Women Reflect On The Gender Issue And The Role It Plays In Politics
The race for the Democratic nomination can be one that every person in America can feel good about. Two competent candidates, one a woman and the other an African-American, have waged a titanic struggle to represent their party in the general election. They reflect what is great about our country, and the realization that our nation is making headway with a variety of issues, even if at times it seems too slow for many of us. But as the days dwindle down in the primary season, and Barack Obama prepares for the fall campaign, women are reflecting on the political race that many had hoped would have placed the first woman as the nominee on a national ticket, it not actually in the White House.
I certainly want to see the day happen. A woman as president is long overdue in our nation. But I have long felt the same about wanting to see a black American achieve the same thing. The fact that only one of the two proud Democratic candidates can actually win has created all sorts of thoughts for women who have hoped and worked for Hillary Clinton. It is not easy for them to have come so far and missed the mark. While I can write ‘that is politics’, I can’t leave it at that. I fully understand that this race with Hillary Clinton was far more than just another race for the White House. Just as I know that Barack Obama is not just another candidate running for the top job in the nation. What we have witnessed this year is historic and we can be darn proud of both for helping to move our country ahead. Each are transformative politicians that will leave a respectful mark whatever the outcome of the race.
While I have been tough on Hillary Clinton over her tactics and strategy to win, I have nothing but praise for what she has done to show that women are just as good on the campaign trail as any man. That she was able to wage a fight that very well could have placed her in the Oval Office, in my estimation, is a victory for women everywhere.
The fallout of the failure for Clinton to have secured the nomination will take years to be understood. But there are some early thoughts in today’s morning newspaper.
“Women felt this was their time, and this has been stolen from them,” said Marilu Sochor, 48, a real estate agent in Columbus, Ohio, and a Clinton supporter. “Sexism has played a really big role in the race.”
Not everyone agrees. “When people look at the arc of the campaign, it will be seen that being a woman, in the end, was not a detriment and if anything it was a help to her,” the presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin said in an interview. Mrs. Clinton’s campaign is faltering, she added, because of “strategic, tactical things that have nothing to do with her being a woman.”
Still, many credit Mrs. Clinton with laying down a new marker for what a woman can accomplish in a campaign — raising over $170 million, frequently winning more favorable reviews on debate performances than her male rivals, rallying older women, and persuading white male voters who were never expected to support her.
“She’s raised this whole woman candidate thing to a whole different level than when I ran,” said Geraldine Ferraro, a Clinton supporter and the first woman to be the vice-presidential nominee of a major party, contrasting her own brief stint as a running mate in 1984 with Mrs. Clinton’s 17-month-and-counting slog.
Ms. Goodwin and others say Mrs. Clinton was able to convert the sexism she faced on the trail into votes and donations, extending the life of a candidacy that suffered a serious blow at the Iowa caucuses. Like so many women before, she was heckled (in New Hampshire, a few men told her to iron their shirts) and called nasty names (“How do we beat the bitch?” Senator John McCain was asked at one campaign event).
Janet Napolitano, the Democratic governor of Arizona, said the world was different now, especially the political world, thanks in part to Mrs. Clinton. “I never heard anybody say she can’t be elected because she’s a woman,” said Ms. Napolitano, who supports Mr. Obama and like many of his supporters saw less sexism in the race than Mrs. Clinton’s backers. “That’s a different deal than we’ve heard before in American politics.”
But as others watched a campaign that starred two possibly transformative figures, they felt a growing conviction that the contest was unfair. Mrs. Clinton’s supporters point to a nagging series of slights: the fixation on her clothes, even her cleavage; chronic criticism that her voice is shrill; calls for her to exit the race; and most of all, the male commentators in the news media who, they argue, were consistently tougher on her than on Mr. Obama.
Whatever barriers Mrs. Clinton may have smashed, she left some intact for future contenders to try themselves against. She seemed uncertain how to reconcile her sex with her political persona. Though she projected an aura of authority, said Robert Shrum, a Democratic consultant unaffiliated with any candidate, she variously cast herself as a victim of male domination, a warm girlfriend type and, at the end, an indefatigable warrior. She even made contradictory statements about whether sex should be a factor in the race.
Mrs. Clinton ran into trouble with some of the classic hurdles that women who are politicians face, historians and sociologists said. “It was the same conversations we’ve been having since the ’70s,” said Debbie Walsh, director of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University.
Take the need to project toughness and warmth simultaneously. The test is unfair, many say, because men are not subjected to it as harshly and because it is nearly impossible not to err on one side. Still, some say Mrs. Clinton went overboard on toughness.