In the course of Hillary Clinton’s historic run for the White House–in which she became the first woman ever to prevail in a state-level presidential primary contest–she has been likened to Lorena Bobbitt (by Tucker Carlson); a "hellish housewife" (Leon Wieseltier); and described as "witchy," a "she-devil," "anti-male" and "a stripteaser" (Chris Matthews). Her loud and hearty laugh has been labeled "the cackle," her voice compared to "fingernails on a blackboard" and her posture said to look "like everyone’s first wife standing outside a probate court." As one Fox News commentator put it, "When Hillary Clinton speaks, men hear, Take out the garbage." Rush Limbaugh, who has no qualms about subjecting audiences to the spectacle of his own bloated physique, asked his listeners, "Will this country want to actually watch a woman get older before their eyes on a daily basis?" Perhaps most damaging of all to her electoral prospects, very early on Clinton was deemed "unlikable." Although other factors also account for that dislike, much of the venom she elicits ("Iron my shirt," "How do we beat the bitch?") is clearly gender-specific.
Watching the brass ring of the presidency slip out of Clinton’s grasp as she is buffeted by this torrent of misogyny, women–white women, that is, and mainstream feminists especially–have rallied to her defense. On January 8, after Barack Obama beat Clinton in the Iowa caucuses, Gloria Steinem published a New York Times op-ed titled "Women Are Never Front-Runners." "Gender is probably the most restricting force in American life, whether the question is who must be in the kitchen or who could be in the White House," Steinem wrote. Next came Clinton’s famous "misting-over moment" in New Hampshire in response to a question from a woman about the stress of modern campaigning. For that display of emotion, Clinton was derided, on the one hand, as calculating and chameleonlike–"It could be that big girls don’t cry…but it could be that if they do they win," said Chris Matthews–and, on the other, as lacking "strength and resolve," as her Democratic rival John Edwards put it, in a jab at the perennial Achilles’ heel of women candidates. Riding a wave of female sympathy, Clinton won New Hampshire in what was dubbed an "anti-Chris Matthews vote."
Thus, feminist opposition to the sexist treatment of Hillary Clinton has morphed into support for the candidate herself. In February Robin Morgan published a reprise of her famous 1970 essay "Goodbye to All That," exhorting women to embrace Clinton as a protest against "sociopathic woman-hating." In the Los Angeles Times, Leslie Bennetts, author of The Feminine Mistake, wrote of older female voters fed up with the media’s dismissive treatment of Clinton: "There are signs the slumbering beast may be waking up–and she’s not in a happy mood." A recent New York magazine article titled "The Feminist Reawakening: Hillary Clinton and the Fourth Wave" described how "it isn’t just the ‘hot flash cohort’…that broke for Clinton. Women in their thirties and forties–at once discomfited and galvanized by the sexist tenor of the media coverage, by the nastiness of the watercooler talk in the office, by the realization that the once-foregone conclusion of Clinton-as-president might never come to be–did too."