With a single cover image, Time has successfully dashed any hopes that electing the first president who isn’t white would ease the passage for the next potential president who isn’t male. The latest cover of the magazine, illustrating a story about Hillary Clinton’s electoral chances, features the headline “Can Anyone Stop Hillary?” with an illustration of teeny man hanging off the back of the heel of a giant woman in a pantsuit. The image captures the moment before the man gets violently squashed to death as the woman’s heel comes down, like he’s a victim of a misogynist B horror film about giant women getting revenge.
There will no doubt be endlessly quibbling over the meaning of this image, but let’s be honest: It’s a direct, highly gendered provocation that strongly implies that electing Hillary Clinton would somehow be a tragic thing for men, and even some how “end” men the way the man in the image is about to be ended through stomping.
It’s not even a particularly original provocation. Indeed, illustrating the supposed dangers of women’s approach to equality with men through male death-by-stomping is downright cliché at this point. As Emily Shornick of New York Magazine found when she did a stock image search with the word “feminism”, one of the most common tropes that turned up was images of women’s feet figuratively or literally stomping on men. High-heeled feet stomp on men’s clothing items, like ties. Or high-heeled feet stomp on actual male bodies. And, of course, there are plenty of images of teeny-tiny men about to be stomped to death by the high-heeled foot. The only minor deviation from the cliché is that the presumable Clinton foot is shoed in a sensible low heeled pump with a closed toe, whereas most stock photographers like to go with a higher heel and an open toe, showing that paranoid sexists are as interested in footwear as any character on Sex and the City ever was.
It’s tempting to do a little Freudian analysis of why it has to be feet that are the instruments of domination and death that feminists of stock imagery apparently prefer when destroying men by demanding equality with them. (The answer is because feet are a long-standing phallic symbol, dating at least back to the ancient Hebrews who used “feet” as a euphemism for “penis.”) But the real question is why, in the year 2014, it’s acceptable for a mainstream publication like Time to give credence to reactionary paranoia about feminism that equates women’s equality with destroying men?
Of course, stating out loud the fear that having a female nominee for President somehow portends doom for men generally or even just men in politics is so asinine that even the most belligerent conservative pundit avoids going there. Instead, that fear is portrayed in imagery, which allows room to declare that the image is subject to interpretation. That way, Time gets the attention and traffic by trading in on the fear of women’s growing power without actually having to do anything as silly as actually try to defend that fear.
It’s almost painful to have to remind readers of this, but in the real world, female politicians are not actually dominating and destroying male politicians, by stomping or any other means. Women only hold 18.5 percent of the seats in Congress, despite being nearly 51 percent of the population. There has never been a female President and only once has there been a female Speaker of the House. It’s not just a matter of representation, either. When it comes to money and politics, men have a massive advantage over women. Male donors make up 68 percent of political donations over $200, which isn’t surprising since men are much more likely to have extra cash to give to political campaigns than women are.
More to the point, you’d be hard-pressed to find a single feminist who has ever advocated for anything but equity in congressional representation: No squashing, destroying or running men off. The real story here is not that Clinton’s mighty heel of female vengeance is set to rub out the male presence in D.C. or even just in the Democratic party. The real story is that Clinton is one of the few women in the pipeline to be a viable presidential candidate at all. While the Democratic side of the aisle has a lot more women than the Republican side, they are still far from equity. Far from wiping men out, women in the party are still running to catch up.
Women are up against enough obstacles without mainstream media sources like Time stoking fears that female gains are male losses. There are plenty of criticisms to be made of Hillary Clinton, of course, but that she’s a woman out to stomp men into the ground is not one of them. Time should have known better that to wallow in sexist paranoia like this.
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist who writes frequently about liberal politics, the religious right and reproductive health care. She’s a prolific Twitter villian who can be followed @amandamarcotte.