"I did notice that there were comments on others' hair and foot attire so maybe that's a step forward," Hillary Clinton tells PEOPLE of sexism in the 2016 election

By Tierney McAfee and Sandra Sobieraj Westfall
Updated February 04, 2016 03:10 PM
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Credit: Kelsey Kremer/The Des Moines Register/USA Today/Sipa; Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty

Hillary Clinton‘s hairstyle and fashion were a big focus in the 2008 election cycle but this time around it seems her male counterparts are also getting their fair share of criticism about their appearance.

The media hype surrounding Marco Rubio‘s so-called “high-heeled booties” escalated so dramatically that Politico labeled it “Bootgate.” And Donald Trump‘s golden combover continues to be the subject of merciless mocking.

So does this mean we’re evolving past sexism in politics?

Clinton responded to that question with a hearty laugh in a new interview for this week’s issue of PEOPLE. “Well, I did notice that there were comments on others’ hair and foot attire so maybe that’s a step forward – I hope so,” she says. “I think it is not as overt and it is not quite as common anymore. But the Internet has become a refuge for people to engage in some of the most vile, personally insulting comments about everybody – myself or anybody else.”

“It’s just open season on anybody who dares to put him or herself into the political arena,” she adds.

But Clinton says she believes there’s a “special amount of venomous commentary” reserved for women, invoking the name of Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly as a prime example.

“I think it’s good that it’s maybe off the main stage, but it certainly is still permeating in some parts of our political system in ways that are quite disturbing,” Clinton says. “And some of the women reporters and commentators who have either read or said something to me find themselves, as Megyn Kelly has, drawn into the political arena, and not just for their professional behavior, opinions – and I think that’s obviously fair game – but for their appearance, for what they say and do.”

For more of our exclusive interview with Hillary Clinton and her daughter, Chelsea, along with their behind-the-scenes campaign photos, pick up the new issue of PEOPLE Friday and watch the full video below.

Kelly has been at the heart of Trump’s feud with Fox News ever since she called out the GOP hopeful for his derogatory comments about women during a Republican debate in August. Trump responded by launching a months-long slew of attacks on Kelly, often targeting her gender, looks and sexuality. Most recently, he retweeted a fan who called her a “bimbo” for posing provocatively for GQ in 2010.

It’s attacks like these – and probably Chris Christie‘s promise to “beat” Clinton’s “rear end” in the upcoming general-election debates – that temper the former secretary of state’s optimism about sexism in the political sphere.

“I think it’s maybe one step forward – but not two,” she says.