Wonder Women isn’t all about comics. As the superheroes teach us, heroes come in all shapes and sizes, from all walks of life, capable of anything. So this week, let’s do something a little different.
Three days ago, Hillary Clinton announced her bid to run as President for the Democratic party in the upcoming US elections – the first person to announce themselves as a candidate. Now, I’m not going to claim to be any kind of expert on American politics or, in fact, any kind of politics. I’m not. I am, however, very excited that the notion of a female president is being considered and – in many cases – celebrated. Clinton’s become the real-life Leslie Knope breaking into the boys club.
Before beginning, I should note that being a Scot living in London, completely uninvolved in American politics, this is merely an opinion piece, celebrating women breaking boundaries in male-dominated areas. The quality of policies, the candidates, and the final vote is for America to decide on polling day.
With her campaign set to kick into full-throttle in May, Hillary Clinton has already received an overwhelming response to her candidacy – most of it positive – from across the globe. Whilst her policies are mostly underwraps for now, she’s made her stance on a few key points perfectly clear. She wants further recognition of women, children and families in the United States – to help and encourage their growth in various ways; and she wants to reform the traditional means of US political funding, which means distancing herself from the wealthy elite of the US and planting herself firmly amongst the people. A clever move, given the unjust nature of America’s government. One of the most significant things a person of power can do is demonstrate that they’re on your side; that they’re human. And I think Hillary could pull that off.
Human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all.
This obviously isn’t Clinton’s first step into the political limelight. A well-known name and face for many years, her political career has been ongoing since 1992. And although she first entered the White House as First Lady, this didn’t stop her from becoming politically active herself. During Bill’s first term as President, Hillary fought to establish the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which has reportedly halved the number of uninsured children in the US. (Although why a country like the US would need their children’s health to be insured is another matter for another time altogether.) In 2000, she was elected to US Senate, becoming New York’s first ever female senator. Her response to aid the public and, most importantly, the victims of the tragic 9/11 attacks were a remarkable feat in a country where handouts are rare, but she ensured money was raised and help was given to those who needed it. During her time as NY Senator, Clinton fought to provide better healthcare, and aid small businesses in rural areas. She’s served aside Obama during his presidency as Secretary of State, and has been active in campaigns for human rights throughout her career.
As a woman in power, Clinton has attended events across the globe. Perhaps most notable was her speech at the UN Fourth World Conference on women in Beijing in 1995. This speech sparked global movements for women’s’ rights, inspiring healthy feminist activism, and tones of Clinton’s speech remain noticeable in today’s fantastic UN Women’s rights campaign, He For She. Women’s rights is everyone’s problem and everyone can help.
For my generation, Clinton is probably most recognisable from facing off against Sarah Palin in the 2008 presidential campaign. This is perhaps why I’m so keen to focus on Clinton and her campaign this week. Not to promote Clinton and her ideologies. But to examine the response to that campaign. In 2008, not one but two women wanted to be president. Their ideas were at the opposing end of the spectrum, but there was one element they could undoubtedly agree on. The bias coverage of their candidacy in the media. Two women striving to be in positions of power – nay, already in positions of power – were being openly mocked, ridiculed and objectified by reporters across the globe. The more power women gain, the more backlash there seems to be. Why?
Cynicism at the ready with the Hillary2016 Campaign everydaysexism Bingo Card.
Throughout their campaigns, Clinton and Palin were not taken seriously. Reporters looked at their aesthetics rather than their political stance and substance. Their outfits were scrutinised, they were considered as emasculating their male company and competitors, they were deemed emotional whenever they were passionate in a speech. This is where gendered language becomes dangerous, and why it needs to stop. Rarely is a man considered bitchy or whiny or sexy or giggly. I’ve also never seen a political debate where a man’s been asked what he’s wearing, or told it was too frumpy. We all know that if politics was based on appearance, Ed Miliband would not be in the running to be Labour PM in May! But Sarah Palin was undignified by the media, whilst Clinton was considered a ‘ball-buster’. It seemed they couldn’t be equally masculine and feminine, they became hyper-feminised – the polar extremes of “what it means to be a woman.”
And this is important. When we do this to women in power, particularly via the media, we create a message for the younger generation that is incredibly damaging. “Sure you can be President, sweetheart, but you gotta stay slim, dress nice, and just nod along with whatever policies your puppet master gives you. Don’t think for yourself.” By dictating our idea of the “norm”, we’re only pushing ourselves further back. Instead of condemning Clinton for running for President; blaming her for being emasculating; questioning her femininity; or dissing her outfit, we should be celebrating the fact that she believes in herself enough to take a stand. She has ideas, and she believes in them. She’s confident enough to stand up in front of every person on the planet to aim for the biggest hot seat in the world – not just once, but twice. That is amazing.
Over the next few months, it’s down to the people of America to decide whether or not they want another groundbreaking presidency. But when polling day comes, remember to judge Hillary Clinton on her policies, not her gender.