Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Five Stages of Grief: My Evolution as a Feminist Sports Fan

I grew up watching and playing sports. NFL, NCAA, and other acronyms were a normal part of my vocabulary. But as I’ve become an adult, I’ve struggled to find my place in a sports world designed to highlight male athletes and cater only to male sports fans’ every desire. Could I be a feminist and still watch my favorite sports? Was I a bad feminist if I didn’t watch the WNBA?


Sure, there are problems in other sports leagues, with other athletes, but MY teams are fine...right? When I was a freshman at USC, one of our quarterbacks was arrested on rape charges. The charges were (of course) dropped and the story has been largely forgotten as his career progressed from college to pro.

This was the first time that I truly saw the sexist vitriol and victim-blaming implicit in media coverage of athlete sexual assault cases and it shook me – because I could sense myself needing to believe that Mark Sanchez was innocent, could feel myself being vindicated by the media coverage that encouraged and enhanced that belief, casting doubt on the victim’s claims from the second the story broke. In retrospect, not a proud moment to remember defending an alleged rapist.


The next time an athlete on one of my teams was accused of sexual assault, I was more prepared for the press and social media bias – and this time it was even worse. Six years had passed since the Sanchez case in 2006, and the sports “blogosphere” had evolved (devolved?) considerably. Just one sample headline from this incident? “Sexual Assault Allegations Against Drew Doughty? F*ck That.”*

The spread of blogs and social media coverage by nonprofessional, mostly male (and white) authors had created an incredibly hostile atmosphere for female sports fans and writers. I stopped reading blogs that I had been used to reading daily, disgusted and angered as the coverage of the incident devolved until the athlete was, as frustratingly inevitably seems to happen in these cases, cleared of all charges.


But was I done being a sports fan? Of course not. I'd just watched my team win their first Stanley Cup! Life was good! Instead, I entered the bargaining phase. Surely, I thought, it was OK to still watch sports if I spent the rest of my time continuing to donate to Planned Parenthood and fighting gender discrimination in my workplace. My feelings about sports during this phase are almost perfectly summed up by this so-true-it-hurts piece from The Onion (“Woman Takes Short Half-Hour Break From Being Feminist To Enjoy TV Show”):

“Honestly, it’s pretty exhausting to call out every sexist stereotype or instance of misogyny in popular culture, so sometimes I have to just throw my hands up and grant myself a little time off,” Jenkins said. “And given the state of modern media, momentarily suspending my feminist ideals is the only way to get through a night of TV without becoming totally livid or discouraged.”

I made it several years using this mechanism, simply tuning out all the many problematic aspects of professional sports and turning my feminist switch off whenever I turned the TV on.


Then Ray Rice was only suspended by the NFL for an insulting, measly, sickening two games after knocking his wife unconscious (on camera, no less). Then one of my teams chose to keep a player on their roster after he pled no contest to domestic abuse against his wife. Yes, they wanted to continue to associate the LA Kings name with someone who “punched [his wife] in the jaw, choked her three times, pushed her to the ground, kicked her and shoved her into the corner of a flat-screen TV.”**

Around this time, I found myself actively avoiding sports. I stopped playing fantasy football. I cancelled my cable subscription. I no longer set my schedule around LA Kings games.

Yet here I am today, writing this blog post with the NHL All-Star Game on in the background. What changed?


I learned to accept and appreciate sports for what they are. I started following feminist bloggers who called out the sexist garbage. I also recognized that the major professional sports leagues will never care about their female audience if we all turn off the TV. If we keep watching, keep caring, keep protesting, then maybe things will change. And things are slowly changing for the better. Just in the past two years, I’ve seen one of the most popular hockey blogs promptly fire a writer after news broke of his sexual harassment, begin regular coverage of the new National Women’s Hockey League, and manage to professionally cover a star’s sexual assault charges while calling out the victim-blaming seen elsewhere – all of which would have been inconceivable not too long ago. And all of which I credit to the growing outcry by female fans and bloggers about sexism and misogyny in sports.

Are sports in America perfect? No. Are the pay, sponsorship, and media coverage disparities between men’s and women’s sports problematic? Absolutely. Will the Budweiser commercials next week during the Super Bowl be misogynistic garbage? Almost certainly. But despite all this, I still love sports and I’m proud to call myself a feminist sports fan, because I know I’m part of a community of women fighting for our right to be included in this space.

*I refuse to link to this blog because they don’t deserve the traffic. I also prefer to spare my reading audience from the content of that “article,” let alone the comments. If you’re really curious, there’s always Google.

**Yes, the player in question was eventually voluntarily deported to his home country of Russia, terminating his contract. But the Kings still made sure to retain his NHL rights should he return to the U.S.

Friday, January 29, 2016

If Roxane Gay is a "Bad Feminist," Then so am I

This post is part book review/part communication manifesto. Roxane Gay’s 2014 collection of essays, Bad Feminist, is undoubtedly one of the best books that I’ve read in the last year. Gay, whose work has been featured on countless media outlets, and in 3 published books, now teaches creative and professional writing at Eastern Illinois University.

When I first picked up this book, the glaring pink letters, BAD FEMINIST, almost seemed accusatory. But it doesn’t take more than a few pages to dig into the deep, messy complexion of that title. In a TED Talk last year, Gay plainly unpacked what exactly she means when she calls herself a “bad feminist.” Mainstream feminism, she says, has become an exclusive and unattainable pillar of perfection, to which the average women, nay, the average feminist, shamefully cannot measure up.

Gay has long identified as a feminist, and has done a lot of work to further the cause. However, she also admits to many classic “no-no’s,” like singing along to extremely offensive rap music, watching shows like The Bachelor, and occasionally faking orgasms. To the extent that Gay doesn’t always practice what she preaches, she unapologetically embraces the title of “bad feminist.” And this is precisely why I am so in love with her writing. The more elitist and idyllic feminism becomes, the more women, as imperfect humans, feel they cannot identify with feminism. As Gay says in her TED Talk, “bad feminism” is really just “inclusive feminism.”

A central theme in Bad Feminist is communication: how women communicate with each other, how feminists communicate with everyone else, and how society communicates around important issues. Her use of the phrase “bad feminist” is just the beginning of, what I see, as a major shift in the greater-feminism conversation. We need to move as far away as possible from the notion that feminism, and other social justice movements for that matter, is an exclusive club for educated, straight, perfectly-anti-patriarchy, white women.

In one of the essays from Bad Feminist, “How to be Friends with Another Woman,” Gay provides a witty, but tremendously helpful, guide to navigating female relationships. However, I would take it a step further and claim that several of these rules are directly applicable to learning the art of “How to Talk About Feminism without Being Elitist.” Really, it’s very simple. It all comes down to balancing honesty, criticism, jealousy and anger, with compassion, understanding, and a common goal to building each other up. We feminists are so quick to judge and attach. What if we employed some of the most basic communication skills that we teach pre-schoolers? Put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Treat others how you want to be treated.

The whole point of Bad Feminist is this: flawed feminism is still feminism. A fear of perfection or criticism is no reason to shy away from the label. And on the other side of the coin, imperfection and mistakes are not reasons to exclude someone who wishes to identify as a feminist, or learn more about the movement. One thing unites us all, and that is Gay’s favorite definition of feminism: “women who don’t want to be treated like shit.”

If Roxane Gay is a “bad feminist,” in the way that she so eloquently describes it, then so am I. I am human, I am flawed, I am full of contradictions and imperfections. I often do not practice what I preach. But I still believe, to the depths of my soul, in equality for all women, and for all people. As Gay said herself, “I would rather be a bad feminist than no feminist at all.”

#MasculinitySoFragile and the Gendering of Consumer Products

The “pink tax” refers to the the sexist pricing policies of many consumer products. These products are either produced exclusively for women’s use (such as tampons or pads) or are products which both men and women use that tend to cost more when they are marketed towards women (including shaving cream, pain relievers, antiperspirants, and razors). According to a Forbes article in 2012, gendered pricing causes women to pay an extra $1,351 per year in extra costs. 

While this unequal pricing is outrageous and unfair, it also illustrates the unnecessary gendering of many products. While women pay for such gendering (both figuratively and literally) recently the internet has become fascinated with "feminine" products being marketed to "masculine" men. Instead of making razors pink and putting flowers on deodorant containers, this type of product gendering is making loofahs dark blue and calling them a "men's mesh sponge" or making soap "MAN SIZED." 

This overcorrection meant to protect men's "manliness" when purchasing supposedly feminine products has led to the hashtags #MasculinitySoFragile and #FragileMasculinity

These platforms were originally used to point out the absurdity of many of the products being sold which are being needlessly gendered so men do not feel less "manly" when purchasing them. This hashtag has expanded to services as well as products. There is now even man-therapy, which is advertised as "[t]herapy from the creators of pork chops and fighter jets."

These hashtags are also attempting to call attention to the concept of toxic masculinity, which puts men down for expressing their emotions or engaging in activities some consider to be too feminine. This toxic masculinity seems to be at least one motivating factor for the attempted male gendering of "feminine" products.

Eventually this hashtag moved from simply discussing products to calling out how toxic masculinity causes "real men" to prove themselves by, among other  behaviors, disrespecting women, making sure not to express outward emotion, or saying "no homo" when they show affection to other men. It is these such insecurities about masculinity that advertisements and product marketing attempt to capitalize on.

As expected (since the internet is full of people with both different opinions and sexist ideas) there was a backlash against these hashtags and the problems that they were trying to call attention to. Instead of realizing that a majority of these hashtags were attempting to critique the unnecessary gendering of products and the toxic masculinity that produced them, these responses largely claimed that #MasculinitySoFragile was just crazy and aggressive feminists attempting to emasculate men.

Instead of proving how "strong" masculinity is and how weak, aggressive and/or crazy feminists are, these responses simply reenforce that toxic masculinity has negative effects for both men and women. While attempting to make it more widely acceptable for men to buy loofahs or purchase a pink iPhone may seem like plugging a tiny hole in a dam with thousands of leaks, getting rid of the idea of "feminine" and "masculine" products may help to diminish the hold toxic masculinity currently has. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Thoughts on women in science fiction

I don’t think it would be controversial to say that science fiction, adventure, and fantasy in popular culture and literature are male-dominated. By male-dominated, I don't mean "more men are interested in this than women." Rather, I mean, that men are disproportionately represented in science-fiction. Simply put, most of the lead characters are men.

Or at least, speaking from my own experience, I felt that disconnect as I was growing up.  Xena and X-Men’s Rogue were 2 of very few sci-fi/fantasy heroines that I could reference at the time. Otherwise, it’s no surprise that I had to pick the Green/White Power Ranger and Captain America – both white male characters – as my favorites because white men were all that pop culture had to give me.

There is an sci-fi/adventure trope that annoyingly persists today: Average Man becomes the “chosen one” after being mentored by a Skilled Woman who has been training for this task her entire life. In a matter of weeks (often conveyed by a cheesy training montage), Average Man becomes even more skilled than Skilled Woman and beats all of the bad guys. Oh, and by the end, Skilled Woman falls in love with Average Man. (see: The Lego Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy, both starring Chris Pratt).

Never mind the fact that Skilled Woman could have easily gotten the job done herself. That’s the story I would rather have.

Hence, why the latest Star Wars movie is that much more refreshing. Rey, the quarterstaff-wielding scavenger heroine, has survived the harsh desert of fictional planet Jakku her entire life. She learned how to fight and become an excellent pilot. Several cues in the movie destroy the usual man-saves-damsel-in-distress construct, showing Rey to be more than capable of defending herself (and arguably doing an even better job of that than everyone around her). And despite such hardship, remains hopeful and committed to justice.

The fact that little girls get to grow up watching this kind of story makes me happy.

And yet we still have some pushback.

In recent news, we have seen toy manufacturers scrambling to release more merchandise relating to Rey. Most of the merchandise released, even after the movie had been out for a week, included only the movie’s masked villain, Kylo Ren.[1]  Widespread outcry led to the trending hashtag #wheresrey, prompting toy manufacturers to change up their game.

There is also some internal resistance from the males in the sci-fi/fantasy community. Shortly after the movie was released, fans debated whether or not Rey was a “Mary Sue,” or, simply, too perfect of a character to be believable or interesting. These fans conveniently overlook the fact that many of their male favorites fit such a description (the male equivalent, a “Gary Stu”) more accurately. [1]

And so it’s clear that battles are fought on several fronts; not only must women push to feature as the lead in sci-fi/fantasy stories, but we must also justify why we are there and push to be advertised as much as a male lead would. We must fight to establish that we belong in a place we should never have been excluded from.  

The point of science fiction and fantasy is that you’re supposed to imagine alternate universes beyond the constraints of present reality. It’s where you can have superpowers. Present reality gives me too much of the Average Man - I really don't need to see him everywhere in science fiction. 


[1] Anecdote: I saw more merchandise for masked, unnamed Stormtroopers than I did for the movie's lead character.

[2] Nerd commentary: Rey’s skills in piloting, combat, and engineering make sense because she scavenges for ship parts and has lived on her own for years. People conveniently overlook the fact that Anakin Skywalker a) was born without a father and entirely from The Force and b) accidentally flew a Naboo fighter jet into a Trade Federation command station, destroying it when nobody else could do so. 

Monday, January 25, 2016

Coming to own my feminista Latina pride

Until my mid-twenties, I did not identify as a feminist. Growing up as a person of color and the daughter of non-English speaking immigrants, the concept of “feminism” seemed foreign to me. I was fifteen when I first heard the term, and it appeared to me then that the only class of women who loudly self-identified as feminists were white women like Gloria Steinem. I did not see women of color jumping on the feminist bandwagon. 

I have long been aware that feminists have always advocated for issues that directly affect me as a woman. But throughout my teens and my early twenties I became convinced that the issues of sexism and job pay inequality were white women’s issues. This impression was largely due to the fact that I felt a barrier separating white women and women of color like myself.  

I did not feel that feminists were speaking about issues that women of color like me face every day.  While women of color face sexism, we also face racism and are underrepresented in both higher education and professional jobs. Statistics show that Latinas and Black women are grossly underrepresented in higher education. Among females between the ages of 25 and 34 in 2010, 23% of Black women and 16% of Latinas had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 42% of white women.

In addition to this sense of a division among women based on race/ethnicity, I had also internalized messages from my culture that being a feminist was bad. Coming from a Latino background, I was taught to be conservative, quiet, and complacent. To my parents, the idea of me shaving my legs at the age of thirteen was ludicrous. I was accused of being too “liberal” like “las gabachas” (the white girls) at my school.  The liberal label in my parent’s home was basically the equivalent of whore.  

Moreover, the Latino media dubbed any women who spoke negatively about men as men-haters. The media criticized Latina women who expressed their negative experiences, thoughts, and feelings about men, including Mexican singer Paquita la del Barrio whose songs likened men to rats, for being too blunt and harsh. I had come to believe in the messages I received that being a feminist meant being a liberal man-hating woman.

It was not until I turned 24 that I began to change my views on the feminist movement and identify as a feminist. One instance was when, six months into a new job, I found out that my hourly pay was $2.00 less than a male co-worker who started working around the time I did. I felt it was really unfair, especially when this co-worker frequently missed work and I had not missed a day during that time period. From this and other experiences, I began to see how feminism was more about supporting all women across all racial and ethnic lines.  

I feel that the feminist movement can be successful and increase its momentum if feminists become conscious that it is not a homogenous group. Racism is a factor among others that must also be addressed because it is intertwined with sexism.  

Last year, when Patricia Arquette’s Oscar speech addressed gender pay inequality, I felt she was brave to have used a public forum as the Academy Awards to draw attention to a persistent issue. But I quickly became disappointed in her later comments to the press when she said, “It’s time for all the women in America, and all the men that love women and all the gay people and all the people of color that we’ve all fought for to fight for us now.” For me it was a reminder of one of the many instances where women of color are forgotten as being part of the feminist movement.  Where the face of feminist causes is still seen as primarily white.

My hope as a feminist is to have the opportunities to bring forth the perspectives of women of color when it comes to identifying and addressing women’s issues. After all, as women we all experience to a degree a form of discrimination. We cannot succeed when half of us are held back.” (Quote from Malala Yousafzai's U.N. Speech on July 12, 2013).   

Planned Parenthood: part of the establishment?

In a recent interview with Rachel Maddow, Bernie Sanders announced that he is "taking on the establishment." This would not have been that shocking, or even really newsworthy, except that in doing so, he implied that Planned Parenthood is part of the "establishment."

Both Hillary Clinton and Planned Parenthood were quick to respond via Twitter.

Sander's comment came shortly after Planned Parenthood officially endorsed Hillary Clinton. This is the first time Planned Parenthood has ever endorsed a candidate in the presidential primary. Technically, the endorsement is from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund (PPAF).

PPAF is a non-profit, which is and is not separated from the Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA). While PPFA is the system of healthcare clinics around the country, PPAF works on public education, advocacy, and electoral activity to support the mission of Planned Parenthood. However, many people just believe both of these organizations are one group, and that draws a lot of criticism from both opponents of choice and those deeply committed to choice. To further complicate the relationship, Cecile Richards is president of both organizations.

Many reproductive justice organizations led by women of color have expressed frustration and disappointment with the political agenda of Planned Parenthood and it's lack of support for smaller, more grass-root organizations. Additionally, many small, independent women's health clinics often feel it is difficult to compete with Planned Parenthood, which has become a household name synonymous with birth control and abortion access. And now, we have a presidential candidate condemning Planned Parenthood for being part of "the establishment."

Should the organizations be separated? Is Planned Parenthood a part of America's political problems?

While I see the frustration organizations may have with Planned Parenthood, Planned Parenthood also bears the brunt for contraceptive and abortion access. It is a well-established organization (although not without demons in its closet) and the integration of PPAF seems vital to the survival of not only PPFA, but all women's health clinics. There may not be many other large health organizations with a specific political action team, but there are also no other healthcare providers that face as much opposition as Planned Parenthood.

Just today, Planned Parenthood made headlines when a Texas grand jury cleared all allegations of misconduct against Planned Parenthood and instead indicted David Daleiden (from right here in Davis, CA) of the Center for Medical Progress on felony charges of tampering with governmental records. However, the Planned Parenthood video scandal was only one of countless attacks on Planned Parenthood and the women it serves. Just this past year, there was the Colorado clinic shooting and four arson attempts on Planned Parenthood clinics. 

Whether or not you agree that Planned Parenthood should have a political action team, what is more important is that Planned Parenthood's clinics continue to provide their services to countless citizens that depend on them. Bernie Sanders's negative affiliation of Planned Parenthood with the "establishment" that he wants to take down was most likely just an ill-spoken comment. However, as many Americans are more familiar with Planned Parenthood as a local health clinic than a political machine, his words have the effect of bolstering even more hostility against a national organization that has worked for years to protect women and women's health. Going forward, it would be preferable to see more transparency from both Planned Parenthood and political candidates as to what area of the organization they are referencing.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

The future is female: feminism as (wearable) cultural capital

Feminism is entering has entered the mainstream. As more and more celebrities and cultural icons are identifying as feminist, the movement (or at least the f-word) is evolving from a once-abhorred dirty word, to a cultural cool-points badge. Quite simply, being a feminist is now, officially, cool. And wearable.

At the end of 2015, a feminist pop culture controversy broke out on the Internet over a t-shirt. The t-shirt features the slogan “THE FUTURE IS FEMALE” in block print. The slogan is catchy, and the t-shirt is similar to many modern-day t-shirts featuring popular phrases and expressions. However, the shirt has a historic past and a contentious present.

In 1975, Liza Cowan photographed lesbian folk singer Alix Dobkin wearing the slogan on a t-shirt. The shirt was designed for Labrys Books, the first women’s bookstore in New York City, and the photo was a part of a slideshow entitled “What the Well Dressed Dyke Will Wear.”

Flash forward to 2015, when Rachel Berks, owner of the queer design studio Otherwild, saw the photo and was inspired to recreate the t-shirt as homage to the original design. The Otherwild website describes the slogan as “an empowering statement for all, as female-identified bodies and rights remain under attack."

The t-shirt became wildly popular, with a celebrity following including Lena Dunham and St. Vincent. Model Cara Delevingne bought one of the shirts and then allegedly ripped off the design and began selling copies of the shirt to benefit the organization Girl Up. Berks responded over Instagram, and the media buzzed over the feud. However, in all of the coverage of the dispute, from Otherwild’s statement, to the New York Times, to Cosmopolitan, Dobkin and the slogan’s controversial, gender-essentialist, and transphobic history was neglected.

Alix Dobkin is a staunch second wave feminist, and a Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist. Dobkin has a history of being strongly opposed to trans-inclusion in the LGBTQ movement and has participated in trans-exclusion at the notorious Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. In 2015, Dobkin co-authored an article for the website Gender Identity Watch, titled "The Erasure of Lesbians." In the article Dobkin states, "apparently anyone can collude with the medical/pharmaceutical industry, declare himself a woman, and find acceptance as such almost everywhere. Except for a few Lesbian/feminist holdouts, transsexuals have leaped forward on the civil rights agenda and become the latest cause of the LGBTQ community, often to the detriment of Lesbians.” Given her beliefs, she makes a strange icon for contemporary feminists today.

In fact her beliefs are directly contradictory to a statement on Otherwild's website:
Inflexibile and compulsory sexual and gender binaries are used to oppress and deny people their humanity and agency. Otherwild believes in an inclusive, expanded and fluid notion of gender expression, identities and feminisms. We support liberation, embrace our trans sisters, and call for the end of patriarchal ideology, domination, oppression and violence.
Perhaps Berks was unaware of Dobkin’s contradictory political beliefs when she chose to recreate her t-shirt. Or, perhaps, she thought the shirt just looked cool, and its history did not matter. Surely, Delevingne was unaware of the shirt’s history and its wearer’s beliefs.

In the advent of pop feminism, when everyone from Taylor Swift to Carly Fiorina is a feminist, feminism must be more than a bandwagon, or a way to claim cultural capital. As Jessica Valenti questioned in her 2014 article, “if everyone is a feminist, is anyone?” Valenti suggests that “maybe doing the work of feminism is more important than identifying as a feminist. After all, [sic] word isn’t just an identity – it’s a movement. It’s something that you do.”

It can be powerful to have celebrity allies in movement building, but pop culture’s embrace of feminism needs to be broader than a trendy shirt and girl power ideology – it needs to be introspective, intersectional and evolving.

In defense of Hillary Clinton...

I am a Hillary Clinton supporter. And as this election cycle progresses, I become more militantly so. At times I feel like her personal defender—a sense of obligation I haven’t quite placed (and that Hillary probably doesn’t need). I did not anticipate this moral crusade, and I certainly didn’t feel this way during the 2008 election cycle. But in 2008, I did not fully respect the potential of a woman in the White House, nor the extra barriers she faces.

I’m not infuriated by blatantly sexist comments. Nor am I infuriated by the incessant talk of Hillary’s “damn emails” or Benghazi. I’m most angry when I sense sexism lurking beneath the surface but can’t grab hold or point it out. That lingering feeling that something else is going on infuriates me. When I look at the big picture, when I take into account conversations with friends and family and public portrayals of Hillary, I conclude that sexism is at least partly responsible for the public’s unwillingness to warm up to her.

The “Hillary defender” emerges when I see friends characterize Bernie Sanders as a huggable, supremely likable leader while characterizing Hillary as a calculating, heartless hag. I hesitate to bring up the Hillary/Bernie divide as it can distract from my main concern here—that sexism plays a role in the anti-Hillary sentiment. I understand and respect why someone would support Bernie over Hillary. But the liberal (not to mention conservative) vehemence directed towards Hillary cannot, in my mind, be explained by her past or her policies alone. She is, after all, incredibly qualified as a longtime health care reformer, advocate for women and children, and a former Senator and Secretary of State.

In an article titled “Hillary Clinton supporters: it is OK to care about gender on the ballot,” the author explains that a candidate’s gender is a legitimate consideration—especially given the dismal number of women in public office. Discussion exploded in the comments section, with commenters claiming the article is sexist for suggesting that a vote for Hillary could be based on her gender. Apparently they didn’t read the article, or just missed the point. The article specifically addresses this issue adding that, “[an] absurd conclusion…is that if gender plays any role in a woman’s vote, it must be her sole litmus test.”

The public comments also overwhelmingly claim Hillary is unelectable and, generally, a bad person—much of the fervent opposition coming from Bernie supporters. Again, I understand the pro-Bernie arguments. But I can’t recall any other fellow Democrat receiving the same constant flack from members of her own party. Consider the 2004 Presidential Primary—did you see this relentless berating and level of criticism mounted by progressives against Howard Dean, John Edwards, or John Kerry? No.

A recent, New York Post article—tellingly titled “Awkward, pandering spectacle of Hillary Clinton trying to ‘be real’”—includes many other egregious, not-yet-played-out criticisms of Hillary. The article responds to an informal interview between Hillary and women from the Lifetime TV network. In the interview, Hillary discusses her mother’s encouragement; the importance of women standing up to criticism in prejudicial workplaces; and finally, the difficulty of processing emotions as a female politician—having to express yourself without triggering negative gender stereotypes. The author, obviously missing this last point, claims Hillary “squealed” in excitement at speaking to the interviewer (I don’t hear a squeal, but listen for yourself at 8:27). Frustratingly, Hillary must also contend with criticism that she is incapable of feeling or showing real emotion. According to the author, she can’t even sit naturally, and is described as being “perched uncomfortably.”

All of this might seem harmless if it didn’t come in the context of a White House that has never seen a female president. Or a Congress that’s composed of less than 20% women. Or statistics showing that women have incredibly low levels of influence on both state and federal policy. These mischaracterizations of Hillary have very real consequences when they form the backbone of our perception of female political figures.

As a stark example of how these misperceptions can be abused, in the 2008 presidential election, strategists for now President Obama concluded that Obama should capitalize on Americans’ “deeply divided feelings about Hillary Clinton”, even though the public’s feelings “[weren’t] her fault.” The cold reality is that Hillary hired this strategist to run her current campaign—a strategist who, in the previous election, successfully capitalized on the public’s misguided (and what I believe the strategist was getting at, sexist) feelings.

If I were in Hillary’s shoes, I’d be tempted to throw in the towel. But Hillary can’t do that. She’s one of a small handful of female political figures. Giving up, or even showing outright frustration, would taint all female politicians. President Obama can shed tears during a public speech without all men fearing the appearance of weakness. Donald Trump can openly insult nearly every minority group without painting all men as bigots. This is the privilege of male politicians in a male-dominated political world. But Hillary stands nearly alone as a prominent female figure in American politics. And with the world watching, she apparently can do no right.

I admit that the more I witness undeserved criticism of Hillary, the more I ignore justifiable criticism as well. But I am willing to address my perceptual biases. And I sincerely hope others are too.

Using the Bechdel Test to Measure Hillary's Success with Women Voters

It was in college that I first learned about the “Bechdel test,” a measurement of how often two women in movies speak to each other about anything other than men or their love lives. The relevancy was clear as soon as I began to use it: the overwhelming majority of shots involving women’s conversation was either commentary about what a man was doing, or their romantic relationships. Now, reading articles like Amy Chozick’s recent piece in the New York Times, I am reminded of the Bechdel test all over again as women talk to each other about Hillary’s campaign.

90’s Scandals Threaten to Erode Hillary Clinton’s Strength With Women warns Chozick’s article, which details the concern over Hillary’s arguably sexist remarks directed toward Bill’s accusers in the past. Not surprisingly, women voters are disturbed to hear that Hillary, who claims to be fighting for American women, has used terms like “bimbo” and “floozy” to describe women like Monica Lewinsky and Gennifer Flowers. Donald Trump has capitalized on this multiple times, bringing up plenty of the past to haunt Hillary during her campaign.

Admittedly, between Benghazi and the email scandal, Hillary has enough of her own troubles to deal with during the primary elections. However, it strikes me that so much of our commentary about Hillary is really about Bill. When women talk to each other about Hillary, are we talking about her platform, her track record as a politician, or are we talking about her relationship and the way she reacted to Bill’s actions? I don’t disagree that Hillary’s comments are disturbing. But articles like Chozick’s remind me that even if a woman works her way to the top, she can still be defined by her relationship with a man. As the elections continue, perhaps we can encourage each other to think more seriously about who Hillary is as a politician, and less about who she has been as a wife.