The inevitable Hillary

The inevitable Hillary Clinton
The inevitable Hillary Clinton (Photo: Marcio Jose Sanchez, AP)

It’s been two weeks since the story broke and I still can’t get it out of my head. Most likely because I’ve spent a few years of my life — 30 or so — working with words. They intrigue me.

So here’s my question to you: What do the following words and phrases have in common? (And if you saw the New York Times story, you can’t play.)

polarizing, calculating, disingenuous, insincere, ambitious, inevitable, entitled, over-confident, secretive, will do anything to win, represents the past, out of touch 

My thought was that they’ve been used to describe just about every politician I’ve ever heard of. But apparently I was mistaken. They are “sexist code words.” At least that’s what the HRC Super Volunteers said when they issued a statement warning media to stop using these sexist code words to describe their candidate, HIllary Rodham Clinton. They warned that they’ll be “watching, reading, listening and protesting coded sexism” in the media.

Sexist code words. Really? When my son first told me about the story, I imagined words like bitch, witch, slut, tease, etc. You know, gender-specific stuff. Admittedly those aren’t exactly code words; they’re rather obvious. But the forbidden words are certainly not gender-specific. At least not in my book. Ted Cruz is polarizing. Rand Paul is ambitious, insincere, and disingenuous. Ted Kennedy was entitled and inevitable. Mitt Romney was over-confident, out of touch, and entitled. Jeb Bush is entitled and represents the past. George Bush was calculating, insincere, and willing to do anything to win. Chris Christie is calculating and secretive. Anyway, you get the point.

Poor Hillary just can’t catch a break. (Er, I’ve also read somewhere that I can no longer call her HIllary because it’s disrespectful. Sorry ’bout that, Hill.) The group that issued the Dirty Dozen list, if it actually exists, is not affiliated with the still-unofficial Clinton campaign, so their little foray into linguistics was just another embarrassment for HIllary Mrs. Clinton. On the other hand, maybe “they” were a Clinton trial balloon that got shot down …

As a follow-up to our discussion, my son called yesterday to ask if, since Mrs. Clinton reportedly has drafted her announcement about running for president and will issue it this weekend, we can now call her “inevitable.”

Yeah, I think so.


14 thoughts on “The inevitable Hillary

  1. You’ve entirely missed the context. When negative adjectives are applied to women, and positive adjectives are used for men performing identical behaviors, that’s sexist coding. It’s not the words themselves. It’s why they are selected. Using gender specific terms (or pejoratives) is the opposite of coding.

    Mrs Clinton has plenty of negatives that are unrelated to sexism, but most women in positions that used to be only held by men still do have to fight sexism exhibited by people who dislike any kind of change in the traditional status of genders.

    1. I understand context. But who’s applied positive adjectives to Hillary’s male counterparts? Not me. Or didn’t you notice my examples? The forbidden negative words apply equally to male and female and are selected and used when and for whom they are applicable. If Hillary wants to slug it out with male opponents and be treated as an equal, she should be prepared to take the same heat (and same adjectives) that the men take. Giving her special treatment (exempting her from unflattering adjectives) because she’s a woman is just as sexist as attacking her with sexist language. The “HRC Super Volunteers” did her a disservice by issuing this list.

      And yes, I know the difference between code words and blatant pejoratives. I just couldn’t think of any legitimate sexist code words for Hillary.

  2. I’m with Invisible Mikey on this one. While I agree we should scrutinize (and describe) Clinton just as much (and accurately) as any other candidate, we need to be sure to give her a fair shot. Politics is still very much a male-dominated arena. I would not put it past any of her opponents to use sexism (in all its forms) against her.

    1. I’ll give her a fair shot. I’ll be just as critical or complimentary of her as of any other candidate. But I refuse to give her any special breaks just because she’s a woman. And I don’t believe she wants or expects any.

  3. To be fair, since the press continues to insist on calling her husband “President Bill Clinton”, shouldn’t they be calling her “First Lady Hillary Clinton”?

      1. I did think it’s customary to continue to call someone by the highest title they’ve had. (Never liked it because once you’re out of office, it’s not your title anymore; it’s someone else’s.) But anyway, that custom might apply only to elected officials. I’m not sure. But it seems to me she’d be addressed as Madame Secretary and identified as Secretary Clinton. I’m not sure First Lady has ever been anything more than sort of an honorific. I’d need a current stylebook to make a definitive ruling on this.

  4. I don’t know for sure, but if you are going to be relevant today and be in step with the modern masses and considered approachable then being on first name basis might not be a bad thing. Hillary works for me. Clinton confuses her with the husband. Hillary also puts her a bit closer to personable AND authoritative like Oprah. Madame makes her old and out of touch. Secretary brings to mind not only the successes but the failures of office. So the most usable name, from a PR perspective is Hillary. Calling her Hill or Hillz (as the kidz might) is rather condescending and would not be appropriate at all.
    As for the unflattering adjectives, if you consider Whitewater, the failures during her tenure as Secretary of State, and the Great Email Debacle of 2015 then that is just a bunch of people whining because she is being called out. The fact that she is a politician leaves her open to those descriptions, NOT the fact that she is a woman. Calling it sexist is just a ploy to obfuscate.

    1. I agree “Hillary” sounds more approachable than anything else and I think she has used it and does use it in her campaign material. If anything, I suspect some of her competitors are jealous of that name recognition. She’s a tough, experienced politician and is more than prepared for any attacks that come her way. That’s why I said above that the people who put out the forbidden word list did her a disservice.

  5. Oh yes, they are coded sexist terms. They left out “overbearing,” one of my old bosses favs. David worked in her campaign, and I was distraught when she lost to the novice now in the White House. Will she be better at governing? That’s the question. Right now I’m looking at governors like Jeb Bush, whom I have liked for a long time. Could I vote for him against Hillary, I don’t know.

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