By Issy McConville
Yesterday, Hillary Clinton announced that she was running for President. And so of course, yesterday also saw many unsavoury characters emerge from the dark regions of the internet and manifest their opinions on Twitter; most especially under the Republican-led hashtag ‘Stop Hillary’. Scrolling through the hashtag, I got one particular impression – the primary issue discussed was Hillary’s gender. As unfortunately expected, there were some blatantly sexist messages such as this:
But more often, the argument seemed to be that Hillary should not be selected simply because she’s a woman. As if she gained some kind of advantage over her competitors because of the symbolic possibility that she could become the first female President of the United States.
Now this really got me riled. I have a number of issues with this particular argument. Firstly, you cannot say that a minority group, as represented by both Hillary Clinton and Obama, have a political advantage just because they are minorities – just because they are finally gaining the rights and political visibility that you – by which I mean straight white males – have always had. And to me, this seems like an easy cop-out argument to be made by her opposition. Oh, she’s a woman and that must be why she’s getting votes. I think it is important that Hillary is not defined by her gender, categorised by her femaleness. The campaign should be focused on what she stands for as a politician, and I have no problem with those who criticise her on the basis of her policies. And while we’re talking about gender – why are we STILL talking about Monica Lewinsky? I fail to see how this is even slightly relevant to Hillary’s policy-making ability as a President. It was literally two decades ago. I was actually 1 year old.
However. While I don’t think Hillary should be defined by her gender, I also don’t think that we should forget it. It is still important. At the end of the day, America – and the world – is 50% female. Considering this election is for the 58th Presidential term, it seems like maybe it is time for a female President. Democratic elections are about representing the people of the country, and when half of those people are female, a female President might be good for serving their needs. It’s a cliche argument to claim that a female President would be a great role model, but it’s not an argument without some merit. Across the globe, politics is dominated by men. According to a 2014 survey, women hold only 18.5% of congressional seats, and women of colour only 4.5%. The UK is a similar story – according to UKFeminista, only 1/4 of MPs are women, and only 1.2% of MPs are women of colour. Something needs to change and having a female President could be a step in the right direction.
Watching Hillary’s campaign video, gender issues seem quite central; it features a gay couple and a working mother. Of course we can be endlessly politically cynical and of course it’s just a video. But I welcome the clear interest in women’s issues. Having a female President is not going to create instant equality for women, as we in the UK saw under Thatcher, who did nothing to further the rights of other women. As Madeleine Albright, the first female US Secretary of State said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”. Women are still not equal, Hillary is a woman, and so of course she should show some inclination towards women’s rights, and not be criticised for this.
I’m certainly not saying Hillary is the perfect feminist. Indeed, she has been accused of being a ‘corporate feminist’, and issues like intersectionality still really need to addressed by the mainstream. But it’s a step in the right direction. And I don’t think anyone would argue that any of the Republican candidates will be making great strides in female rights.
So my point is – let’s change the political dialogue. Yes, Hillary is a woman, and could become the first woman to hold the title of US President. But that’s not all she is. Let’s see her femaleness as a great opportunity, rather than some kind of unfair political advantage. But let’s also just talk about her as a political candidate like any other. The question is not, are you ready for a female President?, it’s are you ‘Ready for Hillary?’.