Within mere hours of Hillary Clinton announcing her long-anticipated bid for the 2016 presidency, anti-Clinton street art began cropping up in the vicinity of her Brooklyn Heights campaign headquarters.
The posters and stickers in question feature Clinton’s face in black-and-white, somewhat in the style of a “wanted” poster or mugshot. At the top, they read “Don’t Say …” and at the bottom they complete the provocative sentence with either “entitled,” “ambitious,” or “secretive” — all unflattering adjectives that have been used to describe the politician throughout the course of her career.
This inflammatory counter-campaign is a dig at Clinton’s defenders, who have argued that many of the accusations levied against the presidential hopeful are steeped in sexism. In particular, the posters represent an attack on the so-called “HRC Super Volunteers,” a group of Clinton supporters who have pledged to monitor media coverage of her campaign with an eye toward rooting out the insidious misogyny that characterizes many popular depictions of female politicians. “Polarizing,” “ambitious,” “entitled,” and “over-confident” are just some of the criticisms that the HRC Super Volunteers have identified as sexist.
The HRC Super Volunteers — and the disgruntled posters — come at a time when the question of policing language is a topic of heated debate in America: as the left has become increasingly attentive to the harms inflicted by racist or sexist language and the attendant need to speak with greater sensitivity, the right has lamented what it takes to be a stifling conversational climate. A slew of recent articles to this effect expose a splintering left, unsure how to criticize expressions of racism and sexism without forbidding them.
But to condemn sexist speech is not necessarily to ban it: there is a difference between censoring a chauvinist and confronting him with well-reasoned arguments as to why he might want to refrain from using certain words or engaging in certain activities. The issue is not as clear-cut — as black-and-white, as it were — as the posters would have it. I choose not to use offensive language not because I’ve been policed but rather because I’ve been convinced.
It remains to be seen whether the HRC Super Volunteers are calling for censorship — for the sort of “Don’t Say” denounced by the anti-Clinton posters. They may well dissect the ways in which certain portrayals of her are sexist with nuance and panache.
In the meantime, all we know for sure is that the offending posters aren’t the only design faux-pas to follow Hillary’s big announcement — her campaign logo has been met with disappointment and criticism.