Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has a new video that purports to attack Hillary Clinton’s foreign policy credentials. But instead of criticizing the Democratic presidential candidate’s policy proposals, her talking points, or her record as first lady, senator, or secretary of state, the video tries to make her a joke by showing her out of context, barking like a dog.
The video, posted on Trump’s Instagram, begins with a martial drumbeat and a video of Vladimir Putin wrestling. It cuts to a jihadi, and then to a clip of Hillary Clinton barking. It follows that with a clip of Putin chuckling. “We don’t need to be a punchline!” it concludes.
The ad may seem like a joke, but it also plays on the barrage of sexist commentary focusing on Clinton’s voice. Just last night, during Clinton’s victory speech, male pundits responded by tweeting that she was “shouting angrily” and just needed to “smile.”
Hillary having a big night in the primaries. So she's shouting angrily in her victory speech. Supporters loving it. What's she mad at?
— Brit Hume (@brithume) March 16, 2016
That wasn’t the first time Clinton’s been faced with gender-coded language about her voice — far from it. In February, a Morning Joe segment gave an example of almost every sexist trope applied to Clinton, saying that Clinton struggled to overcome her opponent in the Democratic primary Bernie Sanders because she “shouts” too much, because she was “screaming,” acting “unnatural,” and being “feisty.” In the 2008 campaign, Clinton was called “shrill” and compared to a “nagging wife” because of her voice.
The sexism in the 2008 campaign coverage was so bad that the Women’s Media Center drew up a guide for gender neutral coverage of female politicians for reporters. Where women are called “shrill” or “nagging,” the guide lays out, men are called “determined.” Feisty is another alarm-bell, because it is “normally reserved for individuals and animals that are not inherently potent or powerful.” Even coverage of the appearance of female candidates is suspect — because while describing what a female candidate is wearing has become a journalistic trope (such as the extensive commentary on Hillary Clinton’s pantsuits), for men, it’s not usually mentioned. This has real consequences: Research has shown that even a neutral description of a female candidate’s appearance hurts her chances.
Although Trump’s new ad doesn’t say any of these things outright, it builds on a well-laid groundwork of coded language and sexist criticism of his political opponent. Kicking off the video with the extreme masculine symbolism of Putin’s bare-chested wrestling just ups the ante.
The actual clip comes from a rally in Nevada, where Clinton referenced a political ad on the radio from her days in Arkansas.
Describing the ad, Clinton said: “The announcer said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if somebody running for office said something, we could have an immediate reaction as to whether it was true or not? Well we’ve trained this dog and the dog, if it’s not true, he’s going to bark.'”
“I’m trying to figure out how we can do that with the Republicans, you know? We need to get that dog and follow them around and every time they say things, like, ‘Oh, the great recession was caused by too much regulation—’” she said, then barking, like the fact-check dog she was imagining. “I think we could cut right through a lot of their claims.”
While we don’t have dogs trained to follow around candidates and bark the alarm when they lie, we do now have near-instantaneous fact-checking via the internet. The fact-checking site Politifact rolled Donald Trump’s campaign statements together and awarded them “2015 Lie of the Year,” — the majority of Trump’s claims checked on the site are some degree of false, from “mostly” to “pants on fire.” Bark bark.