Women’s supposed fragility was used as an argument against giving us the vote. The debate about Clinton’s pneumonia plays into the same old prejudices
The link between women’s mental and physical fitness to political engagement was so strong, in fact, that Susan B Anthony once said that bicycles had “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world”. They not only quite literally got women out of the house and into more comfortable clothes, but they chipped away at the notion that women were physically weak.
Decades later, the notion that women’s bodies are somehow less suited for political life remains. After all, it wasn’t merely boorishness that led Donald Trump to criticize Megyn Kelly by alluding to her period – there’s a longstanding myth about women’s hormones making them unfit to lead. (Comedian Hari Kondabolu has my favorite response to sexists who think a woman’s judgement is impaired once a month: “I’m a man with a penis and testicles, my judgement is impaired every five to seven minutes.”)
It wasn’t a coincidence, either, that when Politico reported on Clinton’s illnessthey described her dizzy spell as “swooning” – a term rarely used to describe men. Even Trump’s comments that Clinton doesn’t have a “presidential look” signal a particular sexist disdain.
The truth is that the campaign trail is brutal, and working all hours through an illness like Clinton’s shows strength, not weakness. That we would see it as anything but stamina reveals a tired double standard. Besides, what’s more important right now than an individual’s health is the health of our nation. Coughs aside, I think we all know whose hands that would be safer in.