Voters Think Hillary Clinton’s Gender Gives Her An Advantage — They’re Right, & That’s Awesome
According to a recent survey by the Washington Post and ABC News, about a third of voters think Hillary Clinton has an advantage as a woman in the election. It’s pretty disturbing to me that a third of voters would agree with anything so frequently touted by presumptive Republican nominee and known-misogynist Donald Trump, and also that about a third of our great nation’s electorate seems to have forgotten the genders of the past 44 presidents of said great nation. Yet simultaneously, on some level (though not the probably very sexist level survey takers were thinking on), Clinton might just have a couple advantages in the 2016 election season. But these advantages (which are really just my speculation that you can feel free to ignore if you disagree) are indicative of cultural progress feminists should be celebrating, not being quick to reel at.
There’s no denying that pervasive perceptions of men as inherently better leaders, rigidly sexist standards, and frankly gross, dated, and infuriating comments have all plagued Clinton’s campaign since the get-go, both in terms of her campaign and the start of her political career. You’d have to be a total misogynist (and a blind and deaf one, at that) to deny this.
But here’s the deal. Maybe this also has something to do with how, in the general election, the alternative to Clinton is Donald Trump, a walking, spray-tanned disaster for women. But Clinton’s gender gives her an inherent advantage among the roughly 50 percent of voters who are also women.
For all her economic privilege, we know that Clinton knows how difficult getting respect and advancement and just wading through a world flooded with lingering patriarchal undertones is for women of all color lines and economic classes.
Despite the many reasons to dislike her as a candidate and not be excited about her as a possible president, one thing Hillary does have going for her — as far as I’m concerned, at least — is her gender, and and the understanding of just how tragically hard it still is to be a woman in America that her gender inherently gives her. Yes, she is very rich and very white and I’m not saying she possesses the identity nor experiences to give her unique insight into the experiences of most American women. But, I mean, she can sure as hell relate more than any man can. They’re all mostly rich and white too.
Yet at the end of the day, I know that Sanders, despite his A+ track record on women’s rights and general awesomeness, lacks the aforementioned understanding of how hard it is to be a woman that Clinton herself has no shortage of. And this understanding would inevitably influence her decisions as president.
Case in point: We can relate to her because we know she can relate to us. So there’s advantage number one.
Next, there’s the fact that society is increasingly being dominated by progressive media that relentlessly calls out public figures on their racist, homophobic, transphobic, and, relevant to Hillary Clinton, sexist bullshit. So, expect to see a lot more of Trump being exposed as the asshole he is, and, being her opponent in the general (after she closes the deal on the nomination), with the exception his base of fellow sexists/supporters who are already committed to him, to the rest of voters who are, for whatever reason, actually deliberating between the two candidates, his vulgar and sexist attacks are hardly going to make Trump appear more desirable.
This is especially the case today. While, irritating as it is, few people are willing to label themselves as feminists, the vast majority of Americans support gender equality (the lack of “feminists” is more an aversion to the word than the principles). We also have social media! Publicly saying misogynistic crap just doesn’t fly like it used to. It still happens as much as it ever did, but the internet has given us a round-the-clock platform for calling it out, and while that doesn’t make sexism any better to endure, it does lead to a bad PR day for whoever said the sexist shit, and a lot of sympathetic support for whoever it was said about.
In this sense, as cringe-worthy as they are, sexist attacks against Clinton arguably constitute another advantage: Clinton’s sexist attackers frequently wind up deservedly looking like dicks, while she appears not only sympathetic but, in contrast with her misogynistic haters, dignified and mature. That being said, as Jamie Peck at Death and Taxes pointed out in February, sympathizing with Clinton certainly doesn’t mean you have to support her or swallow criticisms of her very real, non-gender related shortcomings.
And last but certainly not least, there’s the appealing historical significance of being part of electing America’s first female president. At least to older generations of women who lived through a brand of sexism leagues and bounds more blatant than today’s, the idea of a female president was something of a pipe dream. The fact that today, it seems not only possible but ultimately likely is literally a dream come true. Additionally, 80 percent of all Americans think America is ready for its first female President, up from just 60 percent in 2006.
But it’s worth noting that of the 80 percent of sufficiently forward-thinking Americans, only 31 percent think it’s important for a woman to be elected in their lifetimes, and only 54 percent of even Democrats view the gender of their candidate as a priority. And this is fair enough: Representation is absolutely necessary, but that doesn’t mean I have any intention of electing Carly Fiorina or Sarah Palin, and, granted, while I wouldn’t dare compare Hillary to the likes of either woman, if you think Bernie is the better progressive who would benefit more women across color lines and economic classes, by all means, vote for him.
The point here is that Clinton has timing on her side: More people than ever want to see a female president, and the thrill of getting to tell one’s future children they voted for the first female POTUS in history is tempting. If nothing else, she’s got that going for her, and to be sure, a hell of a lot of Americans are ridiculous enough to vote for someone based on that alone.
I very much doubt the third of survey responders who think Clinton’s gender gives her an advantage considered all of this (political overthinking: I do it!) . But considering that we’re coming off of, ya know, several thousand years where a woman’s gender excluded her from political leadership, if Hillary does have an edge, the cultural progress that indicates can really only be seen as a victory for women.