Last week, a supercut video by The National Memo showing Hillary Clinton on the receiving end of sexist questions asked over 40 years went viral. Many people on Twitter pointed out that a number of those questions were asked by women, and wondered, then, if they could still be classified as sexist.
Indeed, the video shows a female reporter asking Clinton in 1993 if she enjoyed matching table cloths and napkins together, Katie Couric wondering why people compared Clinton to Lady Macbeth that same year, and Barbara Walters asking Clinton in 1996, “Do you think the American people are ready yet to have a first lady who has strong opinions and an agenda?”
Each question is undoubtedly gendered ― they all assume specific things about how a woman is “supposed” to act and behave herself, and each question would sound ridiculous if asked of a man.
So the answer is: yes, women can ask other women sexist questions. And even though women bear the brunt of institutionalized sexism, we can still be sexist.
Women are socialized in the same culture men are, and we learn the exact same lessons about our place in society. We see the same images of white, male presidents in our elementary school classrooms, and notice the same male faces on our dollar bills. It’s safe to say that there has never been a time in history when we’ve culturally debated if the country is “ready” for male opinions. Isn’t the Constitution, which our country was built on, essentially one big document of male opinions?
It would be impossible for women to completely bypass the ideas that oppress us ― that we should be soft-spoken and not aggressive, that our bodies should be maintained in specific ways that appeal to men, that our ultimate aspirations should be to become wives and mothers.
It takes a lot to untangle and challenge cultural messages that are so deeply ingrained. That’s why even Couric and Walters ― successful, barrier-breaking women in their own right ― echoed sexist language about Clinton. One clip shows Couric asking Clinton why people perceive her as “threatening” ― the underlying meaning, of course, is that men were threatened.
When Donald Trump is called sexist or misogynist, his supporters often point to the mere existence of his few female supporters as alleged proof that the nominee couldn’t possibly be either of those things. If he was, wouldn’t all women be condemning him? Again: no. It isn’t surprising that women who haven’t been forced to dissect the many ways we’re punished by gender roles ― and who exist in a society that reinforces those roles ― don’t find anything wrong with Trump’s rhetoric.
Some go so far as to echo the very language the angriest of male Trump supporters use to attack Clinton, which is completely wrapped up in the fact that she’s a woman. (Look no further than the women spotted at the RNC convention purchasing “Hillary Sucks But Not Like Monica” T-shirts.)
It isn’t surprising that they aren’t horrified by Trump’s comments about child-rearing because they, too, have been taught that parenting is a woman’s job and earning money is a man’s. It isn’t shocking that they aren’t repulsed by Trump’s habit of ranking women in terms of f**kability, because messages telling women that our worth lies in our bodies are literally everywhere.
And of course, there are plenty of female Trump supporters who don’t love his language, but haven’t recognized (or, don’t care) how damaging it is to women as a whole.
This is not to blame women for enabling our own oppression, but it’s time we start thinking about why exactly it’s so funny to picture Bill Clinton matching table cloths and napkins, when for his brilliant wife, it was expected.