A view from across the pond: Hillary, Trump and sexism

In this Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016, file photo, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speak during the second presidential debate at Washington University in St. Louis. (Patrick Semansky/AP Photo)

I wish I could say I left England to escape the bigotry of ‘Little England’ post-Brexit and that my concerns for the ideological narrow-mindedness, which led puritans here a few hundred years ago, led me here, too. Frankly, though, I did it out of love and desire for adventure.        

As you might expect, I found much more than that.

I begin packed in a small room at Fordham University School of Law sitting among a throng of journalists and city officials, waiting to hear New York’s most powerful man speak. Thirty minutes later, he enters to a round of applause and mounts the stage to begin a drawn-out speech on campaign finance reform.

Five minutes from the end, a female protester began to heckle him, it was not her words that shocked me, it was his callous response. As he ordered her out of the room, I thought back to what I had jotted down during his speech: “money talks and big money talks louder.” As loudly as the female protester shouted, it was his words and actions that would be remembered.

Having just signed new legislation this month to further women’s equality, New York should be seen as a bastion for women’s rights, but hidden from view are the same streets where the viral video of a woman was filmed being verbally harassed over 100 times within a few hours. The video, posted by Hollaback!, an international movement to end street-harassment, sparked the rise of the hashtag #EverydaySexism, initiated by woman’s activist Laura Bates.

What links everyday sexism, legislation and New York? Two things. First, that despite great progress made in terms of policy, everyday sexism is still a taboo yet widespread subject. Secondly, all three issues figure heavily in this year’s presidential election. Both candidates claim to have roots in the Big Apple. What is increasingly clear is that the issue of sexism may very well decide this election.

The recent exposure of Trump boasting about groping women has unearthed decades of misogynistic comments and callous sex talk that are far too easy to find. What is more fascinating is how long it has taken the mainstream Republican party to start denouncing him. There must be underlying causes for why his sexist comments, until now, have been downplayed by Republicans but not denounced.

Dr. Nishith Prakash, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Connecticut, explains that “Gender inequality is real. It exists in explicit or implicit forms in every country.” In fact, he asserts that sexism is not not better nor worse by country, only different.

“It’s the opposite,” Dr. Nishith Prakash says, comparing the micro-sexism in India to macro-sexism in America. In America a woman can ride a bike without stigma, not in India. But in India a woman can become president without stigma. Clearly, not in America.

There are statistics that show America’s gender wage gap. For example, for every dollar earned by a man, a woman is expected to earn only 79 cents. In reality, the macro-sexism that Dr. Prakash mentions is more evident in the hidden language of sexism. Trump’s debates and comments are clear examples, but it goes far beyond Trump and his supporters. A large amount of moderates have targeted Clinton with personal and sexist criticisms, far more than what a male candidate would face, even one that has been in the public eye for decades.

These criticisms have come from Meet The Press, which called her “over-prepared,” or David Frum, Senior Editor at the Atlantic, who mocked her for “smiling too much.” Furthermore, in light of attacks on Clinton’s health, Kelly Dittmar, a scholar from the Center for American Women and Politics, said the targeting of Hillary Clinton's "stamina and strength" was simply a coded attack on her gender.

These examples are not regarded as sexist; personal maybe, but not sexist. Yet, if you consider that no male candidate has ever been criticized for smiling or being well-prepared, then it’s hard to point to anything but sexism as the cause of this double-standard.

According to political science Professor Thomas Hayes at the University of Connecticut, much of Trump’s popularity among seemingly moderate voters relies on his ability to tap into this undercurrent, often overlooked and denied by moderates, of implicit sexism and racism. When I asked if his was the case, Hayes replied “Oh absolutely,” and recounted the sexist remarks he had seen at a recent Trump rally as the chants of “lock her up,” echoed. This time not for some political protester, but for the soon-to-be female president of the United States.


Sam Jaffe is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at sam.jaffe@uconn.edu.