With the American presidential primary races heating up usually frosty January political coverage, some of the front runners, exhausted from months already spent campaigning, are showing signs of emotional melting.
Although they may prove to be some of the fiercest rivals in the race to the White House, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have shared at least one very personal thing — public tears.
So why is it that Hillary’s tears — or lack thereof — have attracted the most attention in the media?
She is the only female front runner in the history of U.S presidential politics.
Clinton bears a disproportionate burden in her campaign. She must find a balance that no man is expected to, between showing she is “human,” and not appearing too “emotional.”
After a misty-eyed answer at a campaign stop in Portsmouth, New Hampshire Monday, in which her voice cracked as she described her passion for politics, headlines shouting the news that “Hillary Wept,” swept the nightly news, just a day before she usurped the New Hampshire primary from the night’s expected victor, Barack Obama.
Network pundits dwelled on these tears as if they had single-handedly solved the Middle East peace crisis. Bloggers specualated on whether they were real. Perhaps most alarming is that many pundits overtly ascribe Hillary’s victory in New Hampshire Tuesday with her public display of emotion.
As Emily Krone points out in a Daily Herald article, “it’s unclear what Clinton’s show of emotion says about her or her candidacy. But the media and public frenzy surrounding the display says something very definitive about American society, and persisting stereotypes about women and leadership.”
Renowned feminist Gloria Stenheim recently wrote an Op-ed in the New York Times condemning the media for the double burden they place on the only female candidate in the race.
“What worries me is that [Obama] is seen as unifying by his race while she is seen as divisive by her sex,” she says.
But there are more reasons to lament the media’s coverage of the race between “the black man” and “the white woman.” By casting candidates in racial and gender stereotypes, the media continues to frame the campaigns in terms of essentialist notions that have nothing to do with how either candidate might govern the most powerful country in the world.
Instead, American news outlets are perpetuating a divisive type of identity politics, forcing voters to draw allegiances based on one dimensional characteristics, and in turn, perpetuating a “dumbing down” of the electorate.