Hillary Clinton and the Battle Against Ghosts of Misogyny Past

US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a rally on  May 11, 2016 in Blackwood, New Jersey. / AFP /
US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton speaks during a rally on May 11, 2016 in Blackwood, New Jersey. / AFP / KENA BETANCUR (Photo credit should read KENA BETANCUR/AFP/Getty Images)

To win the presidency, Clinton must first stare down the hulking beast of historical sexism -- and only one will make it out alive

Hillary Clinton is a "liar." She is "untrustworthy" and "deceptive," "calculating" and "scheming." Regardless of her tenure as Secretary of State yielding a sturdy 69% approval rating, the politicking formerly known as "strategizing" and "positioning" has now been recast as "machination" and "manipulation."

While this incendiary rhetoric may seem to have been crafted just for Ms. Clinton, it is, rather, the reliable protraction of a methodical, centuries-long campaign to degrade, repudiate, and disenfranchise women.

The hashtag #BernTheWitch has been flippantly thrust into the public sphere -- and our nation's first viable female candidate is in the regrettable position of having to both apologize for Original Sin and steel herself against a figurative witch hunt.

"Outspoken," "non-conformist," "forward" -- these were a few of the words ascribed to the condemned women of 1690s Salem. One was accused, quite presciently of today's campaign, of having "her own self-interests in mind" -- and she paid for this solipsistic indiscretion with her life.

Efforts at salvaging one's reputation only provided fodder for the label of "difficult woman" and, thereby, certain death -- and hanging victim Wilmot Redd's characterization as "probably more bitch than witch" would prove the foreboding words of past ghosts with which future women would do battle.

The 20th Century struggle for Women's Suffrage renewed cries for female equity and autonomy -- and the movement brought with it a stunning evolution whereby women who had once faced brutal trial and public execution now faced conspicuous shaming in the court of public opinion.

Suffragists were depicted in grotesque imagery as threatening and emasculating while at the same time summarily dismissed as "too physically frail" to cast a ballot -- a perplexingly paradoxical trope revisited in Republican rival Donald Trump's claims that Clinton's strength had somehow made men "petrified to speak to women," while her weakness dictated she "does not have the stamina to be president."

Anti-suffrage propaganda warned of the "evil which may occur" if women were given the right to vote -- "evil," a word frequently attributed to the Secretary, her ambitions, and her campaign.

The Clinton candidacy has seen a reemergence of these ghastly caricatures, a renewal of this iniquitous calumny -- and its present-day appropriation only serves as a stark reminder of our country's grim obligation to wield the weapon of character assassination whenever women have voiced strength in their uniquely feminine experience.

Upon the pyre of female volition lies the ash of history's victors and victims. Bridget Bishop, Martha Corey, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony -- these women all had names. And now there is one more: Hillary Clinton.