Why Voting for Hillary’s Gender Might Not Be So Bad
Given the stagnation of American government, the significance of having a female president at least promises some change.
By Maya Merberg, SUNY Geneseo
As you may have noticed, if in the past few months you’ve watched TV or had an internet connection or a conversation, the 2016 presidential candidates have proven to be quite provocative.
The Democratic Party in particular was split between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. Sanders had a loyal community of supporters, many of whom were young, left wing and disliked Clinton for her moderate policy. Some of these same Bernie bros, who think of Donald Trump as a Hitler-like figure, now threaten to vote for Trump himself over Clinton, since Sanders is out of the race. (They may not be aware that in doing so they are functionally comparing themselves to Nazis—that is, in fact, how the Holocaust worked.)
Clinton is the first female presumptive presidential nominee for a major party, so it’s easy to say that the Democrats’ aversion to her has to do with her being a woman. But a common counterargument is that some liberal feminists are supporting her solely on the basis of her gender. This sounds like it could be a solid argument, except that it’s not.
One issue is that liberals who think of Clinton as a sort of cold-hearted monster are greatly exaggerating. Some Bernie supporters hate her to the point of creating a profound chasm in their own political party. Of course she is less radically liberal than Sanders, but he’s a self-proclaimed socialist, so it would take a lot to be further left than him. Clinton is, however, definitely still a liberal candidate, and I find it hard to believe that she would receive so much negative feedback if she were a man.
Studies have shown that people see successful and assertive women as more unlikeable than their male counterparts. Certain Sanders supporters dislike Clinton with a vehemence that is not at all mutual. Sanders was never attacked by fellow democrats the way Hillary was. If the split between supporters of the two candidates was purely ideological, the negativity would likely be returned.
So it’s impossible to ignore the role gender is playing in this election. As for the claim that Clinton is so strongly endorsed only because she is a woman, history doesn’t quite provide evidence for femininity as an advantage in politics, business, education or the public sphere in general.
But it’s true that more and more people are realizing the importance of having prominent female political leaders, so it would follow that some Democrats would vote for Hillary just because they are excited about the prospect of a female president. I don’t see that as shallow or ignorant at all.
The prospect of a female president is exciting, or at least it should be; it’s certainly long overdue.
Some might argue that we shouldn’t put aside actual policy differences between candidates just to elect a president of a certain demographic, but I’m willing to bet that some people voted for Obama at least in part because they wanted to see a president who strayed from the trend of his all white, male, Protestant predecessors. Just as they should have.
When the most powerful person in America is always a man from a white, affluent family that no longer reflects the general population, it’s hard to accomplish real change. This is true regardless of his beliefs or what he plans to do in office.
Were Bernie Sanders to become the nominee and win the election, he would have tried to pass laws that help women, African-Americans and other minorities. But he would have faced fierce opposition from more conservative politicians. Congress wouldn’t pass his more radical laws, and all his idealism would have remained just that. If Clinton is elected president, she too will have trouble pushing laws past Congress, but just the fact that she would be a woman in office would spark huge change in our country’s mindset. It would send a message of female empowerment that can’t possibly be refuted by old, white congressmen.
Obama didn’t change everything he had hoped to, as presidents never can, but his being a black president was a profound step for the U.S. Obviously racism is a deep affliction that can’t be eradicated in one move, but I think we, as a country, made progress that we couldn’t have without his election. If Clinton is elected, we will progress toward even more equality in a way that won’t be possible if we elect another male president.
At some point, all the minute differences in opinion between presidential candidates just aren’t as important as they might seem. If American voters are looking to make a true, concretely visible change in their nation for the better, electing Hillary Clinton would be a feat.