I’ve spent the last few months on a longish essay about what kind of president Hillary Clinton would be. Writing about her record in government proved challenging. So did writing her name.
With most politicians, it’s easy. First reference: You write their first and last name. Second reference: last name, plus title if you’re feeling formal. With the former senator and secretary of state, however, it’s trickier. Calling her “Clinton” poses an obvious problem, especially if—like me—you’re simultaneously writing about the other Clinton who served as president. “Former Secretary of State Clinton” is cumbersome. So I did what many journalists do: I went with “Hillary.”
Is that sexist? According to some people, yes. As Chicago Tribune editor Jane Fritsch argued in 2007, “The simple fact is that Hillary Rodham Clinton is running in a field of men who are never referred to by their first names ....The argument that we call her Hillary to avoid confusion is a weak one. There are easy alternatives .... Certainly the problem created by the existence of two presidents named George Bush has been a difficult one, but we found ways to solve it without diminishing George W. Bush.”
There’s no doubt that sexism has warped the coverage of women candidates in general, and Hillary Clinton in particular. The academic research proves it. Women politicians are forever navigating between the Scylla of being considered too tough and therefore unlikeable and the Charybdis of being considered too feminine and therefore not tough enough.