Why do we love to hate Hillary?

About a year into Bill Clinton’s first term, we added an 11-year old to our family. On the way to introducing her to her new grandparents in Fresno, we saw a sign along the 99 that documented a strange new sentiment sweeping the country.

The sign read, “Impeach Hillary.”

It only took a year for the first lady, a woman with political astuteness and connections, to stir up enough enmity that this slogan began to appear on signs and on bumper stickers. The intentions were two-fold: strip the president of masculine dignity and tear the first lady down to size. The implications were unspoken, but equally clear.

I am not writing to convince anyone to vote for Hillary Clinton. I’m not writing about her platform and positions. I don’t care who you vote for. I do care, however, about these unspoken implications. We must examine the motivations underlying this hatred that continues to develop without genuine reflection. Its time for people to be honest.

With this election, the national pastime of Hillary-hating rears its head with renewed vigor all along the political spectrum. Many people admit they are not rational about their perceptions of her; others provide what they call legitimate political reasons (even though the reasons apply mostly to Hillary and not to all candidates). Most deny sexism or misogyny; of course they would vote for a woman, just not this one.

The right hates her for being married to Bill. They also mention her clothes, her tears, her eyes. But mostly, what I hear (always stated with a slight shudder), “She’s just so … so … unlikeable.” As if that explained it. So they wouldn’t vote for her unless, of course, they are Ann Coulter-imitators and want to make a point about how strongly they hate their own frontrunner.

Those left-of-center, not wanting to be left out, say it has to do with actual policy, one policy: her vote on the Iraq War. They also insist they are not sexist, that it has nothing to do with Hillary’s gender. No, they’re above that, just like they’re above voting for anyone solely based on sex or race. (As if that has never happened before.)

So, please someone, explain why you cannot tolerate Hillary, why Hillary is too-everything for our country: too conservative, too liberal, too feminine, too masculine, too soft to stand up to world leaders, too harsh to be liked, too rigid, too compromising. Then explain the argument that she’s too divisive, too unlikely to win against anyone.

And while you are explaining, dig deeper, analyze your responses. Ask the real question: why she is so unlikely to win against anyone. The analysis would reveal our deepest, ugliest secrets. We reject, not based on reason, but on a euphoric need to hate. And who better to hate than a woman with power?

It boils down to the thing we try to convince ourselves we are avoiding: while women’s roles have changed, a female president is too much. Never mind that reasons are not rational. Refuse to recognize that a woman is damned whatever she does. Pay no attention to her complete political record, or to the fact that the standards applied to her are not applied to everyone. Finally, ignore the crazy psychology of crowd mentality, how hatred grows in ways without reason.

Shirley Chisholm ran for president in 1972, Geraldine Ferraro for vice president in 1984 and Pat Schroeder for president in 1988. Then it was acceptable to state, “never a woman.” Now we find many ways to say it without ever uttering the words.

So back in 1994, on the 99 south of Fresno, I could not have named the dread I felt. But I knew there was more to that sign than sick humor. There was the way women made gains only to have them derided, ridiculed, rejected by men and by women alike; there was a portent of coming fear; there was the inexplicable way fear grows into revulsion.

I find hope (at least a little) in my daughter, the 11-year old who was with me at our first sighting of an “Impeach Hillary” sign. Now an adult, she has steadfastly rejected political involvement. And yet, before the California primary she asked how to register. She wanted to vote for Hillary. Her reason, however, was ominous: “I may not get another chance to vote for a woman, Mom.” She’s only 24.

What does she sense that the rest of us will not face?

Hope Nisly is acquisitions librarian and teaches women’s history courses at Fresno Pacific University. She is on the steering committee of the Reedley Peace Center.