Suggesting that Hillary Clinton takes up knitting is straightforward sexism

Vanity Fair has been forced to apologise for an ageist, sexist video. Why are we still belittling women this way, asks Daisy Buchanan

Added on

By Daisy Buchanan on

If you’re going to be bitchy, you need to justify the airtime your cruelty takes up by simultaneously being extremely clever and funny. The world is unkind enough, and no one should be encouraged to be mean without having a damn good reason for it. Being mean and dull is unforgivable. It’s a shame that no staffers at Vanity Fair’s Hive website considered this before creating and posting a video entitled, “Six New Year’s Resolutions for Hillary Clinton”

The video featured different Hive editors making snide suggestions for ways that Clinton could spend her time in 2018, in order to avoid political engagement. One editor suggested that she take up “Volunteer work, knitting, improv comedy – literally anything that will keep you from running again.” This is a woman with a law degree from Yale. The woman who was elected as the first ever female Senator from New York. The woman who is responsible for significantly limiting Iran’s nuclear programme. The author of five books. Yet, because she’s a woman in her sixties, someone thought it was the height of wit to suggest that she take up knitting?!

The video had been up for four days before editors at the publication issued an apology. I suspect that none would have been forthcoming if it wasn’t for a significant social media backlash, led by Patricia Arquette who tweeted “Hey STOP TELLING WOMEN WHAT THE F-CK THEY SHOULD DO OR CAN DO. Get over your mommy issues.”

People believe it’s still OK to tell her to disappear. If she were a man, I can’t imagine anyone would have thought of the knitting joke

Hillary Clinton is one of the most powerful people in the world. In the 2016 election, she won 2,864,974 more votes than Donald Trump. Yet, she ultimately lost to a president who is beyond parody - a man who remains in office even though sixteen women have accused him of sexual assault. A man with limited political experience, whose every move leaves millions of people feeling baffled, frightened and furious. Admittedly, it’s very hard to make good jokes about Donald Trump, because his actions are so strange and frustrating that they can’t be satirised - they’re too extreme to be exaggerated for comic effect. But the Vanity Fair jokes about Clinton punch down in the worst way. Even though she’s proved herself to be intelligent, able, qualified and accomplished, over and over again, her skill set can’t protect her from sexism and ageism. People believe it’s still OK to silence her, and tell her to disappear. If she were a man, I can’t imagine anyone would have thought of the knitting joke.

The trouble with sexist humour is that it’s hurtful and harmful on more than one level. There’s the initial cruelty of the joke, and that’s compounded by the idea that if we object to it, we’re humourless harridans who can’t laugh at ourselves. It’s perfectly OK to make a joke about a powerful woman if the joke is about their power, not their gender. This Jimmy Fallon gag is a great example. "I saw that Hillary Clinton visited the headquarters of Twitter and Facebook yesterday. Hillary would also have visited LinkedIn, but she already knows what job she wants.” That joke would work with any presidential candidate as a subject.

Compare it with Alex Salmond’s tone deaf Edinburgh fringe joke. “I promised you today we’d either have Theresa May or Nicola Sturgeon, or Ruth Davidson or Melania Trump, but I couldn’t make any of these wonderful women come…” Even though he’s joking about his imaginary failure, the joke can’t succeed because it does nothing but objectify women, putting them in an entirely sexual context. It also fails because Salmond includes Melania Trump, belittling the achievements of the three political leaders by implying that being married to the president is almost the same as running the country.

Ultimately, the joke is on Vanity Fair. Hillary Clinton is a powerhouse. The idea that she might be silenced by a silly joke and retire from public life is laughable. After all, she didn’t stop her presidential campaign even when she was encountering waves of sick misogyny on a daily basisWhen Trump described Clinton as a “nasty woman”, the phrase was coopted globally by women, as a way of fighting sexism. To be nasty, you simply have to stop being nice, by not laughing at the bad jokes told at your expense to make stupid people feel clever. By doing what you believe to be good, even if your ambition makes other people feel uncomfortable. And, in Clinton’s case, by using your power so effectively that people feel idiotic for ever making jokes about your powerlessness.


Sign up

Love this? Sign up to receive our Today in 3 email, delivering the latest stories straight to your inbox every morning, plus all The Pool has to offer. You can manage your email subscription preferences at My Profile at any time

Tagged in:
Hillary Clinton
Daisy Buchanan

Tap below to add
the-pool.com to your homescreen

Love The Pool? Support us and sign up to get your favourite stories straight to your inbox