When Hillary Clinton ran for the US presidency in 2016, she received sexist comments “on a constant basis” and her team had “no idea” how to deal with them, her former aide Huma Abedin has said.
Abedin, who worked closely with Clinton on her campaign, recalled that the former secretary of state was deluged with openly sexist remarks as well as unhelpful advice, or instructions to emulate male politicians.
Abedin said these started when Clinton sought the Democratic nomination in 2008 and continued when she ran for president in 2016, and “nothing changed over that period”, which took place before the #MeToo movement began in 2017.
Speaking to the Hay festival to promote her recent memoir, Both/And, Abedin said Clinton and her team would feel obliged to laugh off offensive remarks from conservative commentators such as the newsreader Tucker Carlson, who said: “When Hillary Clinton shows up on TV I inadvertently cross my legs.”
Other frequent gendered criticisms included that her voice was too loud or annoying; commentary on her choice of dress – with some people recommending that she only wear dark colours, and other saying she should wear colors “to look more cheerful” – and advice that she look at a picture of her granddaughter when speaking to prevent her from “ looking so angry”. Abedin told the audience: “Who says that to Boris Johnson or Barack Obama? Nobody ever says that!”
Abedin recalled that one Hollywood director offered media training to Clinton. “I said: ‘Can you give me an example of who she should emulate, who’s her model of her? Give me an idea of a woman.’ He said: ‘Yeah, yeah, her husband.’ ‘Anyone else?’ ‘President Obama.’”
However, she said Clinton did not suit the “personality-driven” nature of US politics, which she said favored the likes of Donald Trump, a “charismatic shock and awe communicator”; Barack Obama, who would make people “think anything’s possible, it’s going to rain honey and ice-cream”; and Bill Clinton, who “connected with every single person in the room” whenever he gave a speech.
While the latter two were “amazing orators, communicators of their generations”. Abedin said, “Hillary’s the first person to say that her strength was not her, she’s a policy wonk and she gets stuff done”.
She added: “If we voted for people based on how popular they were and how many numbers of people voted for them, Hillary Clinton would be in her second term as president now. But that’s not how we do it. There’s a system and it’s an outdated system.”
Abedin shared how she and Clinton were connected through their mutual experiences of sex scandal. Bill Clinton had an affair with Monica Lewinsky, while Abedin’s ex-husband Anthony Weiner was convicted of sexual assault after he sexted with a teenage girl.
She said that while Clinton was still “judged” for having chosen to remain with her husband, she had been told “you left, but it was easy for you.”
She stressed how difficult the experience of becoming part of “the first sex scandal in the digital age” had been. Although it did not damage her professionally, she felt like the “elephant in the room” and found it “hard being out on the streets”.
She said Weiner’s sexting was the result of falling into “a pattern of behavior online that started as a compulsion” and turned into an addiction.
“We didn’t understand what it was… Anthony really struggled with the advent of social media. Twitter and Facebook in 2009 were these new portals. He was very popular and as he had more followers he fell down this rabbit hole of behavior and it just exploded. We lost everything, he lost his reputation, he lost his job, it was very hard.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism