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Why Do Women Compare Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren?

Rumor has it that Elizabeth Warren might join a Bernie Sanders ticket, and another rumor suggests that Clinton will ask Warren to be her running mate. Meanwhile, Warren hasn’t endorsed either candidate but her name comes up a lot, especially when people critique Hillary Clinton for being fake.

Usually the conversation unfolds like this: Someone points out how Hillary Clinton is subjected to a double standard for her appearance, and then Warren is brought up as proof that it’s Clinton’s own fault. “I wish Elizabeth Warren were running for President,” they might say. “Because she proves how a woman in politics can be real.”

The argument goes that Warren doesn’t invest in her appearance and is therefore “real” and trustworthy, whereas Clinton spends time on her appearance and this bolsters the claim that she’s fake and untrustworthy. People point to Warren as proof that a woman in public life can be authentic, but when Warren was actually running in 2012 she was also deemed a “liar” by voters. Only now that she’s no longer seeking power is she trusted, and the antipathy is directed at Clinton.

I’m on the Hillary-Bernie fence but I’m astonished that anyone can dismiss the notion that women in public are judged and critiqued and verbally abused over their appearances in a way that men almost never are. The attention paid to Donald Trump’s looks is the exception and not the rule.

The much-admired Elizabeth Warren came into the public eye in 2008 when she chaired the Congressional Oversight Panel overseeing TARP (aka the government financial bailout) and was elected as a Massachusetts Senator in 2013.

Before that she was in academia. It’s notable that in the brainy realms of society, women are usually given the room to be themselves without the botox and the bikini waxes. This doesn’t detract from the respect Warren deserves but it does put her chill attitude towards her looks in context. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has been in the public eye since 1979 when Bill Clinton was elected governor of Arkansas.

Had Clinton been in academia, would she have invested in her appearance or not cared? I have no idea, but I know the pressure on her to look a certain way has been longstanding, disproportionate, unfair and stupid.

If you Google ‘elizabeth warren looks’, no suggestions appear in the search box. If you do it for Hillary, this is what comes up:

Hillary Clinton Looks Like Yoda

Hillary Clinton Looks Like Kim Jong Il

Hillary Clinton Looks Like Miss Piggy

What is most disturbing about the Clinton/Warren comparison (not relating to their policies and politics, but to how they invest in and are judged by their looks) is that the criticism also comes from women. When I’ve seen the ‘beauty double standard’ subject come up, women step in and point out how fake Hillary is.

Male politicians are also taken to task for being fake – witness the demise of Marco Rubio who got labelled as a talking point droid after his disastrous debate performance – but the “fake” label sticks to Clinton more than any other politician.

And this is a political culture in which politicians are generally inconsistent. Both Clinton and Warren are former Republicans. Few Presidents have done exactly what they promised. Some were OK anyway, others less so, but there is no reason to doubt that Hillary Clinton will try to do what she has always done – pursue a left of center agenda.

When women doubt Clinton’s intentions, we’re focusing on her image rather than the substance of her career. I much prefer right-wingers slamming her for her progressive intentions and policies. Even if their arguments are exaggerated, at least they’re opposing a candidate whose values and policies contradict theirs. But when women oppose Clinton based on her image and perceptions of authenticity, we’re punishing someone who might represent us based on faulty standards that should not exist in the first place.

If Bernie’s appeal is that he’s more “real” than Clinton, then the advantage is based on an inherently sexist premise. No woman running for President could be as unpolitic and au natural as he is and be taken seriously – at least not yet. But if you’re feeling The Bern because he’s more left than Clinton and more focused on wealth inequality, that’s an authentic distinction.

Warren – who many would indeed like to see run for president – has repeatedly asserted that she has no intention of doing so. When she made her first appearance on The Daily Show, she says she threw up back stage with “gut-wrenching, stomach-turning stage fright.” She is real and perhaps a little introverted which makes me respect her more as a person, but that does not make her suited to win against the Republican nominee.

The next year is a marathon and the candidates who will be left standing after the caucuses will have to possess energy and drive and determination and resilience that most of us don’t have and don’t even want to have. Whichever candidate you support, you can’t deny that Hillary has it in droves.

And if Clinton gets the nomination and does tap Warren as her running mate, then we might have two impressive women in the White House. Hopefully this won’t further the comparison about the way the women look, but instead will put the artificial matter to rest.

Devorah Blachor is writing Let it Go: The Feminist’s Guide to Raising a Little Princess forthcoming from Tarcher/Penguin. Twitter:



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