I’m so tired of hear­ing that Clin­ton is tired

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - By Ann Fried­man Ann Fried­man is a con­tribut­ing writer to Opin­ion.

Hil­lary Clin­ton is sick and tired, de­clared Don­ald Trump at a rally this month. “She’s ac­tu­ally not strong enough to be pres­i­dent,” he added. You’d be for­given for tak­ing his com­ment metaphor­i­cally, but he and his sup­port­ers mean it quite lit­er­ally. Even though Trump is a year older than Clin­ton, and her doc­tors have de­clared that she’s per­fectly healthy, the lat­est anti-Clin­ton cam­paign is fo­cused on her phys­i­cal un­fit­ness for of­fice.

Ac­cord­ing to the con­spir­acy the­o­rists, ev­i­dence of her in­fir­mity in­cludes the lum­bar-sup­port pil­lows she uses while con­duct­ing seated in­ter­views, pho­tos of her ac­cept­ing a help­ing hand while climb­ing a set of icy stairs, a fake MRI scan and lumps un­der her jacket that could be caused only by a de­fib­ril­la­tor — not a bul­let­proof vest.

A theme that should be re­stricted to ide­o­log­i­cal-fringe mes­sage boards has be­come a stan­dard talk­ing point on the right. For­mer New York Mayor Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani ac­cused the news me­dia of ig­nor­ing Clin­ton’s sup­posed health cri­sis, en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to Google “Hil­lary Clin­ton ill­ness.” The calls for Clin­ton to re­lease more de­tailed health records are the 2016 ver­sion of that old right-wing de­mand that Barack Obama show his birth cer­tifi­cate. And they are just as loaded with prej­u­dice.

The right is not alone in re­sort­ing to school­yard taunts about the op­pos­ing can­di­date’s body. In five cities around the coun­try this month, an anar­chist col­lec­tive called IN­DE­CLINE erected sculp­tures re­sem­bling a life-size, naked Don­ald Trump. His belly is ex­ag­ger­ated, and other fea­tures — those that tra­di­tion­ally sig­nal mas­cu­line viril­ity — are min­i­mized. Peo­ple clus­tered around the Trump sculp­tures, tak­ing self­ies, gig­gling and point­ing at its sag­ging, pim­ply back­side.

Mock­ing a can­di­date’s physique is a low blow re­gard­less of gen­der. But the charges against Clin­ton are par­tic­u­larly per­ni­cious, in part be­cause they’re so fa­mil­iar.

Al­though the con­spir­acy the­o­rists claim their ob­ses­sion with Clin­ton’s health is not rooted in sex­ism, women have long bat­tled the stereo­type that we are the wimpier sex. His­tor­i­cally, women’s phys­i­cal weak­ness rel­a­tive to men has been used as an ex­cuse to pre­vent us com­pet­ing for ev­ery­thing from cor­po­rate pro­mo­tions to Olympic medals.

“All of one’s mus­cles, one’s very will are put to the test,” wrote a 19th cen­tury doc­tor on the sub­ject of women com­pet­ing in the ski jump. “This state of mind is very stren­u­ous for more or less weak, ner­vous and un­trained women.”

This mind-set car­ried over into the next cen­tury, when the first wo­man to fin­ish the Boston Marathon, Kathrine Switzer, was warned that her uterus would col­lapse if she ran too much. At the Olympics, women still aren’t al­lowed to com­pete in endurance races such as the 1,500-me­ter freestyle in swim­ming — they swim the 800 me­ters, but no longer.

“Not hav­ing some of th­ese sport­ing events for women is just in­er­tia from a time when it was be­lieved women weren’t sturdy enough for se­ri­ous train­ing and com­pe­ti­tion,” sports­writer David Ep­stein told the BBC.

A sim­i­lar fal­lacy about fe­male fragility crops up in pol­i­tics. Last year, when late-night host Jimmy Kim­mel in­ter­viewed a panel of chil­dren about the pos­si­bil­ity of a fe­male pres­i­dent, one of the boys said women weren’t up to the job. “They’re too weak,” the boy said. “They don’t have the mus­cles.” The line got a big au­di­ence laugh. But it proved po­lit­i­cally pre­scient. This week, Clin­ton was back on Kim­mel’s show, this time to dis­cuss the right-wing ru­mors about her health. “Take my pulse while I’m talk­ing to you — make sure I’m alive,” she joked.

Of course I have to ac­knowl­edge that I’m con­cerned about Clin­ton’s health, too. Any­one with a sched­ule as de­mand­ing as hers would have to be ly­ing — or tak­ing some re­ally pow­er­ful up­pers — to say they weren’t tired. I know why she’s prob­a­bly wear­ing a bul­let­proof vest (which the right has mis­taken for a de­fib­ril­la­tor), and it scares me. She should be able to say, hon­estly and with­out fear of con­firm­ing gen­der stereo­types, that run­ning for pres­i­dent is ex­haust­ing and some­times fright­en­ing. But I’m sure that she won’t.

Women of Clin­ton’s gen­er­a­tion, who flooded the white-col­lar work­force in the ’70s and ’80s, were un­der in­tense pres­sure to main­tain a fa­cade of un­wa­ver­ing strength. That pres­sure has less­ened some­what for younger gen­er­a­tions, but even to­day, most work­ing women be­lieve that we can’t let on how dif­fi­cult it can be to jug­gle our ca­reers and per­sonal lives. We are de­ter­mined to sit up straight with­out the sup­port pil­low and to as­cend the icy steps on our own, lest some­one catch us ask­ing for help and as­sume we’re not up to the task at hand.

Just as I don’t want to be held to unattain­able stan­dards, I don’t ex­pect phys­i­cal per­fec­tion from my po­lit­i­cal lead­ers. And so you won’t find me gig­gling at a doughy Trump sculp­ture, let alone rais­ing ques­tions about Clin­ton’s health records. I’m sick and tired of it all.

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