With the possibility of Hillary Clinton running for President in 2016 looming, I thought it appropriate to conclude the school year with a series on Hillary Clinton. This first part will introduce the three-part series by discussing the barrier Hillary Clinton faced in 2012, and will face if she chooses to run in 2016.
In addition, I will be using a book that I am reading as a companion to the series. The book, Hillary Clinton’s Race for the White House: Gender Politics and the Media on the Campaign Trail is a book operating on the preface that the primary reason that Hillary Clinton lost in 2008 is because she is a woman. Providing commentary from different sources, statistics and historical background for their argument, I believe this book makes some interesting points that will complement my own thoughts throughout this series.
Recently, Jon Stewart addressed the barriers that women face in politics and the media. In particular, he discussed the recent influx of media attention Hillary Clinton has gotten after her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, announced that she was pregnant. After making the announcement, many news outlets pondered on whether or not Hillary becoming a grandmother will affect her running in 2016—a question, as Jon Stewart put it, “that has never, ever been posed to a male candidate ever.”
This question is indicative of one of the many barriers women face when running for any major office, nevertheless a presidency. The book summarizes this problem succinctly: “being a woman generally helps candidates when the stereotypical expectations for women coincide with the expectation office, but hurts when the expectations for women conflict with the expectations of the job” (23). This is why women have a considerably easier time gaining positions at the local level or in the higher position of governor, where the focus is more domestic (education, health care) than in in Congress or in the presidency, where the focus is more national and international (foreign policy, economic).
The office of President is considered a man’s job because the issues are considered more androcentric. The President has to be tough, willing to make the hard decisions and be able to handle foreign policy. Women are at an immediate disadvantage because two of those three behaviors (toughness, hard decision making) are traditionally unbecoming of the conventional woman.
True womanhood—what society perceives as the nature and responsibility of women—initially meant being selfless, emotional, and “untouched by both private vices and public life” (31). Though women’s suffrage movements have moved society past some of these expectations, the stigma still remains. A woman is more emotional and more domestic, and thus unable to hand the pressures of the presidency.
Another significant barrier is the current state of the political system. The book observes that there are essentially four ways that a person can become president, and that these have been the only ways we know since recent memory. The “pathways to presidency” are: 1) the military, 2) the vice presidency, 3) a governorship or 4) Congress (24). Considering these factors, this leaves only two ways that a woman has a chance at the presidency. Combined with media pressures and perception (as examined by Jon Stewart), this leaves creates a very difficult path for women.
Though no woman has ever won the presidency, it has not been for lack of trying. Ten women have run for President in the past with little impact and outrageously biased media coverage (one woman, Patricia Schroeder, was criticized for years after crying in an emotional withdrawal speech). See: women who have paved the way
Hillary Clinton is different. In 2012, she came in at a time of conventional presidency and almost won the nomination, finally presenting the first realistic possibility of a female president. She served as a US Senator and Secretary of State, the first First Lady to do so. Despite media scrutiny and ridiculous commentary about her next title of grandma, she continues to remain the strongest contender for the 2016 Democratic nomination. And to boot, she now has a leg up after Barrack Obama officially broke the barriers for every unconventional candidate by becoming our first African American president.
If anyone has a chance of tearing down the taboos that constrain women, it will be Hillary Rodham Clinton.