In fact, after watching the speech myself, I arose while saying to my husband, "I think she did pretty well! But just wait, people are going to be complaining about her facial expressions." You see, after the first few minutes (during which Clinton had smiled almost frantically, in a way that actually did bug me because of its manifest artificiality), Hillary settled back into her own speaking style, complete with occasional frowns and (at the climax of her speech) intense, flashing eyes. Now, don't get me wrong. I"m perfectly aware that, in a male speaker, an air of seriousness and an aura of intensity would be viewed as wholly appropriate, even charismatic. But how often have we heard from pundits that Hillary Clinton should smile more? I was afraid the same criticisms would instantly reappear.
(People all know that the smile originates with apes as a submissive signal, right? We smile, first and foremost, to demonstrate our non-aggression with each other. Friendliness. But we might want to pause before insisting that women, especially, must consistently telegraph their submissiveness. Any other waitresses out there been nudged by older male customers to "smile!" Does this happen to you much, male servers? How about you, white male presidents?)
So, I worried. And I assumed. And I figured today I would look around at responses to Clinton's speech, and easily gather more material nitpicking at her face, voice, clothing, and general demeanor than could possibly be assimilated into a short discussion of sexism in political commentary.
Of course, these sexist, superficial responses do exist. On the Politico page where Hillary's remarks are printed in full, the very first comment (by a woman, no less!) reads, "Why does the poor old hag keep having to clear her throat?"
Um, maybe she's giving a long speech in a large arena and could use a glass of water. Poor old hag.
Unsurprisingly, the conservative press does not leave us without plenty of examples of this crap. The National Review's article about her convention speech called her presentation "her usual hectoring." A commenter on this piece revisited the "hag" meme: "The more Hillary speaks the more her poll numbers drop. Nobody wants a Hag in chief."
Apparently, the press has by now been called out so often for these misogynist attitudes that the National Review felt the need to write a separate defense of why their attacks on Clinton's voice and personality are not sexist. Their next article, "Hillary's Critics Don't Hate Her Because She's a Woman," (subtitle: "They Hate Her Because She's Hillary") begins with the sentence, "Hillary Clinton has a heinous, grating, and dissonant voice." But, the author argues, the fact that he has at times enjoyed the speeches of other women (Michelle Obama; Laura Ingraham; Sarah Palin) makes it impossible for sexism to be present in his critique. Hillary, in his view, is simply uniquely "unappetizing." (Just think about that word choice for a bit. Let's imagine, reader, that you are a Democrat who abhorred George W. Bush. Would you describe him as "unappetizing?" Or would you perhaps choose some other term that did not suggest he was a dish to be consumed?)
So... because Michelle Obama has an amazing talent for smiling widely while she speaks (a fact that I noted on Monday night, and immediately realized that this alone might account for her much greater popularity as First Lady)... does this then mean that requiring successful women to smile while speaking is not sexist? If you enjoy the dulcet tones of some women's speech and find another's to be "hectoring" and "lecturing," indeed "grating" and "heinous" (yet rarely comment on the vocal quality of men's delivery), does this mean that your vocal requirements for women are not sexist?
Or perhaps it's not that you hate women; it's that you hate women who don't act according to your sense of proper womanliness. From the comments section: "Part of why we hate her is because she is not a woman, Her ruthlessness makes Dick Cheney seem like Richard Simmons." So much to unpack here. Why bring poor Richard Simmons into it? With apologies to him, obviously this means "Hillary Clinton is so masculine that she could emasculate a tough guy like Dick Cheney."
Or, one can just keep it simple: "Hillary is as ugly as the bottom of an outhouse pit." Sounds like Trump channeling to me.
Okay, but here's where things get better. Up until now I have been (mostly) citing the articles and comments section of a markedly right-wing publication. Honestly, what would you expect to find? So, my plan for the second half of this piece was to head on over to the liberal blogs, where (in my admittedly outdated experience) plenty of misogynistic Clinton-haters also hang out, and find them saying the Same. Damn. Things.
Only they weren't.
Daily Kos, where I practically lived for 4 years from 2004-2008 (I met my husband there!), can always be counted on to have a substantial and loud contingent who support Hillary, and an equally substantial and loud contingent who support the Other Guy (in 2008, that was Obama; in this case, Bernie). That is still true, I think. But here are some things that the former Bernie supporters were saying about Clinton's speech:
What an amazing week. The four days gave people time to celebrate Bernie and the platform (and Clinton herself) commits to significant progressive priorities that will benefit so many. And I thought her speech last night was her best ever. [...] I'm (still) a Sanders supporter and (also) all in for Hillary.
I thought the convention was an incredible success and I enjoyed watching every minute of it. I am still sad about Bernie’s loss but I plan to volunteer for Hillary, which I was planning to do before the convention. After the convention I know more about Hillary and I’m very proud and excited that we will elect the first woman president in November [...] The speeches were amazing[...] Hillary’s speech was the topper. I’m so proud of her and of this country.
...Hillary has not shoved the left out the door at all. Her speech outlined a very progressive agenda which included a good portion of Bernie’s message along with some ideas as to how to combat income inequality. Hillary heard their voices during the primary, she needs help putting their plans into action and not being shouted down. [...] Protest is important when your voice isn’t heard. Once someone starts to listen, you need to be willing to come to the table with plans.
I was a late comer to the Hilliary campaign, having been a Bernie supporter with the intention of supporting the Democratic nominee should he not prevail. [...] So, I came into the Convention backing Hilliary as the Democratic nominee, not as the first woman nominated by a major party nominee. Yet, as the Convention aired night after night, I found myself in awe of our Party; our diversity, our passion, our determination, our pride in, and love for, our current President & First Family and Vice President & Second Family, our current Presidential & Vice Presidential nominees & their families, and of America, our great country.[...] You guessed it, by the time Chelsea had finished her wonderfully warm and loving introduction of her mother, I was bawling like a baby. I am no longer an unwilling backer of Hilliary Clinton. Deal me in.
I am voting for Hillary, not the lesser of two evils, because my party showed me who she really is, warts and all.
In browsing through hundreds of comments there, I did not see one that referred to Hillary Clinton as a hag or a bitch, or even expressed "concern" about her voice or face or carriage. And I can tell you, THAT IS REAL PROGRESS.
Someone did refer to Megyn Kelly as "a tool," which, while an ad hominem attack, is at least not sexist.
Returning to a broader media scope: I browsed a great many mainstream press pieces about Clinton's acceptance speech. Apart from the National Review, almost all of them focused on the content of her speech. Maybe they were effectively shamed back in March, when even the likes of USA Today pointed out that male pundits were focusing disproportionately on her unfeminine delivery. But, whatever the reason, they have done much better today, and, America, that is something to be proud of.
Maybe this country really is ready for a female president.