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COLUMN: Don’t forget the ties that double bind


By Julia Bourkland



Now that the ominous night of Nov. 8, 2016, has passed and citizens lie in the thick of President Trump’s post-100 days, many Americans feel authorized to count the ways in which Trump’s win was Hillary Clinton’s fault.

This is true especially now that the former Democratic presidential candidate has come out of the woods.

When Trump won, the onus was placed on Clinton. Many American liberals and progressives, coming out of post-election shock, quickly took to editorialize how Clinton’s failings were the sole cause of the election upset. A true salt-of-the-earth candidate would know how to take on Trumpism, Facebook feeds claimed. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-VT, dug up the argument from the upper echelons of social scientist elites that identity politics does not and should not matter.

The American electorate deserved a woman candidate who could smile, but not too much. In other words, Clinton found herself between a rock and a hard place, or a phenomenon known as the double bind.

On “The Ezra Klein Show” in November, linguist Deborah Tannen described the double bind as a circumstance where women are stretched to both ends on a spectrum of perfection. Because of the constraints, it’s impossible to meet either mark.

“It’s a situation where you have two requisites, but anything you do to fulfill one actually violates the other,” Tannen said.

Double binds differ from double standards in the sense that a standard is, eventually, possible to reach. There are no winners in a bind.

“The requirements for a good woman are at odds with our expectations and requirements for a good leader,” Tannen said on Clinton’s candidacy. “You can’t be strong. You’re supposed to be self-effacing. You’re supposed to be gentle, not strong.”

Suffice it to say, gender double binds are as present in politics as they are in the rest of life.

The double bind phenomenon, of course, doesn’t present a catch-all excuse for all of Clinton’s shortcomings. Her campaign strategy contained elements that both she and her electorate would come to regret, but it does explain the implicit biases some American voters had against her and continue to have now, simultaneously providing a reason to not vote for her and a reason why she was never strong enough to win.

It explains her loss to an atypically crass candidate like Trump even though she was unprecedentedly qualified for the position.

It’s a lose-lose scenario, and it’s exhaustive for any person to endure. Because of this implicit bias, we’re now stuck with a president who claims health care policy is easy and kills the former first lady’s gender equality initiatives as if it’s a vengeful sport.

Moving forward, voters should address their harmful placement of Clinton and women in power in an insurmountable paradox. Perhaps we won’t make the same mistake again.

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