While we tolerate or even ~*admire*~ tears and messy hair in male politicians, the second a female candidate shows any vulnerability, shes made into a joke.
  • Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons
  • While we tolerate or even ~*admire*~ tears and messy hair in male politicians, the second a female candidate shows any vulnerability, she's made into a joke.

Yesterday, at Harlem's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Hillary Clinton introduced a massive plan to combat systemic racial inequality. It was a pretty memorable speech—one in which HRC invoked Flint ("It’s not a coincidence that the Flint water crisis was allowed to happen in a largely black, largely poor community.") and Marian Wright Edelman, and declared her intent to ban the box at the federal level and take on the school-to-prison pipeline. She alluded to her own past mistakes (she's made a few), and the importance of acknowledging and checking one's privilege, and said out loud that politicians cannot behave as if they're owed the African American vote.

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Posted by Hillary Clinton on Tuesday, February 16, 2016

This fits in with a recent Clinton strategy shift towards addressing inequality in its various sundry awful guises, and by comparison painting Bernie as a single-issue wonk focused on economic inequality (which isn't exactly a smear tactic; Bernie does stick to that one break-up-the-banks talking point like Marco Rubio getting way-too-on-message during that one GOP debate appearance). The specificity of Clinton's plan—and her surprising willingness to take a hard left when it comes to openly discussing racism and calling for accountability—shows how far she's come since she first met with Black Lives Matter activists back in August.

So why, then, has so much of the coverage of the speech since yesterday focused not on Clinton's proposed policies, but her coughing? Yes, she coughed during this speech—she actually made a joke mid-coughing fit—but she's also on the campaign trail. It's grueling. Observing that a presidential candidate isn't at her physical peak isn't news. And yet even the Slot, Jezebel's politics vertical, devoted serious column inches to Clinton's coughing record. Like, someone actually rounded up videos that included Clinton coughing and aggregated them, which is something I'd expect more of Breitbart (who also got in on the Clinton coughing criticisms, in a headline that also expressed horror that anyone should ever check their privilege).

Why is this happening? Because it's part of a pattern in the way pundits and journalists write about Clinton. In the lead-up to the 2008 election, you'll recall, she seemed like she was about to cry at a campaign stop in New Hampshire, and caught hell for it. For almost crying! To be clear, Clinton didn't actually cry (although, let's be real, what is wrong with crying? CRYING IS FINE *cries*) and if you watch the original clip, you'll see that she actually parlays her involuntary emotional response into a composed, wholly convincing statement about why she's entered politics in the first place. It's a moment where Clinton is visibly human, and clearly likable.

But all manner of pundits, conservative and liberal alike, dedicated their subsequent coverage to HRC's alleged meltdown—some going so far as to claim it was staged—rather than the conversation that spurred her emotional response, which was, SURPRISE, about gender—specifically, about what it's like to be a woman in politics.

The crying incident and the cough incident represent the sort of funny, mostly very sad damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don't predicament Clinton's faced her entire time in public life: She's criticized for being too good of a politician, but as soon as she shows she's human, she's criticized for that too. It speaks to an insidious double standard in politics: While we tolerate or even ~*admire*~ tears and messy hair in male politicians, the second a female candidate shows any vulnerability, she's made into a joke.

But what's even worse in this case is that Clinton's speech yesterday took on something that, regardless of which presidential candidate you support, you should absolutely be paying attention to: combating systemic racism. If you were too busy loling at Clinton's coughing, you missed a lot more than insubstantial stumping. You missed the moment Hillary Clinton started speaking out, finally, about her plans to address one of our country's most shameful legacies.