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Giving Women The "Sick" Label Is An Attempt To Silence Them

In the Inside Amy Schumer episode Madame President, Amy Schumer helps us imagine what it would be like to have a women president. Folks, it looks bleak. Schumer (or Schinton in the sketch) gets her period on the first day of her presidency (ugh, darn!), and the severe cramping and PMS cloud her decisions, encourage sweatpants attire, and force her to to “take 5” during covert operations because she has to change her tampon.


“Guys, I can’t be president...because I got my period!”, Schumer screams. The absurdity in the sketch is apparent, but I was quick to remember it when presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was diagnosed with pneumonia on September 11th, shortly after she left the 9/11 Memorial service early and stumbled into a van. I already felt the headlines creeping up-- formed in a question, of course, wondering if this woman could lead a country if she was ill. (Hillary Clinton: Too sick to lead? Hillary Clinton: What is she hiding? Hillary Clinton: Sick! Emails! Blah! ) Clinton's mild case of pneumonia reminded us that if a woman in power get slapped with the "sick" label, they're basically told "why don't you sit this one out".


This week, The Atlantic put out a piece called Hillary Clinton and the Resurrection of Old-School Hysteria, by Nora Kelly. It explores the concept of hysteria, a dated medical diagnosis from the 1800’s to early 1900’s that was long ago proven to be illegitimate. Diagnosing women with hysteria is now considered a tool that was used to discredit a woman who was taking on a role that was disapproved by their male counterparts, like starting a career or pursuing education. While this is no longer a proper diagnosis and never was an actual disease, we find traces of it today. Say, when we attempt to halt women's successes by concocting imaginary ailments. “When Hillary Clinton was nodding while other people were speaking, conspiracy theorists said she had Parkinson's disease. When she got diagnosed with an [actual] illness, the pneumonia a few weeks ago, the Internet said she was dead,” historian Laura Briggs told The Atlantic.

The New Yorker article The Far Right’s Obsession with Hillary’s Health by Margaret Talbot is referenced in The Atlantic’s piece, complimenting the point that Schumer made just months before; if Clinton were younger, we would find a different health related hurtle: the period. “Maybe if Clinton were a younger woman, they could resort to the timeworn slur against female politicians that their hormonal cycles will surely lead them astray." Talbot wrote. (Editor's note: Team THINX is almost entirely made up of menstruating women, and it hasn’t caused any mayhem or destruction. It may, however, have something to do with the abundance of snacks. We’re not complaining.)


Somewhat surprisingly, Zach Galifianakis take on the Hillary health debacle may be one of the most poignant. On his sardonic talk show Between Two Ferns for Funny Or Die, Galifianakis interviews Secretary Clinton and asks blatantly silly and, at times, sexist questions (What happens if you get pregnant? As the secretary of state, do you get Obamas coffee?). Galifianakis brilliantly does not ask her any questions about her illness, but does label her as “Hillary Clinton/ Had Pneumonia” on the screen when their talk begins. The literal label is a blaring, yet comical, reminder of how Clinton’s illness has been forcefully embedded into her identity as a candidate.


CBS  reported that despite Clinton releasing more medical information than Trump and being declared in generally good health by a doctor of internal medicine, only 4 out of 10 men (surveyed in a Associated Press-GfK poll) believe that Hillary's health is receiving too much attention. Therefore, the majority who voted believed that what has been declared as a “mild case of phenomena” has deserved the media frenzy, and ultimately, has affected the question of whether Clinton can lead.


While Clinton has not often directly responded to these loaded questions (nor should she have to), she did sum up her strength in the first presidential debate on Monday. Republican Candidate/ally to women everywhere (you can feel my eyes rolling, right?) Donald Trump said, “She doesn’t have the look, she doesn’t have the stamina. To be president of this country, you have to have tremendous stamina." While Trump’s remarks may have been directed at Clinton, they called upon a narrative that women know too well-- being told they’re not strong enough. That they can’t handle the pressure. That they’re too emotional. And like, what if they get their period???


Hillary Clinton smiled as Trump talked. “As soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, and a cease fire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities in nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina,” she responded. Trump was quick to try and rebut her remarks, sticking his finger in the air, but the cheers from the crowd forced him to pause.

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