It took just a few hours following Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign announcement, on Sunday, for anti-Hillary signage to appear near her Brooklyn Heights headquarters. The posters and stickers feature illustrated close-ups of Clinton’s visage, rendered in black-and-white, that bring to mind mugshots and “Wanted” posters. They’re unflattering. Striped across each poster are the words “Don’t say,” accompanied by a one of a series of loaded adjectives that have been lobbed at Clinton throughout her political career, including “entitled,” “ambitious,” “polarizing,” “calculating,” and “secretive.” The posters have also started appearing in Manhattan, near Rockefeller Center and the Port Authority, and on the Las Vegas strip.
The circumstances remain mysterious: no one knows as yet who placed the posters, but chances are it’s someone with media connections. The HRC Super Volunteers, a Clinton-affiliated support group, sent an email to news outlets cautioning against the usage of certain words that are freighted with sexist or oligarchic connotations; the same words are the ones that appeared on the posters.
As Bustle.com first noted, the posters closely resemble the “Quarantine Sheehan” street art that appeared in New Hampshire last November, criticizing Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen’s remarks on how best to handle the Ebola crisis. (In a debate with challenger Scott Brown, Shaheen quite rightly declined to say that the United States should requisitely quarantine travelers from Ebola-stricken countries; Brown’s contention that quarantines should be required, and travel to Ebola-stricken countries banned, qualified as “fearmongering,” in Shaheen’s estimation.) Following the debate, Clinton stumped for Senator Sheehan, saying at a rally, “Fear is the last resort of those who have run out of ideas and who have run out of hope.” The artist behind the New Hampshire posters has yet to be identified publicly.
The propaganda is troubling in another sense: in foregrounding such an unflattering image of Clinton’s face, the artist who created the posters is not-so-subtly referring to a coded discussion related to womanhood and beauty standards vis-a-vis electability that is going to be an unseemly aspect of anti-Clinton campaigning. On these posters, Clinton looks like a zombie; the real-life Hillary Clinton does not look like a zombie. By portraying Clinton as unattractively as possible and partnering the image with adjectives that are misogynistic codewords, the posters are intended to evoke a visceral negative reaction to Clinton as a woman first, not as a presidential candidate. It’s sexism. And it’s not dissimilar from racist cartoons depicting President Obama in a turban, or being encouraged to try “watermelon flavored toothpaste.”
In the worst way, it’s inevitable that sexism, coded or overt, is going to degrade the very-necessary conversation that needs to be had as to whether or not Hillary Clinton is a good candidate for President of the United States. Commentary about her femininity has been ever-present since she was the First Lady, oftentimes occluding recognition and discussion of her political efforts: to improve health care policy; encourage economic development in upstate New York; lower the cost of college; fortify American diplomatic relations abroad; and etcetera. We’d do well to ignore it.
Follow Phillip Pantuso on Twitter @phillippantuso.