By Tyler Morgan and Jen Chase
Despite her political affiliation–and your personal political views—Hillary Rodham Clinton represents more than just the Democratic Party. She represents women. And though we may be well into the 21st century, gender equality remains an issue in the United States despite being a country ahead of the curve on countless other social issues. (It raises the serious question of how the country can proclaim itself a super-power role model when it still struggles to accept women as equals in business and in politics.)
Whether or not you support her views, Clinton represents an opportunity for the United States to make significant strides toward both gender equality and better representing itself as the role-model country we hope other countries might strive to emulate. And if the next election is the beginning of a new era for U.S. women in government, there is no female politician better poised to assume the role of Mrs. President thanks to Clinton’s arsenal of intrinsic knowledge, diplomatic aplomb and well-traveled world acumen. But the question is this: If the United States can’t pay equal wages across gender lines—if media outlets cover Clinton’s suits and impending grandmothering to Chelsea and Marc’s No. 2 more than what makes her among the most notable female politicians of our time—is it ready to accept a female president? What kind of resume would it take to sway the electorate? Looking ahead requires not only looking back, but also evaluating today’s best options. Is Clinton among them?
America v. The World in Gender Equality
The United States’ social norms have exponentially progressed since its inception. Slavery was abolished in 1865. Women got the right to vote in 1920. And in 2008, Barack Obama became
the country’s first black president. But despite the record of change, we’re still a straggler behind others in gender equality. And that no woman has been elected president is not only well overdue but is borderline shocking when considering where women stand in our society.
Today, women make up half the United States’ population and nearly half of the labor force; yet, fewer than 15 percent hold positions as executive officers and less than 5 percent of Fortune 500 companies have female executive officers. (In the legal profession, women comprise only 15 percent of law firm equity partners.) Currently, women make up less than 20 percent of Congress. To put it in perspective with other parts of the world, the United States has less female representation in its government than Rwanda, Bolivia, India, China, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq. Yes, Iraq.
In the last 50 years, 52 countries have had female heads of state; most notably is Angela Merkel, German chancellor and holder of the No. 1 spot on Forbes’ 2015 list of the World’s Most Powerful Women (Clinton is at No. 2). For women pursuing power positions, Merkel shines as the brightest star, being re-elected for her third term in arguably the most dynamic economy in the European Union. This is staggering information, because it insinuates we’re a country that allows women to pursue an education, vote, and not be forced into socially (or religiously) mandated marriages, yet worldwide, we rank in the bottom half in gender equality. And where’s the equity in that?
Answering The Call To Service
From a young age, Hillary Clinton showed an aptitude and desire for community service, and for backing others who believed the same. It’s been reported that in 1960, her political interests were piqued at 13 when she volunteered for her first campaign, thanks to that year’s close presidential election. In the 1964 presidential election, Clinton volunteered for Barry Goldwater (her allegedly reading Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative made her enough of a fan to support him despite his being a Republican). But her passion for social justice (and future political affiliation) were most likely shaped in 1962, in part by attending a speech in her hometown of Chicago by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., where the two met in person. In 1965 she entered Wellesley College, a prestigious all-women’s institution in Massachusetts that is also part of the “Seven Sisters” consortium of schools (the female equivalent to the Ivy League). There, her political science major had her involved in numerous campus and local elections. Later, it was on to Yale Law School where not only did she foster her interest in early childhood development and the welfare of underprivileged children and families—topics that would remain in the forefront of her career for decades to come—but she met her future husband (and U.S. president), Bill Clinton.
Clinton’s history of public service is vast and her accomplishments deserve praise. She has served on campaigns for multiple presidents, including her husband’s; she became a U.S. Senator in 2000 (New York’s first female senator and the first former First Lady to hold office), and she was re-elected in 2006, and became Secretary of State in 2009. But is this enough?
A Race To First is Filled With Firsts
Clinton has an astonishing track record of accomplishing career firsts, so much so it’s hard not to use her fervor as a measure of her ability to get things done. In 1969, she was the first student in Wellesley College history to deliver a commencement address. After following not-yet husband Bill to Arkansas—after esteemed work at the Children’s Defense Fund in Cambridge, Mass., and as a consultant to the Carnegie Council on Children—she became the first female full partner of Rose Law Firm. In 1986, while First Lady of Arkansas during Bill’s governorship, she became the first woman appointed to the board of Wal-Mart, prompting company founder Sam Walton to include females on his board more regularly. She was the United States’ first First Lady to hold a post-graduate degree as well as have her own personal, pre-White House career; the first First Lady to have both her own office in the White House’s West Wing and First Ladies Offices on the East side; and the first First Lady to win a Grammy Award (“Best Spoken Album,” 1987, for you pop-culture trivia night ringers). And, as the first First Lady to be elected to office, Clinton is also the first person regardless of gender to hold simultaneous positions in both the executive and legislative branches of government (she spent 20 days as both First Lady and U.S. senator). In fact, Clinton sits only behind Eleanor Roosevelt as the most lauded, “openly empowered presidential wife” in U.S. history.
But is all that enough? Or do people dislike the Clinton name enough to ignore firsts that, if garnered by a man, might seal the deal on his positive political future?
Clinton’s Strength Could Be Her Weakness
From the onset of her campaign in 2015, Clinton has been a frontrunner for the Democratic Party despite Benghazi turmoil, email scandals, and the force that is U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-VT). As a candidate, she brings immeasurable experience and appears to insiders, outsiders and nosiders as the darling of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). (Hard, otherwise, to explain the party’s airing the most recent Democratic debate at 8:30 p.m., the Saturday before Christmas, when presumably, viewership would be low and Clinton’s profile would remain high. Did the D-Trip hope American’s wouldn’t watch, further solidifying Clinton’s footing? Inquiring minds….)
As we near caucus time, although hardly a foregone conclusion it’s probable that Clinton will get her party’s nod. Naturally, winning a general election would require her taking swing states. but although women comprise slightly more than half the nationwide electorate, it’s possible that a woman’s age and not her party affiliation, could affect the female vote. An October 2015 Daily Beast article by Lizzie Crocker noted that today’s millennials comprise 36 percent of 2016’s eligible voters; and of them, millennial feminists don’t actually find Clinton “feminist enough.” And while she may be plenty progressive for Millennial Moms, its their daughters who could be craving less seemingly white-woman privilege; a little less flipping in her senator years on issues like same-sex marriage; less previous stand-by-your-manness during her husband’s indiscretions. Even writer-director-actress Lena Dunham, in an interview with Clinton for Dunham’s e-newsie, Lenny, was reportedly disappointed that Clinton didn’t get a little more harder-faster-stronger when answering—respectably so—a question about how she’d work to heal the country’s “terrible fracture in race relations.”
Truthfully, millennial voters may be missing the point. If you want to elect someone to run your country based on how they can run, you’d be hard pressed to find a better CV than HC’s. But it will in fact come down to what’s most important to voters. Some have amplified desires for social reform; others care more about foreign policy. Who is elected will boil down to the kind of person voters want in office.
Hillary Clinton: One On One
One Nation Under Hillary?
We’ve long known the import of Girl Power. The public well knows about strength in numbers (anyone see Suffragette?) and the immense power of one (hello, Malala Yousafzai). Could all of womendom lean toward Clinton because they want representation in the Oval Office? Sure. But don’t be sold. Winning may be harder than it sounds if Clinton doesn’t do something in to quell concern of young millennials. However, if voters—of any gender, might we add—cast according to the best person for the job and remain uninfluenced by reproductive organs…if voters ask themselves if they we want a leader based on strength of accomplishments or on history-making factor, this time, it just might be a woman wearing the First Pants of the nation. Judging Clinton’s long career and well-documented affinity for women’s suiting, we strongly suspect she’s ready. Are we?
Is the United States ready for its first female president? One member of the 2016 Presidential Campaign Class thinks so…likely more than most. Below, Hillary Clinton shares candid thoughts about how deep the U.S. gender divide really is; the importance of electing a woman to the Oval Office; and the very special kinship she feels for one of our nation’s other most pre-eminent female icons.
Vegas Legal: Do you feel a certain sense of pressure because you may potentially become the first woman to become president?
When you’re a woman running for president, you hear the words “glass ceiling” a lot. And many people think that shattering that highest, hardest glass ceiling is a goal worth pursuing—and, no surprise, I happen to agree with them. I think that electing the first woman president will send a strong message to all Americans, women and men. It’ll say a lot about women’s role in America, our value, our abilities, including our ability to lead. Because who’s president matters.
But the presidency is not everything. It’s important that people understand that there are still glass ceilings, not just with regard to the presidency, but in lots of fields. There are still way too many barriers holding women back from achieving all that we can.
So I’m hoping that my campaign sends a message to women to be proud of themselves, to take risks in pursuit of their dreams, to get an education, stay focused on their goals, get over the perfectionist gene, ask for help: It’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of strength to build a supportive community. Most of all, I hope little girls across America will be even more convinced that they are just as special and loved and cherished as little boys.
VL: Do you feel we are nearing a close in our society’s gender gap or are there still hurdles to overcome?
HC: The gender gap is definitely still an issue. There’s still a double standard that applies to women, and it’s not just in politics—it’s in business, academia, the media—so many fields. If women are devoted to our jobs, we’re not good enough wives or mothers… if we make time for our families, we’re not serious about our jobs… if we’re assertive, we’re “loud”…if we’re quiet, we’re easily dismissed…if we’re emotional, we’re out of control. This isn’t always the case, of course—but for a lot of women, in a lot of places, life is full of these kinds of impossible situations.
So if you want to put yourself into the public arena and run for office, the way I have as a senator and now in running for president, you have to be prepared to stand up to that kind of pressure. Because it is pressure. There are so many things people talk about regarding women candidates—like what I wear, how I look, my hair, my clothes—that no one pays any attention to when it comes to men candidates. But I also think this is starting to change. It’s getting better. It’s not as bad as it was. And I’m hoping that when I’m elected president, we can really get beyond it and people will say, “I want to judge this girl and this boy, this man and this woman, on their merits, not their gender.”
Then there’s the gender wage gap. It is past time for Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act. I sponsored and fought for this when I was in the Senate, because this law would do something very simple and important: it would make it easier for workers to discover if they’re being paid unfairly, and it would make it harder for employers to justify paying men and women different wages for the same work. That seems like the kind of law we ought to be able to support. But it’s very difficult to get Republicans to take steps to guarantee equal pay for equal work. They don’t support it. And honest to goodness, I don’t know who they spend their time talking to, because I talk to a lot of people who are quite worried about this.
I won’t be deterred. I’m going to fight until every woman has the rights, opportunities and respect she deserves, and every little girl in America knows without a doubt she can grow up to be anything she wants—even president of the United States.
VL: Is there another female icon or politician—past or present—you either feel a resemblance to or look to for inspiration?
HC: I am a huge fan of Eleanor Roosevelt. I’ve read everything she’s written and everything I can find that’s been written about her. When I was First Lady, everywhere that I went, Eleanor Roosevelt had already been there. It was the most amazing thing! I’d show up somewhere in America or abroad and they’d say, “The only other First Lady who ever came here was Eleanor Roosevelt.’” I once visited two women, the Delaney Sisters. They were something like 104 and 106 when I met them—children of a former slave, believe it or not. They lived outside of New York City, which made them my constituents, and I went to their home for a visit. They asked me to sign their guest book. It was incredibly thick— there were decades of signatures in there. And they opened to a page and said, “Here, sign next to Eleanor Roosevelt.”
When you think about Mrs. Roosevelt’s childhood, and how she was treated, and how she stayed focused on what she could do to make a difference in the world, it’s just extraordinary.
VL: When you were First Lady, was there a special experience that you still cherish?
HC: In 1995, I went to Beijing to participate in the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women. There were people in our own government, in our Congress, who didn’t want me to go. And they definitely didn’t want me to give a speech about women’s rights; they didn’t think a First Lady should be so vocal. The Chinese government wasn’t thrilled about it either. They were ready to censor any criticism I offered—and I did have some critical things to say. But I didn’t get distracted by any of that. I just wanted to break the silence around all of the terrible things happening to women and girls worldwide…things like forced prostitution, babies killed for being born girls, so-called honor killings. In a lot of places, people didn’t talk about these matters out loud. But if you want to solve a problem, you start by talking about it. I wanted to say that I believed in—something so basic and so true. And it’s worth saying again: Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.
VL: Lastly: What issue(s) do you believe voters should be most concerned about as they decide for whom to cast their votes?
HC: From my perspective, this election is about whether we continue to move forward together, or whether we do a U-turn back to failed policies that are out-of-touch and out-of-date. If you listen to our Republican friends, they really are absolutely convinced that going back to the economic policies of the past that did not work is the right path forward. I disagree. They say they want to turn the clock back on the rights of women, the LGBT community, people with disabilities, poor people, union members…it’s a long list. And I think that when someone tells you what they believe and what they’ll do if elected, you should believe them. So in 2016, as this election picks up steam, I hope people will listen to the candidates and get a sense of how their positions will affect them and what they care about. There’s a lot at stake here, for all of us. -Hillary Clinton.