Wednesday, January 20, 2016

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.


Liz said...

I find it remarkable that Donald Trump has the ability to make Hillary’s remarks about an issue that occurred so long ago worth considering today. Yes, Hillary’s past remarks are disappointing, but so what? Perhaps the comments were understandable given the circumstances, but why should we care today?

Also, the portrayal of women’s commentary on television is problematic and I wonder if that in turn has an effect on women. Are women subconsciously responding to what they see on television and in real life are they perpetuating that stereotype in their conversations with other women?

Amanda said...

I was also shocked by the sudden onslaught of criticism against Hillary regarding her husband's past scandals. Hillary is obviously very aware of her husband's dominating presence. In the 2008 election, Bill seemed much more present. As a result, Hillary was criticized for using her husband's influence to gain public favor. In the current election cycle, Bill has taken a backseat in Hillary's campaign -- I suspect this is based on lessons learned in 2008.

Interestingly, I have no idea who Bernie Sander's wife is, or any intimate details about their relationship. Yes, Bernie's wife was not President of the United States, but it's interesting that *his* relationship is of no interest to the public.

RC said...

I almost feel as if it can be a lose-lose for Hillary when it comes to Bill. If she doesn't mention him, somebody else inevitably will, and will do so in such a way to discredit her (as, we see, Donald Trump has). However, if she does mention him, any mention could provoke accusations that she's trying to piggyback off of his legacy.

Bill's notoriety (as a former US president, especially one plagued by scandal at that) puts Hillary in a tight spot, as far as the Bechdel test goes. I wonder how things would be different if her husband were somebody unknown and anonymous - would he still be brought up this much? But I guess the larger concern, and probably the one that you were trying to focus on more, is how Bill's past, famous or not, is allowed to factor into what we think about Hillary, rather than defining her on her own terms. If the situation were reversed (husband runs for president, is largely known in reference to his more-famous wife), I suspect that a man would have much more latitude to be defined on his own terms.

India Powell said...

This is a really interesting point, and, as Amanda mentioned, is really fascinating to contrast with the 2008 race. Wouldn't it be great to hear the media (or anyone) praise Hillary for being the face of he own campaign? We've barely seen, or heard from, Bill at all during this election cycle. And yet the media and many opponents still have to dredge up Hillary's marriage as if her husband or her role as a wife as anything to do with her competency to be the President of the United States. How often do we hear the press or fellow candidates throwing around insults regarding Trumps several marriages? Rarely, if ever. Because it's irrelevant. It's irrelevant for the men in this race, and it's irrelevant for Hillary.

RM said...
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RM said...
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RM said...

Thank you for a great post, I very much enjoyed reading it. I had never heard about the Bechdel Test and have since reading your post payed closer attention to the phenomenon you described.

While it is not measured by the Bechdel Test, your discussion of voters’ fixation with the role of women politicians as wives reminded me of another category of gendered attacks—attacks on their “qualifications” as mothers. This tactic is employed by both Democrats and Republicans, and aside from being in extremely poor taste, is particularly disturbing because it is directed primarily at female candidates.

For example, when Sarah Palin received the Republican nomination for Vice-President, her family and her role as a mother received a media spotlight and challenge her male opponents did not—how would she balance being a mother of five and raising a child with special needs with the demands of the vice-presidency?

This fixation on Palin’s family continues. Her daughter’s teen pregnancy is exploited by the media and used to undermine and call into question her credibility and integrity as a politician. I was recently appalled when I saw the following Sarah Palin meme posted and reposted on Social Media, “I am a corrupt and incompetent quitter, my daughter is an irresponsible slut, my son is a drunk woman beater, and I endorse Donald Trump for President.” Calling a Politian’s daughter a slut for being a teen mom is shameful.

Similarly, when former Texas state senator Wendy Davis ran for Governor of Texas, she was bashed for being a “bad mother” because she went to law school while her children were young, was divorced, and paid child support to her ex-husband when he had primary custody of their daughter.

To no surprise, the ability to balance family and career does not seem to be a pressing concern when we evaluate male candidates for office. And, I don’t recall the last time a male candidates fitness as a father received this much media attention.

As Kristen Sollee noted in her article, 9 Sexist Ways Female Politicians Are Depicted In The Press — And By Their Colleagues, “[m]uch truth is said in jest, as this Onion article suggests about female politicians who are also mothers.”,36479/