voted for the crime bill. In the intervening years, these same critics have voted repeatedly for elected officials who voted for this bill; however, Hillary is disqualified based on her verbal support, albeit problematic. Both Sanders’ and Clinton’s actions demonstrated support for a bill that helped to incarcerate more African Americans than any other legislation in American history. Why is Sanders being given space to move beyond this position while Clinton is not?

It may be possible that someone could answer yes to one or more of these questions and still not be an aversive sexist. This is simply a call for all of us to pause and take stock of how and why we are making choices this election season. We are exposed to so many messages that equate good leadership with masculinity that it is potentially easier for us to see political leadership as the purview of men.

This election season, I want us to be attentive to those inputs and consistently check in with ourselves to ask, “Am I judging this woman candidate in ways that no candidate could ever measure up?” If we find that we are engaging in gender discrimination, then we still have an opportunity to course correct. Halting those discriminatory impulses does not guarantee a vote for Hillary Clinton, but it will mean that she is judged fairly, not based solely on our ingrained and implicit gender biases.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user fmcabezadevaca licensed under Creative Commons 2.0

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Melanye Price is assistant professor of Africana studies and political science at Rutgers University—New Brunswick.


  1. Very much suggests the following article. It explains that not supporting Hillary is fine, but the blatant hatred of Hillary is pure sexism. The article also explains that while progressives support Elizabeth Warren, that Warren would also not survive the sexist onslaught.


    • Gayla Lesley says:

      According to this my support for Bernie Sanders means I am not sexist, which I already knew. Think there should be another article with what qualifies you as sexist if you support her. I have been a feminist for a majority of my life (Angela Davis being my first hero) and it is disturbing to read comments from some of the women that do support her like, “This country needs a woman for President.” “People that support Sanders are berniebros.” “Sanders has never fully supported women.” I used to admire Hillary and knew when she supported her husband after his, “I did not have sex with that woman” fiasco (personally was outraged that Starr & co. spent millions) which hurt the democratic party and it’s chances of winning the next election (he couldn’t keep his dick in his pants knowing those aholes were lying in wait) and that he would owe her big time, which he does. When she ran for Senator I was pumped! When she voted for the war in Iraq, she was a huge disappointment and she was no longer a thought. Which in conclusion, is what is unbelievable about this race. Her see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil, supporters are an enigma. There is so much more that she has done that is self-serving and has contributed to the horrible outcome for millions of Americans and Iraq. Isn’t supporting her despite all of the damage she has done while applauding the fact that she is a woman…sexist? As a woman who believes in social justice and leveling the playing field for women, minorities and the poor, I fail to see what the excitement is all about.

    • Blue Nation Review is a propaganda rag for the Hillary campaign. Its articles ALWAYS skew in her favor, because that is its purpose. It has been so since it was purchased by David Brook, who has been a strong Hillary supporter for a very long time. Sorry, I take whatever that site says with a very large grain of salt and regard it as an intellectual version of Fox Lies.

  2. I don’t like Hillary for her policies e.g. giving away her power to declare war to Bush as Senator and her foreign policy as Secretary of State. I don’t like Bill either after he and Newt deprived me of most of my Social Security to ‘balance’ the budget. I despise McCain for his foreign policy initiatives too. If anything, he is worse than Hillary. I voted for Bernie in my primary for what that’s worth.

  3. Fracking is fracking. I don’t vote for politicians who support fracking.

  4. Hillary Clinton not qualified? If this woman who has a JD, been a 2 term senator, served as secretary of state and had a lifetime of advocacy doesn’t make you qualified to be president what chance is there for any other woman?
    They may not admit it, but why are some still debating whether a woman is worthy of sitting in the oval office. Nearly 60 year ago, a young senator named John F Kennedy asked and answered the prescient question – Can a woman be president? in a 1956 article he wrote for a woman’s magazine. At a time when estrogen and ambition was seen as a potent cocktail, its interesting to see what JFK had to say. A 9 year old Hillary Rodham would certainly have been intrigued. http://envisioningtheamericandream.com/2015/04/20/who-said-a-woman-can-be-president/

    • Wake Me When It's Over says:

      “Hillary Clinton not qualified? If this woman who has a JD, been a 2 term senator, served as secretary of state and had a lifetime of advocacy doesn’t make you qualified to be president what chance is there for any other woman?”

      Sally, what us “Berners” can’t fathom is how often we have to answer this question, and yet the Clinton supporters seem to have a force field around their heads that prevents them from EVER hearing us. So why keep answering? It’s just beyond infuriating.

      But here we go, one more time . . .

      It’s not the positions she held, it’s WHAT SHE DID WHILE HOLDING THEM.

      We understand that she clawed her way to the top, and good for her, except that she made some really bad decisions once she got there and we are aware of them. We don’t like them. We don’t like her. We don’t trust her. At all.

      She’s a painfully pandering politician in the pocket of everyone we loathe and that simple fact is just lost on Clinton supporters who have that damned forcefield around their heads! And they keep saying the SAME THINGS back us showing that they CAN’T HEAR US.

      She has done bad things! Bad things! Lots of bad things! Long lists of bad things!!!! Do I need to go get that list for you again???? Will you READ IT THIS TIME?????!!!!!!!

      We Bernie people really would love a woman president, really we would. We would happily support any other strong and MORAL woman who has GOOD JUDGEMENT – and there are in fact many in this world – to become our nation’s first president.

      But it ain’t Hillary. Not when we have another, much better option.

      • I feel compelled to respond to this comment, as the writer seems to suggest that she or he is speaking for me, a “Berner.” As such, I would kindly ask this commenter to refrain from dismissing concerns regarding the sexist undertones of questioning Hillary Clinton’s qualifications.

        Merriam-Webster.com defines “qualified” as “having the necessary skill, experience, or knowledge to do a particular job or activity.” You and I may not agree with Hillary Clinton’s policies, the decisions she made and the actions she took as senator or Secretary of State. We may not trust that she would not continue to make decisions that we don’t agree with as POTUS. But would you be willing to consider that disagreement, distrust, and moral judgments should not necessarily factor into a determination of a candidate’s *qualifications* for a position?

        Hillary Clinton has extensive skills, experience, and knowledge that are directly applicable to the position she is running for. We may not trust her to use her skills in a way we agree with. We may not like the decisions she made and actions she took while gaining her experience. We may disagree with the way she interprets and applies her knowledge. HOWEVER, it is highly problematic to suggest that our views and concerns make HRC “unqualified,” when many men have served as POTUS before her with less skill, experience, and knowledge, and without being questioned and attacked with this rhetoric.

        This election, like many before it, is drenched in animosity. While it is easy to feel attacked by those supporting a different candidate, it is critical that we all make a conscious effort not to shut down and become dismissive of legitimate questions and concerns. It is important that we continue to question the rhetoric used and actions taken by ALL candidates, their supporters, and individual commentators — and above all else engage in open and constructive conversation, regardless of mounting frustration.

      • Spacegod says:

        All of your concerns are normal, and how you said it is how everyone should express their feelings about Hillary. Unfortunately the reality is more like:

        “Trump is a funny goof, haha. He’s so silly.”

        “Hillary!?!? That stupid, feminazi, cunting whore of a bitch queen! Rarrgh!! I’m so angry over this!!!”

        I’m not saying people aren’t in their right to be upset over politicians, but I’ve yet to see the level of rage over Hillary being expressed for Trump and even though they’re both problematic, it’s ridiculously one-sided.

  5. None of these apply to me.

    68 years old. Outspoken feminist all my life. There’s a reason Gloria Steinem declared Bernie an honorary woman in the 70s.

    Bernie is a better feminist than Hillary. Anyone who understands the difference between a liberal feminist and a socialist feminist knows this. Liberal feminism is the weakest branch of feminism there is.

    Hillary wants to put more women into the slots in the patriarchy currently occupied by men. Bernie wants to get rid of the patriarchy.

    • Let’s count the ways in which Bernie is a feminist:
      1) Writing essays about fantasy rape
      2) Shushing and commanding his wife to not stand next to him on the podium, as if she was a child
      3)Retorting to Trump’s attack on women’s abortion rights: “a distraction from serious issues facing America”
      4)Referring to Hillary as “shouting” on many occasions.
      5)Unequal pay gap rampant throughout his staff. (Top 10 staffers are all men).

      This might not seem as awful as outright wanting to control women’s bodies, but this is his character. He’s an old-school sexist, who has never championed ACTIVELY for women’s rights.

      Hillary Clinton has always. I will take her brand of feminism over his any damn day.

  6. For many, it works the other way, too.
    If you like Hillary because you liked her husband as president…
    If you like Hillary after not collecting substantive reasons to dislike her…
    If you like Hillary for more holding things against other candidates but for her…

    Notably, every bonification of “first female president” is positive sexism and legitimates the appearance of negative sexism as well. If one wants her to become president for being a woman, one may also do not want her to become president for the same reason with even legitimation.

    If I imagine Hillary and Bernie switching place… I see an old, unappealing a***ole and a glorious, shining Fortuna. Guess who is who.
    Maybe the massive dislike for Hillary is mostly caused because many people feel deeply disagreeable with many issues she stands for and feel frustrated about her being democrats favorite candidate.

    Best wishes and a happy election year from Europe 🙂

    • Spacegod says:

      People have always expressed their distaste for flawed politicians. The thing is, I’ve never seen this level of unbridled, furious hate for one single candidate before. That’s what’s so puzzling. She isn’t any worse than any other corrupt polly throughout history.

      That’s the only thing that kind of makes me think sexism IS involved and I really don’t like admitting shit like that. Maybe if everyone didn’t go too far with the incessant hate and pointless insults then I could believe they aren’t doing it in a desperate ploy to keep a woman from running their Country, but red hot emotions are involved in this and it doesn’t take a genius to see that.

  7. Just face it; men just don’t like uppity women. They only tolerate them if they are rich, and will never surrender what they perceive as their natural male superiority (most have enjoyed since birth, due to global patrimoney).

    It isn’t Hillary’s fault she doesn’t agree!
    And Sanders isn’t exempt either.

    It’s a Trump problem as much as is is a Hillary “woman” problem!

  8. Those who “hate” Hillary have been victims of years and years of brainwashing. With 30 years of being attacked six ways to Sunday, not one sticks except that she is a woman with the strength and courage of a man. That is her only crime. The argument outlined above are meaningless. Hillary voted FOR the war along with all the rest of us. Look at how the media reports were 99 percent in favor of the war. Those who voted “no” may have had different facts or were being obstructive. All of the rest of the arguments are from prejudicial attitudes and not from facts. It us like blaming me for the rain tomorrow just because I am here and I am a woman.

  9. If you dislike Hillary for things she did as Secretary of State, but praise (or fail to equally criticize) Obama who was her boss and ultimately in charge, you’re sexist.
    If you dislike Hillary for having donors from employees of industries quite similar to Obama, but praise (or fail to equally criticize) Obama, you’re sexist.
    If you say Hillary is a shill for corporate America, but praise (or fail to equally criticize) Obama who also had overwhelming donations from those working for corporations, and actually had much higher average donations in 2012 than Hillary does now, you’re sexist.
    If you criticize Hillary for doing anything of the things you supposedly dislike her for, but repeatedly post how wonderful Obama is despite him doing the same thing, you’re sexist.
    If you criticize Hillary for being pro-interventionist and supporting oil drive endless wars without criticizing Sanders for voting to invade Afghanistan, you’re sexist. There actually was one person in Congress with the integrity to see it for what it was at the time, my then Congresswoman Barbara Lee. Every other person in Congress fails the non-interventionist purity test INCLUDING Sanders.
    If you find yourself posting anti-Hillary comments and memes on social media but did not do the same in past elections about Democrats you found too moderate, you’re sexist.
    Speaking as a gay male feminist, the anti-woman garbage coming from (primarily white) gay men I know is disgusting and makes me embarrassed that my community still is full of misogynists.
    If you forward anti-Hillary social media coming from Karl Rove and other right wing extremists but call yourself a liberal or progressive, then you are a misogynist, and quite a jerk!

    • Interesting commentary by Rob G, and I agree with the post. Also interesting to note that Joe Biden was behind the overthrow of Afghanistan’s relatively secular government, back in 1979-1980, and many Sanders supporters tend to like Joe Biden. (Perhaps Biden became less hawkish after the Gulf War?) While I am not crazy about Hillary Clinton (though I do think it’s important to have a female President), I have been thoroughly disgusted with the sexism in progressive circles.

      Back in 1984, when Geraldine Ferraro ran as Vice President for the Mondale/Ferraro Democratic ticket, Ferraro was definitely more “progressive” than Mondale, including acknowledging Nicaragua’s Sandinista Revolution. Progressives “slammed” the white middle-class women who were supported Ms Ferraro, yet they themselves were generally white and middle class! Jesse Jackson was the one who pushed for a female Vice President (a few months before Mondale did), and Jackson was right-on. Mondale has said he purposefully chose Ferraro (over more qualified female candidates) because of her Liberal positions. Ferraro came from a low-income family, and as Prosecutor, she defended victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Glad to say that although many progressives “slammed” Ferraro (because horror of horrors, some white middle class women were supporting her), that the women’s movement generally was very supportive of her. NOW has made some mistakes and no organization is perfect, but they were right in supporting Ferraro.

      While Ferraro was more progressive than HRC, and while Ferraro had a better history with women’s rights and feminist causes, guess what? Ferraro received the same HATRED from progressives. Ferraro herself wasn’t perfect – she made some racist remarks about Obama – but progressives HATRED Ferraro long before this incident. Do you know that I have met progressives who hate the suffragettes?

  10. Stephanie Potter says:

    As someone who identified as a radical feminist in the early 70’s, Jill Johnston et al., and later a practicing Buddhist, I have been asking myself this question all along. I have felt I have an aversion to the answer.
    I keep finding that my aversion is more towards her voice. Hillary inherited the current policies and climate, so I really can’t fully disavow her for policy choices as she competes in a man’s world.
    My question keeps turning toward, is my own aversion a matter of “my world” not fully accepting women’s voices as equal, and I don’t want to see my own vulnerability, women’s vulnerability, reflected in Hillary.

  11. Spacegod says:

    The problem is, everyone online tends to enjoy cherry picking the things that will confirm their dislike and hatred for someone. No one wants to look at it from both sides because once you’re on that ‘I hate X’ train there’s no stopping it. Everyone around them agrees with them and then more people get pulled into an emotional whirlwind of confirmation bias.

    The Hillary hate train has picked up so many people now that it’s a juggernaut that can’t be stopped. In their petty insults you can practically smell the frantic desperation in every letter. They never wanted a female leader to begin with and they’d say anything to make it stop. But they can’t just be open about it, so they make Hillary out to be a lot worse than any other corrupt politician so their hatred is “justified”.

    “Oh but she IS that bad! If she wasn’t then I’d look like a sexist.”

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