Ice queen, bitch or sentimental pushover: Clinton got it all

By Leslie Jorgensen

Mike Barnicle on MSNBC said Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-New York, looked, “like everyone's first wife standing outside a probate court.”

Bill Kristol on Fox News said that among the only people supporting Clinton were white women, and “white women are a problem, that’s, you know — we all live with that.”

Neil Cavuto of Fox News suggested Clinton was “trying to run away from this tough, kind of bitchy image.”

Christopher Hitchens on CNBC described Clinton as being “sort of alternately soppy and bitchy.”

Chris Matthews of MSNBC referred to Clinton as a “she devil,” “witchy” and compared her to a “strip-teaser.” He likened her voice to “fingernails on a blackboard.” He has called her “Madame Defarge” and “Nurse Ratched.”

These are just a few of the sexist and demeaning remarks routinely made about women by men who are TV news hosts, reporters or guests. Matthews has been reprimanded by MSNBC, forced to apologize, protested by National Organization for Women and chastised by Media Matters.

Was it worse in this election cycle? Has this misogynist behavior escalated because a woman ran for president and a woman serves as House Speaker?

“Women, Politics and The Media,” sponsored by the National Women’s Political Caucus explored how women are treated differently than men by journalists, Aug. 26 at Baur’s Ristorante.

For candidates, “it’s more politically acceptable to be sexist than to be racist,” observed Bonnie Erbe, host of To the Contrary on PBS.

In this society, “it’s okay to joke around and say nasty things about women. But if you make a racist remark, you’ll get your head cut off by the media,” said Erbe.

It’s cultural, said Erbe. Men and women have grown up in a society where sexist jokes and remarks are tolerated. However, Erbe said that people have been conditioned to be more sensitive to race and ethnicity.

“Why is it okay to call a presidential candidate by their first name?” asked Irene Natividad, of GlobeWomen, Inc.

In previous election years, Natividad observed that no reporter called Sen. Biden, “Joe,” or Sen. Obama, “Barack.” Yet, she said, they called Clinton, “Hillary.”

By these standards, Natividad said, “It was okay to call a woman candidate by her first name and describe her pantsuits — two things journalists would not do to men. What can be done or should anything be done?”

Madeleine Kunin, former governor of Vermont, addressed many of these issues in her book, “Pearls, Politics and Power.” The first thing Kunin noticed when she became governor was that her predecessors were all men — and, “they were staring down at me from portraits.”

“Because our portraits are different from men, our hairstyles are different, our shoes are different and our pantsuits are of different colors, it becomes the object of fascination,” said Kunin.

She recalled a Washington Post article that reported extensively on Clinton’s cleavage, but said nothing about the views she had expressed. Kunin shrieked, “My God, she’s got breasts!”

“One of the most startling changes in the media is open use of the word ‘bitch,’” said Kunin.

“She’s the stereotypical bitch. You know what I mean? She’s that stereotypical nagging… You know what I mean?” blurted CNN Headline News host Glenn Beck of Clinton during a March 2007 broadcast.

Clinton got hammered by the media until she appeared on Saturday Night Live in a skit coddling Barack Obama, recalled Kunin. “Who knew that Saturday Night Live would be our salvation?”

“Women are capable of gender typing just as much as men,” said Kunin. However, women journalists can be harsher on their peers than men.

During her presidential campaign, Kunin said Clinton was measured by a different standard than men. Clinton had to be tough and strong enough to lead, while remaining feminine and likable.

“Basically the questions are: ’Is she likable?’ ‘Is she the ice queen?’ ‘Is she a policy wonk?’” said Kunin.

At the same time a candidate or politician can’t show too much emotion. Kunin recalled Clinton’s eyes tearing just slightly when a woman asked how she was enduring the primary in New Hampshire.

“Some said she faked it. Others said, including John Edwards, that she’s too emotional to be president,” recalled Kunin.

The joke was on Edwards, Kunin said, because the “New Hampshire women fought back and voted for Hillary Clinton, who won the primary.”

“There was more romance around Barack Obama,” said Eleanor Clift, contributing editor to Newsweek, and that made Obama a more appealing news story than Clinton.