When Do We Stop We Thinking “Below the Belt” in This Presidential Campaign?


Men are seen as protectors and many feel the need for help. This is where the gendered rhetoric of the campaign emerges, from the uneasiness. 

Mano to mano? Big Man? Ugly women?

Since I stopped watching cable news in 2008 I have been spared the soundbites and cheap commercials. But with Hillary back in the fight for the presidency, I couldn’t stay away.

I reconnected the cable and tuned in.

This week, I watched Fox and CNN and it did not disappoint. Gender was front and center. Fox showed me former Secretary of State John Bolton seated delicately in the center of five women all delicately poised with legs crossed. The women wore dresses and showed flesh. Bolton, of course, wore trousers. How could I listen to what they said when the image was so surreal?

Searching for more content I switched to CNN and that gave me a compelling sentence on the news ticker. I was informed that Senator Ted Cruz had challenged Donald Trump to a fight “mano to mano.” Man to man. Put up your dukes. This is an emotional race and testosterone is running high. 


These are masculine theatrics even the supposedly anti-establishment candidate Bernie Sanders dropped a bombshell recently when he declared that Planned Parenthood was an establishment organization. This was after they endorsed Hillary Clinton, and clearly he was put out. 


My feminist alarm bells were going off full force.

I turned off the cable and went online news to see what I could read. Roll Call caught my eye with this headline, Big Men’: Is Trump America’s Berlusconi? Why yes he is.

The notoriously sexist Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi was a businessman in construction who then created his own media group and then political party before he ran for Prime Minister. He is a masculine braggart who famously had parties where women disrobed for men. He is a billionaire. He objectifies women.

In 2009 Berlusconi indirectly called his female opponent “ugly” which ignited a deserved feminist backlash.

Name-calling is the realm of the shallow. Trump is our Berlusconi.

Early in the 2016 race, Trump criticized the face of his opponent Carly Fiorina when he quipped, “Who would ever vote for that face?” Carly turned it around and beat him him back soundly with a quasi-feminist retort, “Every woman in America heard that.” But, surprisingly, Trump continued his verbal jabs and his rise in the polls.

According to a Republican strategist, Trump’s a “big man” and that’s why he is popular. “The appeal is the same: big men with lots of confidence who say they can bring their business acumen to running government.” 


Is that what we need to fix our problems? A big man with confidence and no political experience?

I understand the attraction. It is an unsettling time in the U.S. For the first time in our history, the middle class is no longer the majority. Small business people, once the hallmark of what it means to live an independent life, struggle to compete with multi-national corporations. If you are in the market for a home there are some American cities that are entirely off limits to the middle class due to increased wealth of the few from the U.S. and from overseas.

The super rich are changing the American landscape and it has entered politics. Let that sink in.

Even former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg might jump into the 2016 race, and he would use his own money too, just like Trump. Use your own money and you don’t need to be accountable to the people.

We are a long way from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

We don’t need a CEO, we need a president. The United States is a country, not a business. The Congress is not a Board of Directors – they are the people’s representatives. If we bring business acumen to our government, why bother with the constitution? Write a business plan instead. And the people the President doesn’t like? Fire them.

As masculine theatrics grab the attention of the media talking heads, the most experienced politician in the race, Hillary Clinton, has been pounding the pavement in Iowa and New Hampshire and more as the race between she and Bernie tightens.

Hillary received the endorsement of the embattled feminist organization Planned Parenthood – and Bernie called them establishment.

A famous phrase was coined in 2008 in the Hillary Clinton’s first presidential race: “Experience counts.” But it doesn’t grab headlines in the U.S.

Political experience may seem old fashioned to some, and the bloviating anger from a CEO media personality may speak to many who feel the independent American streak of innovation and small business slip away from them. The question many ask themselves today: “Will we enter the upper ranks of the rich or will we slide into the increasingly larger pool of the poor where we depend on government to care for us?”

The question makes their stomachs turn. Mine too.

Men are seen as protectors and many feel the need for help. This is where the gendered rhetoric of the campaign emerges, from the uneasiness. 

Mano to mano? Big Man? Ugly women?

Recently President Barack Obama opined on his primary race in 2008 with Hillary and said that the media bias tilted towards him. He continued to discuss the gender issue in that race and used a famous analogy when he examined how much harder the race was for Hillary than for him, because in a gendered political contest the woman has to do everything the male opponent does, but as in the famous example of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, “backwards in heels.” Gender.

This presidential campaign is all about gender. Look at the players and see the gender.  There a big difference between the histories and political experience between the “big men” and the women in this campaign. But as we talk about gender, let’s reflect on what Hillary Clinton was doing when some of these male candidates had their minds, shall we say, elsewhere:

    In 1991 Trump was interviewed in Esquire and said, “You know, it doesn’t really matter what [the media] write as long as you’ve got a young and beautiful piece of [expletive].”

 That same year Hillary Rodham Clinton, then First Lady of Arkansas filed papers for Bill Clinton’s presidential race.

     In 1988, Ted Cruz in a video from his college days, when asked what he wanted to do with his future, said to be in a “teen tit film.”

That same year Hillary Clinton was named one of of the 100 most influential lawyers by national law journal.

     In 1972, Bernie Sanders wrote an essay and discussed women’s rape fantasies in a Vermont newspaper. He wrote “A woman enjoys intercourse with her man – and she fantasizes being raped by three men simultaneously.”

The following year, in 1973, Hillary Clinton published an article in the Harvard Education Review titled, “Children Under The Law.” This paper was dissected and misconstrued by the opposition and used against her in Bill Clinton’s presidential run, inspiring a rebuttal by her colleagues who examined her piece in a scholarly paper. They wrote that her “overwhelming commitment” was to “make a difference for children.”

But, let’s get back to this century.

In 2009, Italy’s Prime Minister Berlusconi famously said on the campaign trail that women were “God’s most beautiful gift to men.” 

That year Hillary Clinton became secretary of state after losing a grueling primary battle for the presidency rife with sexist attacks. In her congressional hearing she said “We still have a long way to go, and the United States must remain an unambiguous and unequivocal voice in support of women’s rights in every country, every region, on every continent.”

So as I’m tuned in to cable news, I’m not watching a political campaign with an analysis of political issues. That’s too difficult when we need to stop for commercial breaks.

I’m watching a 2016 barfight, mano-to mano, one that still seems to have no room for women.

Jennifer Hall Lee is a filmmaker who lives in Los Angeles. She has spent many years working on Hollywood films,  in visual effects, and used her free time (when she had it!) making her own films. Her latest film, “Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation” is being distributed nationally and she has public screenings scheduled through 2016. Jennifer was named Global Ambassador for the Global Media Monitoring Project. To schedule an interview with Jennifer or book her as a speaker, she can be reached at jennifer@feministstories.com. Jennifer is also a contributor to the new Amazon bestseller, Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox (She Writes Press).

Image via Wikimedia Commons/In the public domain

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