Joan Smith: Vicious criticism of Hillary could deter future candidates

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She has had to endure months of sniping, mostly in the form of spiteful personal remarks. They said she was too old, not up to it, and some of the attacks were so vicious that they made her cry. In the end, though, Carrie Bradshaw triumphed over Indiana Jones, with the movie version of Sex and the City taking an impressive £2.1m in British cinemas on its first day.

So much for the film critic who suggested that all four main characters were "getting on a bit" – especially 50-year-old Samantha – and compared Sarah Jessica Parker to a "skeletal transvestite". Women don't like that kind of stuff and, contrary to popular opinion, we're intensely loyal to our heroines. Cinemas are still packed with SATC fans, cheering on 40-something Carrie and her friends.

Sadly, the story hasn't ended so well for Hillary Clinton, who yesterday announced the end of her attempt to become the first credible female candidate for the American Presidency. The problem for her victorious rival, Barack Obama, is that Clinton's supporters include millions of middle-aged and older women who hate seeing a successful woman vilified. They watched in disbelief as their candidate was written off before the primary season had even started; they are still seething over a campaign which wrongly suggested that she was trailing far behind Obama and had no right to be in the contest.

It took Obama five months to get the delegates and super-delegates he needed to defeat her, and last week's count showed how close it was: he won 2,158 to Clinton's 1,926. Arguments have raged about the popular vote but it's clear that both candidates got more than 17 million, which hardly supports the idea that Clinton was a hopeless outsider. On the contrary, it's amazing that she did so well, considering the depths to which some of her opponents stooped. I've never been a fan of either of the Clintons, but I'm saddened by the ferocity of the attacks on the first woman in the history of the US with a real chance of becoming President. It's fair enough to criticise her policies and her record, but that isn't what they focused on, a fact symbolised for me by the notorious nutcracker in the shape of her body. Her stainless steel thighs crack the toughest nuts, geddit?

The "Hillary is a bitch" campaign has revealed a rabid strain of misogyny; like anti-Semitism, it is visceral and illogical. I've criticised Hillary Clinton for putting her political career on hold while her husband ran for office, but I can't see another woman in American politics who has put in the hard work and has sufficient support to run for President. I wouldn't be surprised if a generation of younger female politicians are asking themselves whether they could take as much heat.

It's telling that the Democrats have gone for an unknown quantity, a man long on rhetoric but short on policy, rather than a woman; even if Obama beats John McCain in November, the last few months have been hugely damaging for the entire political process. Even in the Democratic Party, women are still supposed to marry Mr Big, not go after the top job themselves.

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