“It’s Her Fault I Attack Her” - Top Five Worst Justifications for Sexism in 2016

By Peter Daou and Tom Watson

With Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina and Donald Trump leading the 2016 presidential race, gender bias in all its ugly permutations is central to this election cycle.

We strive for precise use of language and we diligently avoid the overbroad and dilutive use of ‘isms.’

So let’s begin with definitions:

SEXISM: Prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.

MISOGYNY: Dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against women.

The coverage of Hillary over the summer could serve as dictionary definitions of those two terms. We’ve provided excruciatingly detailed evidence of misogynistic and sexist language used against Hillary. Far too often, we get a set of rote excuses and overblown indignation in response.

We figured it would be helpful to list the top five lamest justifications for gender bias that we’ve seen so far:

#1 “If I don’t say I love her, you call me sexist”

We hear this more than any other response. It is the classic straw man complaint that any criticism of a woman is met with a supposedly unwarranted accusation of sexism. Pro tip: voicing legitimate policy criticisms and verbally assaulting a woman are not the same thing. Describing a woman in dehumanizing terms like "cold, robotic, defiant, imperious and regal" is sexist.

#2 “Some of my best friends are women”

Avoiding biased language against one woman doesn’t give you license to use it against another. Nor does having one woman on a panel of glorified frat boys (hint: Morning Joe) give you cover to chuckle and sneer at a powerful woman. This is typical of Hillary’s critics. They are respectful to certain women but let loose with the vilest attacks against Hillary, asserting that it’s something specific about Hillary that makes them go after her. [See justification #3]

#3 “It’s her fault that I attack her”

How many times have we heard the “why are you making me bash you” approach to Hillary coverage? Headlines like “Hillary fails to put email story to rest” from reporters who have obsessed about nothing but emails for three months (hint: Chris Cillizza). Or: “Hillary is unlikable” from pundits who attack her relentlessly and create the very negativity they blame her for (hint: Maureen Dowd). Or: “If Hillary were only less despicable, we wouldn’t have to attack her all day.” [See justification #4]

#4 “But she really is shrill”

This is a classic excuse, most recently employed by Donald Trump, who called Hillary "shrill" then explained it by saying he used the term because Hillary was obnoxious and loud.

#5 “There’s no such thing as sexism”

This comes in a number of forms – all of which deny the gaping inequality between men and women. A perfect example goes something like this: “Why should we treat women any differently from men? We would call [INSERT MALE CANDIDATE] scheming, crafty, polarizing, monstrous, etc. if he were as awful as Hillary.”

As we’ve repeated time and again, all we ask for is fair and honest coverage and commentary. Instead Hillary has gotten lies, innuendo, slander, smears, obsessive coverage of a single issue, destructive framing, and endless negative spin.

If not for sexism, which candidate would be called a liar by virtually every major media outlet based on a thoroughly discredited and dishonest poll? Which candidate would have the paper of record simply concoct bad stories and spread them across the globe?

Yes, misogyny and sexism are alive and well in 2016. The gender barrier is standing strong.

Hopefully, not for long.


Peter Daou and Tom Watson founded #HillaryMen to provide actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics. Peter is a former senior digital adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative. He is a veteran of two presidential campaigns (Kerry '04 and Clinton '08). Tom is an author and Columbia University lecturer who advises companies and non-profits on social activism.