LONDON — Female politicians are facing a backlash over women’s rights which has been fueled by social media that rewards abusive posts and conspiracy theories, former U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton said on Sunday.
Women in the public eye still face scrutiny over their looks and pressure to behave politely and meekly in a way that men do not, said Clinton as she discussed a book co-authored with her daughter Chelsea Clinton about inspirational women leaders.
Her comments came after a number of female members of parliament in Britain announced they would not stand for re-election at a Dec. 12 general election, citing abuse on social media including rape and death threats.
“I do think there is a reaction to a lot of the success of women and the roles of women right now,” Clinton told an audience at the Southbank Center’s Royal Festival Hall in central London.
“And I think social media has lit that up, in a very destructive and toxic way. People may have thought a lot of things in the past but now it is amplified and it is viral.”
Clinton, who lost out on her bid to become the first female president of the United States at the 2016 election, has said misogyny “certainly” played a role in her defeat to Republican rival Donald Trump.
An international study last year by Atalanta, a social enterprise dedicated to advancing women’s leadership, found female lawmakers were three times more likely than men to receive sexist comments than their male colleagues.
Clinton said the skepticism towards Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg from some critics revealed how much gendered norms still prevailed in many areas of public life.
“She is a young women, so the idea that she is standing up and speaking out as effectively as she has just rattles all of the paradigms that people still live with,” she said.
“There’s almost an ancient DNA imprinting about ‘This is what women are supposed to do and this is what they are supposed to look like’ and you are not supposed to be so pushy and aggressive … it is maddening how much that still operates.”
The Clintons said they hoped their “The Book of Gutsy Women: Favorite Stories of Courage and Resilience” would inspire women to stand up for their beliefs – and help men and boys find female heroes.
It comes amid a growing debate over remaining glass ceilings for women, with U.S.-based Women’s March demanding rights, while the #MeToo movement on social media against sexual abuse has sparked wider debates on pay, representation and sexism.
Clinton said she was optimistic for future political candidates and others reaching into male-dominated spheres, but change was needed to ensure they had an equal chance of success.
“It is the structures of power that should change. Why are they so set on making it so difficult for not only women but people of color and others to get into the room?” she said.
“We are really aware of that. I lived that.”—Reporting by Sonia Elks @soniaelks; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith