It should come to no surprise to anyone socially aware and involved in American politics that its political system is not only flawed, but overwhelmingly male-dominated. It was not until the 2016 election that a woman won the nomination for a major party candidacy, although many trailblazing women such as Shirley Chisholm, Carol Moseley Braun, and Margaret Chase Smith have tried in elections past. When thinking about the question, "How did gender play a role in the 2016 presidential election", it is easy to quickly jump to a fact such as this one. Looking at the newly major introduction of gender into the world of presidential politics is clear But it is important to take a moment and think, has it become deeper than that?
The 2016 Presidential Election
Donald Trump's Performance of Gender
In late 2016, when this 2005 video of Trump talking about how he could do "anything" he wants because he's a "star", even forcing himself onto unsuspecting women and grabbing "them by the p***y", news outlets quickly ran to cover the story. Every media outlet was writing about it, many major politicians were tweeting about it, and the country was watching. The video evoked emotions on opposite sides of the political, and gender, spectrum. Some felt offended by Trump's words, acting frightened by the fact that a man who was close to running the country would spew such misogynistic, borderline hate, speech. On the other side, those who stood by Trump through this scandal felt as though his words were just "locker room talk", and that a few harsh words between guy pals was not doing harm to anyone.
How does this relate to the performance of gender in politics, and even just in men in general? Masculinity is based in strength, dominance, power, and confidence, among many other things. By saying his fame is an excuse to let him do whatever he pleases, he is exuding this such confidence. He is assured that his actions and words are protected by his bank account and name, which leads to the category of power. In a capitalistic society such as America, the amount of money a person has is a big factor in determining how others view them and look up to them. Even before the 2016 election, Donald Trump was a household name due to his hotels, casinos, businesses, and television show. Trumps shows that he feels as if he holds power over all women around him, by implying that he would not have to do anything to impress them, and that they would just kiss him with no questions asked. He believes women fall for him immediately, and he has the power to lure in "the pretty ones". This then leads into the idea of holding dominance over others, usually over women, as a way of proving masculinity.
Hillary Clinton Performing Gender, Not Even Just Her Own
When it comes to examining Clinton's display of gender, it becomes a bit less simple than Trump's. His gender performance was expected from the gender he identifies as, and many people would not be shocked to see a man acting masculine and exuding dominance and confidence. Women are typically looked towards as being gentle, kind, caring, and nurturing, but since major party politicians have almost been exclusively men, politicians are expected to uphold the strong, dominant, powerful, and confident aspects of masculinity. This leads women politicians, Hillary Clinton in this case, to an impasse. Are they expected to perform their gender? Or should they act like a "politician" and display facets from the other side of the gender spectrum?
In a study conducted at Michigan State University, researchers had women use traits to describe themselves as both masculine and feminine and were evaluated by others to see which set of traits would get them hypothetically hired by a random person. The study found that women who used the more masculine traits, such as assertiveness and independence, were chosen more often over those who described themselves as warm and supporting. Ann-Marie Ryan, the co-author of this research study, stated, "We found that ‘manning up’ seemed to be an effective strategy, because it was seen as necessary for the job".
As shown in the header image, Hillary Clinton was pictured holding up a pair of boxing gloves during the 2012 election, trying to show her toughness and ability to fight. In this instance, she was trying to conform to the nation-wide idea of what a politician should look and act like. She is also known for her speaking voice, the one in which many people like to refer to as shrill. She usually speaks loudly, sternly, and gets to the point, all of which would typically be signs of a strong public speaker in politics. In a video done by The Atlantic, a sound and hearing researcher describes that although Hillary's voice is at a normal frequency for a woman at her age, we perceive it differently based on what we are used to expecting as a woman's voice, e.g. the breathy, soft tone of Marilyn Monroe. Here is where Hillary comes to yet another impasse, where she is stuck between being expected to not be too feminine in her political standing while also not being too masculine in her speaking and actions.
A constant comment that any anti-Hillary, or even anti-political person has to make when speaking about the 2016 election is that of each time Hillary has lied, and how it has become hard to trust her. In an "article" by the National Review, Jonah Goldberg coins two new terms, Clintoning and To Clinton. He refers to these terms as meaning someone who flip-flops in their ideas in policies, can't make up their mind, and is "unapologetically a liar". It is easy to look at Clinton and make these remarks, since they seem to be the only problematic events being focused on in the media. It is easy to count off each "scandal" of the Clinton administration and Clinton herself. The emails were never off of the news, Benghazi is still brought up four years later, and it seems as though Clinton can never escape from the actions of her husband. Many media outlets publicly demonize Clinton at every turn, but seem to lose this political characteristic when it comes to Trump. This is clearly shown when looking at how quickly the locker room talk video was dismissed, and when reading all across news articles and social media that it was nothing more than that - locker room talk and boys being boys.
The 2016 election was one that will never be forgotten, and was certainly one heavily influenced by gender. American's saw men acting like men, and women acting like men, while still trying to be women. Although many believe that performing gender is important in politics, it almost seems as if they're expecting these people to perform not only gender, but specifically masculinity. When viewing the outcome of the 2016 election, it is hard to say if the end result was caused directly by gender. It was a common notion for people to say "Well I just can't bring myself to vote for Hillary! She's a liar!" while Trump was on the other side of the gender spectrum lying as well, with no recognition. This shows that although America likes to believe it is becoming more and more progressive over time, there is still much work to be done when it comes down to the perception of politicians regarding their gendered performances.