October 12, 2016

Hillary Nothing Without Donald: More Visual Debate Fallout

Hillary Clinton looks at Donald Trump during the second presidential debate of Campaign 2016. Rick Wilking, Reuters.

In tone and language, the way Donald Trump personally accused and threatened Hillary Clinton in last week’s debate was quite chilling. In terms of body language, the way he wagged his finger at her, rolled his eyes, and physically shadowed her while she addressed the citizens on stage might have shaken any other opponent. That’s on top of providing a stage, and clear line-of-sight, to her husband’s female accusers. (Our debate post chronicled all this behavior in real time.)

The question I have is whether the attempt to intimidate and subjugate would have been received differently — by the opponent, the media or the public — if that opponent was a man.  As I wrote recently, Hillary Clinton’s gender seems to be getting short shrift as a traditional media Campaign ’16 discussion topic. I mean that to stand in contrast, by the way, to the attention paid to Donald Trump’s historical sexism and misogyny.

I raise the question again primarily because of the photo above. It was posted two days ago by a Reuters photographer on his Instagram page.  I understand wire photographers, covering an event like the presidential debate, file a large number of images leaving the editors to sort through them and decide what deserves publishing and distribution. In this case, though, I was struck by the singular choice of this image to illustrate the debate. As we wrote on Facebook, slightly expanded from Twitter:

This debate photo of Hillary mouthless with a look of regard (when all Trump could do was berate her) cuts to the heart of women’s negation. The photo largely echoes Rebecca Traister’s debate post, if you happened to read it: http://thecut.io/2dUYyy8

In fairness, one could argue that Hillary’s facial expression is ambiguous. Or, in its intensity (and the slight arch of the eyebrows), it might even be called a glare. The photo goes beyond the gaze, though. What I didn’t mention in the short take was the subordination.

As Traister wrote:

Misogyny … [is] communicated via a far larger web of attitudes about women as subsidiary objects, as having solely erotic or aesthetic value, as existing only in relationship to men. 

As she further writes about the GOP, and the way the males in the party relate to women:

They [women] are discernible as worthy of respect only as extensions of male identity — as wives, daughters, their recognizable subsidiaries.

I think we see that kind of extension in this photo. Clinton is completely subordinated. As the transfixed (and muted) onlooker, she has been reduced to the subject of the object — an abusive one, at that. In other words, he is the planet around which she orbits. And hasn’t that been the narrative of this campaign, in which Trump has been so large as to blot out all else?

(photo: Rick Wilking/Reuters via Instagram)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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