Attacks on a "hysterical" Hillary Clinton have a long literary pedigree.
Ever since, you could be certain that whenever the old hysteria talk surfaces, the writer is relying, usually quite consciously, on the old association between uppity women and insanity. Culture critic and Slate contributor Stanley Crouch, who recently invoked the H-word when describing Clinton's television persona in his Daily News column ("Clinton seems by turns icy, contrived, hysterical, sentimental, bitter, manipulative and self-righteous [italics mine]"), certainly knows what he is doing. As Salon described him in its series Brilliant Careers, the volatile and charismatic Crouch is "[a]rmed with an elephant's memory and a passionate knowledge of and engagement with art and history." Nor, probably, would anyone contend that Slate's own Christopher Hitchens didn't know the queen's English when he described Clinton's story about Bosnia as "flagrant, hysterical, repetitive, pathological lying." Flagrant, yes; repetitive, yes; and maybe pathological. But "hysterical"?
This charge of insanity—fits, pathology—against any woman who aspires to transcend prior female achievements is the go-to weapon for people who would keep women down. And this move goes way beyond the candidacy of any particular individual. In a recent Nation column, Tom Hayden (the '60s guy, now in his 60s) deployed a full arsenal of insults, comparing Clinton to Lady Macbeth and then going on to liken her appearance to a "screech" on the blackboard.
Hayden, apparently fearing some criticism, hid behind the voice of his never-before-heard third wife, Barbara, a "meditative practitioner of everything peaceful and organic," never previously given to offering hostile political pronouncements. But Clinton's appearance on TV apparently makes Tom's wife "scream." Poor Tom Hayden, still looking for a sufficiently submissive female. Everyone remembers Jane Fonda, Hayden's second wife. But probably few Nation readers remember the first Mrs. Hayden, one Casey Hayden. In 1965, right around the time she divorced Tom, Casey Hayden wrote the screed that helped launch the women's liberation movement, "Sex and Caste." Her ex-husband's most recent unleashing of the hysteria rocket shows how little distance we have covered since Casey Hayden picked up her pen.
Can Tom Hayden be suggesting that hysteria is contagious—that even peaceful Barbara becomes somehow unhinged when exposed to the hysterical female presidential candidate? Or maybe it's Tom himself who is the real constant here, seeing women as hysterical wherever they appear.