Hillary Clinton is a woman of many faces. She’s emotionally devoid, unlikeable, teary, weak and often downright frightening. Or at least she would be if pictures, like the wealth of Crazy Hillary snaps spread across the media, really do tell a thousand words.

Anyone who’s been even vaguely watching the US primaries knows that a Hillary story means a Crazy Hillary photo.

So is it a case of misogynistic editors or does Hillary’s face lend itself to more manic moments than, say, Obama’s?

Journalist Anne Summers believes the former, telling Crikey:

I watched Hillary’s victory speech in New Hampshire in its entirety (via web streaming) and only once, for a few seconds before she began her speech, did she show the bug-eyed face, when she recognised someone in the audience and put on an animated face to greet that person. My partner predicted at the time “That’s the one they’ll use” and sure enough, every Australian paper ran the picture of bug-eyed Hillary not the serious, Presidential-looking Hillary who delivered the speech.

The focus on Clinton’s physical appearance, from the drooping eyelids to her overly expressive face, reflects the anatomical divide between the media coverage of male and female politicians.

It won’t necessarily damage her campaign though, says Clive Bean, professor of politics and government from Queensland University of Technology. “Some people might see it for what it is, as a slur campaign and respond against it.”

Shelly Gare, journalist and author of The Triumph of the Airheads and the Retreat from Commonsense, thinks that Hillary’s portrayal in the media reflects a natural aversion to overt displays of femininity in politics.

She believes the deeper issue is that the more subdued, stereotypically male composure is what’s commonly associated with political leadership, rather than the naturally animated female expression that Clinton embodies.

“People do have a reaction against women showing strong emotion,” she says. “It’s an almost visceral reaction”.

Run through the list of other successful female politicians and you soon realise that women like Julia Gillard, Margaret Thatcher, Helen Clark and Jenny Shipley, perhaps by chance, are still more associated with the essentially “male” school of expression, leaving Clinton in a field of her own.

Whether this is a winning field will be an interesting test of the public’s readiness for femininity in politics.

For Hillary in all her Bug eyed glory, click here, here, here, here and here. And for a delightful Hillary v Reese Witherspoon mash-up playing on Hillary’s naked ambition (not that there’s anything wrong with that) head to Slatev.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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