Albright: Hillary's Health

Sep 20, 2016

Let’s face it, a lot of us show up for work when we should stay home. Of course, when you have only about six weeks left to win a presidential election, spending a day in your pajamas binge watching West Wing and asking your husband to make you some chicken soup - my usual flu season gambit - is probably not an option.

And yes, it would have been wiser for Clinton to nip that illness in the bud, take a day off, and come clean about it to voters. But I don’t really see this as a defining political issue. It seems likely that if Trump caught pneumonia he, too, might ignore sage advice and just muscle through the week.

Still, the whole episode made me think along gender lines. I wondered if Hillary avoided taking time off because women, in general, don’t coddle themselves – that they’re more likely, overall, than men to shrug off sickness and just get on with their jam-packed day, packing their work plate way too full.

That seemed likely to me, but I was wrong. According to a widely publicized 2008 study by Finnish researchers, women are more likely to take a few sick days off from work than their male peers. Now, that isn’t the way my family and friends behave. Working mothers I know avoid staying home when they catch a cold or flu, so they can save their sick time to nurse ailing kids.

But in this study, men were the ones who went to work feeling lousy. As to why, researchers speculate that women are better than men at recognizing health problems. And women are more likely to have the kinds of jobs - juggling home and work - that can make them sick, or overtired.

Of course, a presidential candidate can decide for herself how many sick days she gets, and Clinton was apparently aiming for “none.” Perhaps she was trying to look invincible, or perhaps, as she often says, she’s just a tireless worker. But it does seem that our political system requires women to act like men, and avoid even the slightest impression of vulnerability.

At the upcoming debate, I hope to hear a robust discussion, not about Hillary Clinton’s health, which appears to be improving, despite the grueling campaign, but the overall health of our nation. And that depends on making it easier for everyone - not just candidates for public office - to hold onto their jobs and their health.