Clinton is starting to win empathy from the public over Trump’s sexism, but it may not be enough. Almost 85 million people watched last Monday’s debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, making it the most-watched presidential debate in history. For 90 minutes, those 85 million saw Trump interrupt Clinton over and over again. They saw him tell her she does not have the ‘look’ or ‘stamina’ to be President, and shout ‘wrong!’ whenever she revealed something abhorrent he had said, such as “pregnancy is an inconvenience for employers.”
Media consensus seems to be that Clinton won the debate. Certainly, she remained outwardly calm and measured in the face of borderline abuse, and answered each question with a coherent plan and ideology while Trump, on the other hand, became increasingly volatile and agitated when answering difficult questions. This behaviour, however, may not have won either of them many borderline votes, as they both showcased their least favourable qualities to the electorate – Trump lacking the temperament needed to be President, and Clinton appearing, as she is often described, as too cold and unlikeable.
In old interviews with Clinton from the 1970s, she seems like a completely different person. She shuts down sexist remarks with a sharp sassiness that has gradually been ironed out over the years in an attempt to appeal more to the average voter. Even before entering politics she had to develop a tough outer shell, something she talked very openly about in her recent profile in Humans Of New York. Presidential candidates need to be strong, relatable and empowering. But it is very difficult to be relatable and empowering when other Presidents do not look or sound like you, and we see Clinton being held to standards that just are not applied to Trump or other male candidates, such as what she wears, or the ‘shrillness’ of her voice.
The debate may have been a slight turning point on this issue. Countless articles appeared in support of Clinton and the way she stoically dealt with Trump constantly speaking over her, many written by women who recognise this behaviour from men in their own lives. Perhaps this way she is winning empathy from older, middle-class voters, but she still polls surprisingly badly with millennial women, despite supporting issues such as abortion rights, women’s education and the Black Lives Matter campaign. Courtney Weaver described her support from young people as a “coalition of the reluctant” in the Financial Times, which I believe also, rings true on our campus.
It is clear that gender issues will be at the heart of Clinton’s campaign until 8 November, but it is not clear how far this will win her support. Many sexist perceptions of Clinton still persist among the voters, and who knows if there is enough time for her to convince them that she is trustworthy after all. She was up in almost every poll directly following the debate but they have now mostly settled back to being scarily close. Trump, I am sure, will continue to say many more sexist and horrible things, and unfortunately, the electorate will likely continue not to care as much as they should.
Image credit: Gage Skidmore