Hillary Clinton has an image problem. She has been called many things, including "shrill," a "liar," and "self-serving." But perhaps the most inexplicable accusation lobbied at the Democratic presidential nominee is that she is cold, a complaint that conjures an image of a stiff, power-hungry woman who vacates her throne only to pander for votes.
But it's a perception that Clinton herself recognizes, too. In a now-viral post on Humans of New York, she opened up to photographer Brandon Stanton about why people may see her that way.
Clinton recalled her experience being one of the only women at Harvard for a law school admissions test. She was a senior in college then, and was nervous about the test.
"While we're waiting for the exam to start, a group of men began to yell things like: 'You don't need to be here.' And 'There's plenty else you can do.' It turned into a real 'pile on.' One of them even said: 'If you take my spot, I'll get drafted, and I'll go to Vietnam, and I'll die.' And they weren't kidding around. It was intense. It got very personal," Clinton said.
But she didn't respond to the jeers, refusing to be distracted from passing the test. And that experience, Clinton suggested, is one of the indelible ones as a young woman that taught her to keep her emotions in check. She said:
I know that I can be perceived as aloof or cold or unemotional. But I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that's a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don't want to seem 'walled off.' And sometimes I think I come across more in the 'walled off' arena.
But Clinton acknowledged that it was on her to change that image. "If I create that perception, then I take responsibility. I don't view myself as cold or unemotional. And neither do my friends. And neither does my family. But if that sometimes is the perception I create, then I can't blame people for thinking that," she said.
HONY's post of Clinton resonated with many people, especially women who shared the same struggle of being "too much" or "too little."
Clinton has publicly recognized this unfavorable image of herself before. Back in March, she told an audience at a rally, "I'm not a natural politician." It was an unexpected admission; Clinton compared herself to her husband Bill and President Obama, both of whom score far better in terms of likability. In Politico, reporter Indira Lakshmanan explored the difference between Clinton as candidate and as Secretary of State.
"The contrast between the two Hillarys was stunning. Up close, it felt like The Invasion of the Body Snatchers," Lakshamanan wrote.
While her latest recognition of how people see her may not be a huge revelation, it does highlight how women have to fight extra hard against the suffocating ideals to which they are supposed to conform — if we are not sweet, smiling, docile lambs, we are dismissed as cold, indifferent and robotic.