Tl;dr: If you’re saying “Hillary,” please also say “Bernie,” “Donald,” and “Barack.” If you’re saying “Sanders,” “Trump,” and “Obama,” say “Clinton.” Don’t call Hillary Clinton by her first name and other candidates or political figures by their last.
It’s fairly common — in many arenas, not just the political one — to call women by their first names and men by their last. And yes, this is a problem. First names imply casualness, friendliness, some degree of intimacy. Last names imply professionalism, respect, some degree of distance. Traditionally (in much U.S. culture, anyway), adults call children by their first names, while children call adults by their last.
So when people use first names for women and last names for men, it positions women as less professional. It reinforces the stereotype of women as the friendliness-makers, the doers of emotional labor, whose job it is to be nice to everyone. It treats women as less deserving of respect. To the extent that it treats women as children or childish, it’s patronizing. All of this sucks in any situation — but it especially sucks in the political world. In the political world, all of this sends the message: Women are less capable, and less fit for office.
Some might argue that “Clinton” is too confusing, since it could mean either Hillary Clinton or her husband, the former president. But when we’re talking about the 2016 election, it’s clear from context that we’re not talking about Bill Clinton. When George W. Bush was running for president, he was routinely called “Bush”: unless the context demanded it, people didn’t see a need to distinguish him from his former-president father. And in any case, there are ways around that problem: in the Republican primary, the former governor of Florida was commonly referred to as “Jeb Bush.”
It’s true that both Clinton and Sanders often use their first names, and first names only, on their bumper stickers and in other campaign materials. It’s not uncommon for political candidates to make themselves seem likeable and approachable by using their first names. So I’m not arguing that it’s always sexist to call Clinton by her first name. What I’m asking people to do is to be consistent. In any given piece of writing (including posts on social media), use either first names or last names for everyone. If you’re going to mix it up, mix it up for everyone.
It’s not the worst form of sexism in the world. But it’s a problem, and it’s one that’s easy to fix. Be part of the solution. Thanks.