Womens supposed fragility was used as an debate against giving us the vote. The debate about Clintons pneumonia plays into the same old prejudices
Like a lot of American women who have demanding jobs and little time to rest, when Hillary Clinton got sick, she didnt stop working. But unlike the many male political leaders who have fallen ill over the years George W Bush who vomited on the Japanese prime ministers lap, General David Petraeus who fainted during a congressional hearing discussion of Clintons health has become a referendum on her fitness to lead.
The decision not to immediately disclose her pneumonia is being attacked as a lack of transparency. But, just as the illness isnt unprecedented on the campaign trail, neither is working through it without alerting the media: John Kerrys bout with the illness wasnt disclosed until after his 2004 bid had ended.
And its not hard to imagine why Clinton wasnt keen on sharing her diagnosings. Any hour Clinton coughs or is in the vicinity of a pillow, conspiracy theoreticians on the right insist shes succumbing of some horrific and well-hidden cancer.( Lets call it AgingWhileFemale-itis .) Her deviation from a 9/11 memorial service in New York, followed by a video of her looking woozy and stumble, only heightened the frenzied speculation.
The delusion that Clinton is seriously ill is so ingrained in some peoples imaginations that #HillarysBodyDouble started trending on Twitter soon after she emerged from her daughters apartment seeming markedly better. Only in 2016, our year of political cartoonishness, would some people think its more likely that Clinton hires a doppleganger than the less exciting truth that a few hours of rest and liquids run a long way when youre under the weather.
Using health concerns as a cudgel to criticize womens participation in public life, however, is nothing new. Our supposed fragility was a common anti-suffrage debate, for example, and suffragists were often painted as mentally unwell their very desire to be part of the political process proof of their hysteria.
The link between women mental and physical fitness to political participation was so strong, in fact, that Susan B Anthony once said that bicycles had done more to liberate females than anything else in the world. They not only quite literally got women out of the house and into more comfortable clothes, but they chipped away at the idea that girls were physically weak.
Decades subsequently, the idea that womens bodies are somehow less suited for political life remains. After all, it wasnt merely boorishness that led Donald Trump to blame Megyn Kelly by alluding to her period theres a longstanding myth about womens hormones attaining them unfit to leading.( Comedian Hari Kondabolu has my favorite response to sexists who believe a womans judgement is impaired once a month: Im a man with a penis and testicles, my judgment is impaired every five to seven minutes .)
It wasnt a coincidence, either, that when Politico reported on Clintons illness they described her dizzy spell as swooning a term rarely used to describe men. Even Trumps commentaries that Clinton doesnt have a presidential look signal a particular sexist disdain.
The truth is that the campaign trail is brutal, and running all hours through an illness like Clintons proves strength , not weakness. That we would see it as anything but stamina uncovers a tired double standard. Besides, whats more important right now than an individuals health is the health of our nation. Coughs aside, I think we all know whose hands that would be safer in.
Read more: www.theguardian.com