Well, the election has been over for months, the inauguration has taken place, yet there is still one issue that I notice people are denying, or at least are reluctant to face. And that is, did Hillary Clinton’s gender have anything to do with her loss? The prevailing wisdom seems to be that she was a flawed candidate and that she represented ‘business as usual’ in Washington, which the majority of people no longer wanted. Those things may be true, but I can’t get myself to agree that sexism has completely been eradicated and that a woman has an equal chance of winning the presidency as a man.
One of the favorite verbal sports of the election, especially during the primary, was shaming women for supporting Clinton with “You’re only voting for Hill because she’s a woman.” Or what has been dubbed “vagina voting”. Funny how these people never want to acknowledge that there has always been gender-based voting. Many men and women, too, still think only a man should be president. So if you want to talk about gender voting, I’d say the fact that 100% of American presidents have been male reflects a quite serious gender bias in voting. But when voting favors MALES, that’s okay. Nothing sexist about that…hmm.
Has Hillary been perfect? Far from it. Just like every other person (read: male) who has ever run or been elected president. I have had reservations about some of her decisions, but have only seen the hatred directed toward her directed toward one other candidate. And that candidate is Donald Trump. And we all know what the outcome was for him. As co-host Joy Behar said on The View: “A man can get away with anything and a woman can’t get away with a thing.” At this point, I can’t see a woman ever being president. She would have to have a perfect record and a completely unblemished past. And we all know that’s impossible.
One of the clearest double standards I’ve seen is the response to former Senator John Edwards (D-NC) who, like Mrs. Clinton, voted in favor of the Iraq war. The prevailing attitude was “He made the best decision he could with the information he had at the time. He made a mistake, let’s move on.” Let’s move on? Hillary was and continues to be raked over the coals for her support of the Iraq War, whereas a man doing the exact same thing gets a pass. And sans the Rielle Hunter, baby Frances Quinn scandal, I believe John Edwards would have had a serious shot at the presidency.
Even liberal/progressives like Michael Moore, actress Susan Sarandon and The Huffington Post were partially responsible for Hillary’s loss. Everything to them was…Bernie! Bernie! Bernie! Renowned filmmaker Michael Moore has been trashing Hillary up one side and down the other for decades. He FINALLY, 25 years after the fact, gave Hillary credit for trying to implement universal health care in the United States. Mrs. Clinton was attacked mercilessly for her efforts–for spending too much money with little to show for it, etc.,–but the truth is, she was simply way ahead of her time. And the real reason she was so viciously attacked is because she was a first lady stepping out of the prescribed role for that position by chairing such an initiative in the first place. Her job was to be attractive, dress well, take on non-controversial causes, and generally be powerless. It seems Mr. Moore never considered the limitations and expectations placed on Hillary by virtue of her being first lady.
Moore, to his credit, did eventually give Hillary her due, as we should too, for developing the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) which provides over 8 million low-income children with access to health care. I personally know a couple who both got laid off their jobs at the same time and the CHIP program was a lifesaver for them. I shudder to think what would have happened to their young son if he’d had no access to well-baby and other pediatric care.
Actress Susan Sarandon is another one who made a comment that has always stuck in my craw. She criticized Hillary Clinton for getting power through her husband. As if men never get power through family connections: the Kennedys, the Roosevelts, the Bushes, anyone? Or what about every king or prince who ever lived? Women have systematically been denied power, and perhaps getting power through a spouse is one of the few avenues open to women.
Now, if I may, I’d like to digress for a moment and give our younger readers some details about women’s history. Not to condescend, but simply to point out some things they may not be aware of. And to bring it home that plenty of the opportunities they take for granted weren’t always so.
Many millennial girls grew up going to a female pediatrician and perhaps your mother had a female OB/GYN. There weren’t a whole of women doctors if you needed a pediatrician in the 1960s and ‘70s. Or maybe your parents watched the evening news every night and every station had a male anchor and a female anchor. When I was a kid Barbara Walters and the late Jessica Savitch were the only women newscasters. And it was a huge deal that a WOMAN was delivering the news. Perhaps your family’s attorney or accountant was a woman. Not so in my day. All of the usual professionals a family hired were 9 times out of 10 male. Up until 1964 help wanted ads were listed under male and female categories and the majority of jobs for females were for secretaries and housekeepers. Now I realize most of this comes across as ancient history and can be hard to relate to. It would be like me truly trying to understand that I couldn’t open a bank account, get a credit card, rent an apartment or buy a car in my own name, or if my mother’s generation really tried to wrap their heads around the idea that they couldn’t vote because of their gender. Although in some European countries (Monaco and Switzerland, for example) women didn’t even get the right to vote until the 1960s and ‘70s.
Or what about that PhD in science, that medical degree, that law degree you are planning to get? Did you know there used to be quotas on how many women could be admitted to graduate programs? It was considered a waste to educate women since they would end up being homemakers anyway. Or even if they weren’t prohibited outright from entering the program, the societal pressure on women to forego advanced education in favor of family life could be overwhelming.
So it appears Hillary Clinton’s political career is over. Many hoped it would end in the breaking of the highest and toughest glass ceiling, but that was not to be (at least from the standpoint of the Electoral College). Hillary did win the popular vote and by a significant margin. Personally, I hope HRC doesn’t devote one more moment of her time or one more ounce of her energy to the American people. She has more than earned the right to enjoy her life with her family, especially her two precious grandchildren. Sometimes I think Hillary Clinton must be the strongest person in the world to put up with everything she’s gone through. And that trait, at least, would have boded well for a presidency.
But, of course, there is still talk that another woman will become the first female president of the United States. However, even talking about another woman being president is predicated on the belief that another female politician would even choose to run for president. I hate to admit it but I would question the sanity of any female who even consider running for president after what happened to Hillary. Even a “Bernie bro”* wrote a mea culpa article for The Huffington Post where he apologized for his attacks on Clinton, although he denied the accusation that he hated the idea of a woman president. Another young man regularly reiterated all the attacks on Clinton, although he never quite understood why he felt such disdain for her. He came to realize after researching her history for himself that sexism was to blame. While I can appreciate their change of heart, it’s hard to consider these 11th hour apologies as anything but too little too late.
It is clear that our country does not want, or is not ready for gender equality, or any other equality for that matter. When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was asked what would be gender parity on the Court, she responded: “When all nine Supreme Court justices are female.” Even I needed to think about that one. Somehow a 5-4 majority male seemed right. Awful, I know. And speaking of the Supreme Court, I hope the millennials enjoy the Court’s strong switch to the right. It will certainly affect them more profoundly, and for far longer, than it will me and those of us born at the end of the baby boom or earlier.
Apparently, despite all the agitation, all the hard work and all of the supposed changes in mindset, power is still reserved in this country predominately for white men. And I believe that until we at least accept that there is still a strong bias against a female candidate, women in politics (and other fields) will lag far behind their male counterparts. I find it hard to believe, no, impossible to believe, that we really are as gender neutral as we pretend to be, despite it being de rigueur these days to protest that gender no longer has any influence on who can win an election. Therefore, we must first acknowledge this issue, without denials or excuses, if we hope to make any progress.
*From several articles I read, many young men felt it was “politically incorrect” to admit that they just didn’t want a woman in the White House, even though that’s how they truly felt.