First up, allow me to make one thing perfectly clear. Despite the uproar about Donald Trump’s recent comments on Hillary Clinton’s appearance, there is definitely such a thing as a “presidential look”.
Painful as it is for me to point this out, bald men are pretty much banned from occupying the Oval Office.
In fact, Americans have only ever elected five follicularly challenged candidates to the presidency – John Adams (who was described by a contemporary as “old, querulous, bald, blind, crippled, toothless Adams”), his son John Quincy Adams (you can’t fight genes), Martin Van Buren, James Garfield and Dwight Eisenhower.
That means Americans haven’t elected a chrome dome since 1956, when Eisenhower defeated the equally bald Adlai Stevenson. What a bummer that campaign must have been.
Let’s face it, you need a full head of hair to be president. And a lantern jaw. And a killer smile.
In the devastating after-effects of World War I, America was looking for a President to succeed the sick, drawn and exhausted Woodrow Wilson. They turned to the dashing, square-jawed (and hairy headed) Senator Warren Gamaliel Harding. His supporters declared “He looks like a president” and he subsequently won the 1920 election in a landslide, going on to become one of the country’s most inept leaders.
You see, it doesn’t matter if you’re not fit for office, as long as you’ve got “the look”.
Remember Bob Dole endorsing Romney, saying the former governor “looks like a president.”
In the same cycle, the Washington Post’s Richard Cohen wrote a column touting Texas’ Rick Perry as someone who “actually looks like a president.”
Perry and Romney both look like Ronald Reagan, if you ask me. And Reagan had the look in spades.
So, aside from a thick head of luxurious hair, what comprises this elusive presidential look? Bottom line: Y chromosomes.
Surely, that’s what Trump meant by his disparaging comment about his opponent.
This is the kind of everyday sexism that Hillary Clinton has to battle.
There’s no question that Clinton is a seriously flawed candidate. She is regarded as a Washington insider in an election cycle where insiders are viewed with great suspicion. There are questions about the Clinton Foundation’s finances, about how beholden she is to superpacs, her use of email, her response to Benghazi, and her proposed economic plan.
In other words, there’s plenty for her opponent to take aim at.
Nailing her for not looking presidential is out-and-out sexism, plain and simple.
And then Trump’s pivot during the recent debate to say he really meant she didn’t have the stamina to be president only makes matters worse.
Women don’t look enough like Ronald Reagan to be president and they don’t have as much stamina as us guys. Oy vey!
Clinton swats it all away with aplomb. Her response to Trump’s stamina line was brilliant. But a zinger comeback doesn’t dam the deep underlying stream of misogyny and sexism that runs under it all. And I don’t just mean from Donald Trump. Women live with an infinite number of hierarchy-building double standards based solely on gender, most of which restrict their free expression and their ability to achieve in their chosen fields in equal measure to men.
If Ms Clinton isn’t elected because the American people don’t trust her, she’ll have to live with that. If they don’t elect her because she doesn’t have a penis, America will have to live with it, knowing that everyday sexism still permeates even the most liberal of democracies.