Why Hillary Will Lead More Women To Partake in Politics

Like Kristen said in her post at Girl With Pen, “Now That The Dust Has Settled (Sort Of)”, Hillary Clinton’s candidacy for president  is still fascinating to ponder. I was recently asked to write an article on the topic for the ILF Digest, the journal of  a think tank I’ve been a fellow of (I find this terminology amusing, but have never come up with an acceptable alternative—can you?) for some years. It won’t be published for a few weeks but I’d like to share an excerpt here because takes up where Kristen’s questions were leading:

Despite many problems with sexism in the culture and media that made themselves self-evident during Hillary Clinton’s campaign, there are even more reasons to be optimistic that Clinton’s presidential run will be a net plus in motivating women to enter politics. I predict a sea change in women’s participation in politics up and down the ticket and in non-elective political roles as well, for these reasons:

1.    Seeing gives the potential for being. The message chanted at Clinton’s rallies: “Yes she can!” has clearly been delivered to younger generations.  All young girls hereafter will grow up knowing it is possible for a woman to be president.  And Clinton’s willingness to stay in the race despite all the challenges, despite constant calls for her to bow out, despite what must have been intense exhaustion and disappointment, is exactly what women of all ages with political aspirations need to see. In her speeches, she often mentioned “two groups who move me: women in their 80’s and 90’s who come out in walkers and wheelchairs and say they just want to live long enough to see a woman elected president, and families who bring their children and lean over and whisper in their daughter’s ear, ‘Honey you can be anything you want to be.’” Now they know they can.

2.    Women were energized as never before.  Rep. Carolyn Maloney said at a recent event sponsored by Lifetime Television, which along with three major women’s magazines has spearheaded a massive multimedia campaign called “Every Woman Counts”, that even though Clinton lost the primary campaign to Obama, “I think she lifted up the self esteem of women across the country, across the world.” Observing that Clinton raised $190 million in the primary race, Maloney said. “I think she helped all of us..”  One measure of how much she has helped women become more engaged in politics is that in past races, women’s financial contributions amounted to less than 30% of the total. For the first time, fueled by excitement over Clinton’s candidacy, half of the contributions to a presidential candidate came from women. And, in fact, over 40% of Obama’s contributions came from women as well, demonstrating women’s importance to the Democratic party and women’s understanding about the strategic importance of giving their fair share of the proverbial mother’s milk of politics in order to get their fair share of influence on the public policies they want. As North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Bev Perdue pointed out, “Everybody is involved in politics whether they realize it or not.” Since men have little motivation to change the power structure, women have little choice but to become the change we want to see. Clinton’s willingness to put herself out there will motivate more of us to try.

3.    Media sexism has been called out, and that roots it out. Rep. Maloney went on to say at the Lifetime event that there was “a big undercurrent of sexism, misogyny and stereotyping” against Hillary Clinton during her campaign for president. But the point here is Maloney made her claims at a public, mainstream media-sponsored event. That would not have happened in the past. The nonprofit Women’s Media Center mounted a campaign called “Sexism Sells, but We’re not Buying It”  in collaboration with several media justice organizations They got the attention and the responses of major media executives and producers, as well as on-air apologies from Chris Matthews, David Schuster, and others. Even Katie Couric—too late, sadly, to make a difference in this year’s primary reporting but with luck influential enough to change the way women candidates are treated in the future—finally had enough and spoke out publicly on the subject. Change will be slow and imperfect, but it will happen.

4.    Hillary’s post-primary awakening led her to embrace her leadership role as a woman and on behalf of other women. Throughout the campaign, she downplayed the importance of her gender, saying as she did at her Beacon Theater birthday bash early in the campaign when she was still considered the front runner, “For me it is a great honor and humbling experience to be the first woman president. But I’m not running because I am a woman but because I am the most qualified. “ Since the campaign, she has been much quicker to champion women’s rights. For example, she led the charge to challenge the Bush administration’s proposed new regulations an-outrageous-attempt-bush-adminstration-undermine-womens-rights  that would redefine many birth control methods as abortion and allow medical providers to refuse to provide them. She seems to have learned a lesson about being her true self; other women will take courage from that.

At Hillary’s birthday event almost a year ago now,Elvis Costello performed to a standing ovation. Then the Wallflowers joined Elvis onstage; the decibel level elevated ten-fold, whipping this audience of aging rockers into frothy enthusiasm.

When comedian Billy Crystal came up to close the evening, little did he know just how prescient he was when he said, ““Hillary is making this campaign not so much for the old rockers but for the new ones.”

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.


As my daddy used to say, “That’s what makes horse races.”

The many and multi-textured responses with varied opinions I received to my comments in the AP story last week which I link to in “Saturday Morning Coffee Questions on Women and Voting Power” below came via e-mail rather than on this site and warrant a post of their own. (Note to readers—I always love to hear from you, but I would appreciate your posting comments here on Heartfelt so other readers can have the benefit of them too.) Excerpts from two e-mails that especially touched me are below; I’ll introduce each one and share my reactions.

First from Lakeisha, whose depth of feeling about Obama’s candidacy is so compelling, it brought me to tears:

In my mother’s womb she had to wonder whether I would be male or female; she’s known…that her children would be black and face terrible situations because of it. In our community it was a fantasy, almost ignorant to think that a black individual could even seriously think about running for president; then actually have a real chance. I never thought in my life time that I would see a black man be taken seriously as a presidential nominee. For the first time in my 28 years, I’m proud to be an American. I am a singer and I’ve sung the national Anthem a million times and felt nothing moving about it; now when I sing it genuine tears flow and I tremble as I feel the true freedom that I have only heard about from my white teachers. For the first time I feel like someone will see me as equal, just as intelligent, just as trustworthy, and just as beautiful. If Sen. Obama wins and does what he promises to do, maybe, for that big promotion, I won’t get looked over and it be given to the less educated, less experienced white person…You see, black people struggle daily, we have to work twice as hard and twice as long to be seen as just as good as white people.
Please don’t get me wrong, if I felt that Obama would not be the best person for the job, I wouldn’t vote for him, because if he fails we fail, I would be embarrassed if he was not a success president. You must understand this will not be just an Obama victory, this will be an American victory. America, a country with a history of violence and a hatred for black people, a country that stole us from our land and brought us here, where we spoke no English and had no idea of how to get home, where they beat us to submission. I was born in 1980 and still have felt, everyday of my life, the wrath of racism and inequality. Obama’s victory will began the healing process and show us that America is ready to live up to it’s promise and that it understands that all men are created equal.

I feel the same pride and gladness about Obama’s ascendancy. I have wished from the start that they two of them would form the American dream team and run together.  I started my path to a life committed to social justice in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. Working for integration and against the South’s Jim Crow laws awakened me to the injustices women have suffered from time immemorial, injustices so deeply ingrained in the culture that hardly anyone noticed them, including the men who led the Civil Rights Movement. That’s why my feelings about Clinton’s candidacy mirror almost exactly Lakeisha’s feelings about Obama’s candidacy, and why I understand and empathize. As one of the few Jewish kids growing up in small Texas towns, I also experienced personally the stings of prejudice (and a history of enslavement and genocide). I am white so often people would then and still sometimes now say things without knowing they were hurting me. It’s not worse or better than what Lakeisha deals with; it simply is. And unfortunately we can’t have both of these great candidates as co-president so each of us has to decide who we think is better qualified. For me, that’s Hillary. But I empathize with any African American who decides to support Obama. Racism and sexism are joined at the head, two sides of the same coin, and I prefer to say all people are created equal.

Next, Linda took issue with my suggestion that women should support Hillary for our daughters:

I am a white woman the same age as Hillary. Is there a generation gap in the women’s movement?  You bet there is.  All the young women in America watched as NOW and other ‘feminist’ organizations rallied to defend Bill Clinton when it became apparent that he had acted improperly with a very young student intern, one of our daughters.  They saw you all helping to sacrifice our daughter Monica Lewinsky to save Bill Clinton.  No one reached out to Monica. The young women weren’t as surprised as I was, or as outraged.  They already viewed NOW as hopelessly out of touch with the lives of young women.  I fought all the same battles as other women my age working in professional positions.  But if you can explain to me how saving the Clinton’s helped me or our daughters, I’d be grateful and surprised.  From what I’m told by the young women, sexual harassment is viewed as being much more acceptable after the Clinton debacle.  What I see in the young women is that they are much better equipped to handle that kind of incident than we were.  Hillary has made an amazing journey and I respect her for that because I know how hard it was.  But she is still mired in the anger, still in the mental frame that allowed blaming Newt Gingrich for Bill’s behavior.  She does not have the resources to unite Americans and we desperately need that effort to be made at this time in our history.  Most of us have passed the mental frame where women’s issues are our paramount concern.  The problems of global warming and the horrible state of things in the Middle East are life-threatening, not status-threatening.  Young women are reaching out to their sisters throughout the world, and that is what all women should be doing.  The future can be saved if women have basic human rights and a few tools to move forward.  The glass ceiling that held me and others down has become largely irrelevant in the face of so many women struggling for basic survival.  The world has changed, and Hillary has not changed with it.

There are so many intriguing aspects of this comment that I can’t address them all here though they suggest many future blogposts. To be brief: Bill Clinton’s actions were reprehensible. Politics is unfortunately more about the possible than the perfect, and Bill with all his imperfections was vastly better for policies that benefit women—from family leave to reproductive rights to the economy–than allowing the misogynist hard right wing of the Republican Party to take over the government. More important, anger at Bill is not a reason to punish Hillary!  Ted Kennedy is a big Obama backer and nobody faults Obama for Teddy’s misbehavior. Yes, “the future can be saved if women have basic human rights and the tools to move forward”, but we are far from there. If the glass ceiling is irrelevant then why is Congress 84% male, why has America never had a woman president, and why has so much of the vitriol directed at Hillary been so blatantly gender-based? There’s a lot of unfinished business as far as simple justice for women is concerned.

Rather than go on, let me share an excerpt from gaypastor’s analysis in the comments section of the “Saturday Morning Coffee Questions” post, where you can read it in full:

I spent years engaged in academic research regarding the roles of gender in our society and I both attended and taught courses dealing with the various “isms” that curse our world… I often concluded that sexism appears to be our deepest divide.  While men (often heterosexual men) spent much of human’s history fighting each other over differences of power, religion, economics, geography, ethnicity and race; women consistently remained their positions as domestic prisoners and/or second-class citizens.  Whether “this group of men” won this battle or “this other group of men” won this war, women were subjected to the powers of the patriarchy and did not make significant advancements until the 20th  century…
Today, and as we increasingly watch the opportunity for our first woman president slip by, we must ask ourselves why the issue of “race” has dominated campaign coverage and the issue of “gender” has become almost non-existent…

Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power. Buy the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop. Tweet @GloriaFeldt and connect on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+ Gloria is the co-founder (with Amy Litzenberger) of Take the Lead, a new initiative to prepare and propel women to leadership parity by 2025. Find them @takeleadwomen and on Facebook.