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Campaign 2016: Hillary Clinton & horizontal hostility

The first presidential debate of 2016 solidified this election as one of the most volatile I can remember, and of course it is all over the media. The candidates and their campaign coverage are full of feminist principles, both good and bad, particularly because of Hillary Clinton being the Democratic nominee.

The way women are viewing Clinton’s campaign is divided at best. For some, it is an amazing historical feat that fills them with pride. For others, it is a disappointment that she is the one breaking this layer of the glass ceiling.

The political process is all about debating and molding different viewpoints together. There’s nothing wrong with not supporting a candidate because of policy differences and legitimate concerns about trustworthiness and capability.

Some criticism Hillary is getting from women though, and somethings she has said in the past, are examples of horizontal hostility.

Horizontal hostility is when members of a marginalized group attack each other, using the dominant system of oppression in place. Because we live in a patriarchal society, sexism and sexual inequities/inequalities are used as criticisms and sometimes women use that rhetoric against other women. 

When we use sexist and misogynistic insults against each other, it perpetuates the normalcy of those attitudes.


A prime example of this is when Carly Fiorina, a Republican presidential hopeful, criticized Clinton’s marriage and her motives for not divorcing Bill Clinton. She compared her marriage and took a notion of superiority as a woman and wife.


It might just seem like a sassy, catfight statement – and to some it might even seem legitimate (although in realm of politics I’m not sure how that matters), but the fact is this criticism is particularly rooted in judging Clinton on her values as a woman in a domestic situation. Since this, one of Donald Trump’s biggest criticisms has been Bill Clinton’s infidelities and how Hillary dealt with them.

Donald Trump did manage to point out something problematic with Clinton and those infidelities. She directly criticized the women her husband allegedly cheated with and sexually assaulted, using words like “bimbos” to describe them.

Now, I don’t think anyone would expect someone to be really positive about alleged extramarital relationships and assaults and the people involved. However, using that kind of terminology that degrades women and women only as stupid or slutty is an example of horizontal hostility from Hillary. Although in my research, I haven’t found any contemporary examples of Hillary’s horizontal hostility, it is part of her public progression.

I’m not telling you who to vote for or whether a candidate is right or wrong. What I’m saying is the fact that Hillary is a woman directly affects how she is covered in the media and how we have to view her and her campaign as feminists, and to  consider if the way you or (another) woman criticizing her (or the way she criticizes another woman) qualifies as horizontal hostility.



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