Arguably Donald Trump can somehow get away with an unprecedented degree of bad behavior because he's Donald Trump.
And arguably, Hillary Clinton has to mind her Ps and Qs —and everything else for that matter—because she's a woman.
Tuesday, March 8 marks International Women's Day in the United States and around the globe.
While we should all be fighting every day of the year for the social, political and economic equality of women, International Women's Day is an official occasion to celebrate how far we have come in advancing the rights of women and how far we still have to go.
There's progress to celebrate. For instance, in 1990 just under half of girls in impoverished nations were enrolled in elementary school
. By 2011, the rate had jumped to almost 80 percent.
Who's a sex comic?
And yet here, in the United States, we have male presidential candidates on national television competing about penis size
. However far we've come, we still have so far to go.
The contrast is stunning. Sure, you might argue, it was insanely crass for Marco Rubio to imply that Donald Trump has a small penis and equally crass for Trump to insist otherwise.
Notice that neither remark had a consequential effect on either man's candidacy. But what if a woman had made that sort of joke?
Just as we encourage our young men to have sex but shame young women for being promiscuous, lewd jokes by men are tolerated or even celebrated. Not so when women make them.
The insightful comedian Amy Schumer has noted: "I'm labeled a sex comic
. I think it's just 'cause I'm a girl. I feel like a guy could get up here and literally pull his dick out, and everyone would be like, 'He's a thinker.'"
The standard is just different — more judgmental — for women.
It's also because, studies show
, professional women are less likely to use humor than their male peers. When they do, jokes by women in the workplace are perceived as "contrived, defensive, or just mean."
Pressure to play along
So what's Hillary Clinton to do? If she tries to take the high road and wag her finger at Trump too hard, she'll fall into another trap — seeming like the derogatory "angry feminist" who can't take a joke.
The social pressure on women in those moments is to force themselves to laugh, to show they can take a joke, to not be the buzzkill or something. That perpetuates the problem in which it's men who set the terms of acceptable discourse.
Let's pause here for a moment to notice how messed up this is.
Donald Trump appears not to think much before opening his mouth, a quality his supporters deem not scary but "refreshing." They apparently see Trump as expressing all the angry, ugly thoughts they're afraid to say out loud themselves.
Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is forced by the sexist norms and constraints of our society to overthink every word she utters and every move she makes. Sure, you can say that Hillary has a cautious or non-transparent personality if you want, but bear in mind that her personality was shaped by decades in politics and the public eye in the very crucible of constant sexist condemnation.
Women in public leadership run a perpetual gauntlet of expectations, demands and strictures which men (especially white straight men) simply are never forced to face.
Scrutinize Hillary all you want, but she at least deserves our praise just for surviving.
If Trump goes there...
If they end up facing one another in the general election, I have no idea how Hillary Clinton will respond if and when Donald Trump brags about the size of his penis — or brings up "schlonging
" — during a debate.
I suspect her best option is some mix of shocked disbelief and haughtiness, revealing that she's neither laughing nor not laughing, but showing herself to be the kind of leader who finds that behavior beneath her and beneath our politics.
But again, the saddest part here is that Hillary Clinton will no doubt have to think hard about exactly how she responds to such a remark—whereas Donald Trump is clearly not thinking at all in making it.
Talking about your penis as a presidential candidate is not funny. And neither is the way in which women in politics and across society are scrutinized and judged more harshly than men. Personally, I'd like to see that double standard against women be much, much smaller.