Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said women need to take charge of breaking down the double standards involved in running for office or seeking top positions if they hope to grow their ranks in leadership roles in what she said is still a male-dominated society.
“You don’t change norms and attitudes by just going at it once or twice,” Clinton told Mic Tuesday afternoon in a wide-ranging interview on feminism, sexism and misogyny, including how those factors impacted her 2016 presidential campaign. “I think more and more women, if they are going to have a public voice and they want to see us kind of get beyond the double standards, need to be willing to take the heat that comes with that. Because look, I’ve been doing it a long time. It doesn’t get any easier, but you do feel like you keep pushing the agenda forward, and that’s important.”
The interview delved deeper into the instances of sexism and misogyny that Clinton discusses in her new book, What Happened — Clinton’s own assessment of her loss in November to President Donald Trump.
In the book, Clinton says sexism and misogyny played a part in her defeat. And she told Mic that women need to be leading voices in the quest to eradicate both if they want to see a woman elected president someday.
“We need to end the double standard,” Clinton said, adding that too often, women are seen as “angry” when they advocate for causes they believe in, rather than as “passionate.”
“I didn’t think Elizabeth Warren was angry on the floor of the Senate reading Coretta Scott King’s letter. I didn’t think Kamala Harris was angry trying to push Jeff Sessions to give an answer. I don’t think my friend Kirsten Gillibrand [is] angry when she stands up and talks about sexual assault in the military,” Clinton said. “So why do we let people get away with characterizing, you know, how women express themselves?”
She said that female political reporters and media figures need to forcefully push back on those kind of characterizations in order to eliminate them from the public discourse.
“If you’re on a show, or you’re in journalism certainly, and you hear these put-downs like, ‘Oh, you know, she’s so angry.’ No she’s not. She’s intense, she’s passionate, she cares, and we want more of that, and that’s what we need to be standing up for,” Clinton said.
She also lamented the fact that despite an increasing number of women covering the presidential campaign, many female reporters fell into what she called a “peer pressure” trap of reporting on tone over substance.
Clinton spoke candidly about a time she was mistreated by a man in the early stage of her professional life, opening up about an incident she faced when she was a 29-year-old staffer for former President Jimmy Carter’s campaign. In that incident, a man she was pressing for information about organizing efforts grabbed her by the neck to get her to stop asking questions.
“He reached over and he grabbed me right on my sternum. It was like a scene from a bad movie, you know, sort of twisted my turtleneck and just basically told me to shut up,” Clinton said. “I was shocked.”
Clinton said she told the story in order to make other women more comfortable reporting incidents like it.
“I know that so many women of all ages, but particularly young women, still feel like their personal experience is diminished, is disbelieved,” she said. “And I want them to understand that they have to keep speaking up and standing up and supporting one another in trying to take a stand against aggressive and even violent behavior.”
Clinton was less forthcoming in other moments of the interview.
She was evasive when asked whether her past assertion that some women didn’t vote for her because of pressure from men in their lives was hypocritical to her feminist message.
“I didn’t exactly say that,” Clinton said. “I know that’s how it was reported because I wrote about the conversation that I had with Sheryl Sandberg. One of the many conversations — about the research that exists that really compares how women are treated and how they conduct themselves at work and in politics under a lot of pushback and pressure. And I made the point that there is a lot of lines that are drawn that are invisible that women cross and get a payback for.”
And though she said in her book that she felt guilt in the past for possibly being a liability to her husband’s failed 1980 gubernatorial re-election bid, she said Bill Clinton never apologized to her for possibly being a distraction to her 2016 campaign — specifically regarding sexual assault allegations he faced from women years ago but which he denied and never was charged over.
Trump brought women who had accused Bill Clinton of sexual assault or rape to the second presidential debate, just as Trump was defending himself over the Access Hollywood tape in which he bragged about grabbing women “by the pussy.”
“That was something that had been litigated years ago,” Clinton said of the sexual assault allegations against her husband. “Of course, we knew it was a tactic by Trump to draw attention away from the [Access Hollywood] tape. So I saw it more as an awful stunt by Trump and the people around him that was really a kind of demeaning diversion that he was trying to bring about.”
While at Mic, Clinton also took questions from Amber Rose and Sophia Bush on sexism in politics and the progressive movement.
Clinton also discussed Russia’s attempt to influence the 2016 campaign, an effort she says contributed to her loss. And she knocked first lady Melania Trump for not doing enough to combat cyberbullying, the cause the new first lady chose to focus on in the White House.
And while she said she doesn’t currently have plans to contest the election, she noted it’s important that investigators find out the extent of Russian interference in order to prevent any future attempts to influence other American elections.
“I think that no one, including me, is saying we will contest the election,” she said. “I’m in the very large group of people who believe that, you know, there’s no legal basis, no constitutional basis for that.”
“But [the investigation] is about protecting ourselves going forward,” Clinton added. “Because I have no doubt, having dealt with Mr. Putin over a number of years, that they believe they succeeded in destabilizing our democracy, raising questions, sowing divisiveness among our people. And they’re not going to disappear because it worked for them.”