The XX Factor

The Subtle Misogyny in Matt Lauer’s Interview With Hillary Clinton Was Appalling

Matt Lauer listens as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton answers a question aboard the aircraft carrier USS Intrepid on September 7, 2016.


Let’s talk about the misogyny in the traveling carnival that is the presidential race, shall we? I don’t mean the obvious strain of the disease, the DTs. Donald Trump sickness is a well-known contagion by now, a virus that attacks the especially vulnerable: aging, white men who never went to college. Their withdrawal from the elixir of power granted by the accident of birth has been painful to watch, and perhaps we should not be surprised when they raise their voices in a barking chorus to the good old days of Jim Crow and sodomy laws and no abortion rights, back when America was great, remember? A caterwauling, red-faced, orange-haired, psychopathic buffoon presides over a sea of followers trembling with deprivation, and in their delirium they hallucinate unclean spirits wielding the glittering knives of castration: Mexicans and blacks and Muslims and menstruating women. No, Donald Trump’s overt hatred of women—his reference to breastfeeding as “disgusting,” to various women as “fat pigs,” as 9s or 10s, as “dogs,” his suggestion that sexual assault in the military should be expected if men and women serve together, his routine humiliations of young women in beauty pageants, his references to Hillary Clinton as “a nasty, mean enabler” in her marriage, as a bigot, liar, and cheat—has been well documented.

No, I am interested in the far more subtle variation of the misogyny illness, the one that lurks behind phrases such as “even-handed” and “fair-minded,” that low-grade fever that caused Matt Lauer to continually interrupt Hillary Clinton’s sharp, specific answers to his questions in the Commander in Chief Forum on NBC (thank god Clinton stood up and ignored him), and which also prompted him to allow Donald Trump to ramble on in incoherent sentence fragments about secret plans for defeating ISIS in thirty days, as if such nonsense were serious political discourse. Would our “fair-minded” journalist have treated a male candidate the way he treated Hillary Clinton? I ask you to search your souls, men and women alike. My answer is no.

I can hear the yowls of opposition. As with racism, it is easy to blame sexism on something—anything—else. She’s so unpopular. People don’t trust her. What about the emails? Whatever errors were made, they seem to be more about appearance than reality. (See Fred Kaplan’s explanation in Slate, “The Hillary Clinton Email Scandal Was Totally Overblown.”) It has further been forgotten by the press that Clinton was a well-liked Secretary of State, that she had a high “popularity rating.” But a woman appointed to a cabinet position is different from a woman whose very presence on the campaign trail screams ambition. The woman has a quality alarming to many: Hillary Clinton believes she can be President of the United States. That in itself is an emasculating proposition. Men don’t like to take orders from women. Perhaps you have noticed this. Many women don’t like to take orders from women either. What appears attractive and natural in a man—an aggressive defense of his principles, issuing decrees, rulings, proclamations, even firing people from their jobs on TV—is perceived as unseemly, loud, uppity, grating, unnatural and even ugly in a woman.

It fascinates me that although few Democrats would deny that deep-seated prejudices against women exist in our culture, the sexism that has dogged Hillary Clinton her entire career, the absurd scrutiny of her hair and clothing and cleavage, has not elicited the outrage one might expect in the popular media, despite the fact that feminist sites on the Internet have kept a scrupulous record of the ongoing petty assaults on Secretary Clinton. Matt Lauer has done the country a service, and I thank him for it. Interrupting women, treating them with condescension and disdain are symptoms of the low-grade infection caused by the virus that has afflicted millions of people in the United States, and not only in red states. Watching it play out on national television caused countless women and men to express justifiable fury. There is no pill for the virus. What is required of every one of us is self-examination and a high degree of reflective consciousness about who we are as citizens of the United States and who we want to be in the future.