Last night Joe Scarborough, a man with a sizable collection of navy blue blazers and an affinity for wearing loafers without socks, had some advice for Hillary Clinton, “Smile,” he wrote on Twitter, “You just had a big night.”
Though Clinton won four states last night, practically securing the Democratic nomination, Scarborough’s tweet was a quick reminder that, well, Clinton is a woman, and the script of gender demands a certain affable performance. Clinton, apparently, failed to be feminine enough; political righteousness, anger, or the relief of winning are not the appropriate expressions of a good woman.
Scarborough wasn’t alone in his insightful critique of gender norms, he was joined by Fox News’ Brit Hume and Howard Kurtz, who were irked by Clinton’s “angry shouting.”
What’s perhaps most fascinating about these corrections is not their observational banality or the fact that they exist (I’m certain that men have ordered women to smile, to be placid and agreeable, ever since Adam gave up a rib), but rather Scarborough, Kurtz and Hume’s absolute insistence that their language is neutral. Despite a rather sizable number of women helpfully pointing out that censuring a woman’s behavior is both sexist and boring, they each dug their proverbial heels in.
Hume, at least, stuck to his ideological line of thought, defending his insight by describing Clinton’s expression as “stern, angry” and “joyless”:
Scarborough, however, managed to effortlessly miss the point and declared himself to be valiantly above the petty identity politics of gender:
It’s worth mentioning that Scarborough and his Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski have not “hammered” all of the candidates. When it became clear that Scarborough’s false equivalence between Bernie Sanders’ grumpiness (which is typically treated as a charming affectation) and Clinton’s smiling wasn’t convincing anyone, Scarborough took a new tactic:
Ironically, Scarborough confirmed his own bias, acknowledging that the double standard is firmly entrenched in the world of high-pressure jobs like politics. Clinton, by his account, is no longer a woman. She apparently had her woman card repossessed when she became “tough,” and yet she’s still subject to gender-specific criticism.
The implication of Scarborough’s assessment is that real women are not tough; real women are defined by the fragility, their propensity to shatter when carelessly handled. Subject to their emotional whims, real women—a concept that’s little more than a fairy tale figment bouncing around the brains of bad poets—have little place in the big, bad world of loafer-loving pundits.
Lost in all of this vapid criticism of Clinton is the simple historical fact that she will likely become the first woman to run for president on a major party ticket. Whether or not you align with Clinton’s politics, it speaks volumes that she still can’t garner the respect of simply being treated like a human being. But history-making has little room in these narratives. A woman can make history, but she best do it with a smile on her face.
So, take Samantha Bee’s advice and #SmileforJoe.