The 2016 Presidential elections are a mere few months away but Hillary Clinton has been part of the public political scene since her position as first lady in 1993, followed by U.S. senator, and secretary of state (Editors). Clinton is as close to the presidency as any woman has ever been. Throughout her campaign, on the trail, speaking at multiple UN women’s conferences, on her official campaign website and through social media outlets, she has promoted her brand of feminism. Despite these efforts, she is not winning the women’s vote. Clinton has struggled to gain their support, particularly that of young women, in her past political career and in her current presidential campaign due in part to her inability to communicate, in words, what she has accomplished in action.
In terms of the election, the newest third wave of feminism focuses on women’s choice, not on support of a woman because she is a woman. In other words, no one is sliding any easy votes into Clinton’s pocket. Therefore, women, particularly younger women, is a large voter population for which Clinton must fight. She dedicates an entire article on her campaign website to women’s rights, what she has done in the past for women, and what she plans to do in the future. A selection of items Clinton promises in the article “Hillary on Women’s Rights and Opportunity” are: closing the pay gap, paid family leave, protecting women’s health and reproductive rights, and confronting violence against women. All of these promises address vital issues facing women today and Clinton makes it known that she will fight for women’s rights. The article continues to state Clinton’s past record including strength words such as “spearheaded”, “championed”, and “staunch advocate,” which attempt to endow her character with a sense of leadership and responsibility. Clinton utilizes many other media outlets in addition to her website to portray herself as a feminist.
With close to six million Twitter followers, Clinton’s tweets pop up on many American’s newsfeeds. This popular social media appeals to a younger audience in particular, which makes it an even more attractive platform for Hillary’s campaign. Clinton’s average Twitter activity is about eight tweets a day. This constant supply of tweets ensures that Clinton is never missed on a newsfeed. In the span of just one day she tweeted twice concerning women’s rights. The first at 9:41 A.M. “Isn’t it time to finally guarantee equal pay for the work women do?” (Clinton). The second tweet at 3:53 P.M., “Every woman-regardless of income or zip code- deserves access to health care. If you don’t get that, you have no business being President” (Clinton). Both tweets serve the purpose of promoting Clinton as an advocate for women’s rights. By utilizing social media as a platform for women’s issues, Clinton attempts to appeal to a young female audience.
The first UN conference on women that Clinton spoke at was in 1995; twenty years later, she returned to the floor to speak at the 2015 UN conference. She uses powerful language in her speech to advocate for women’s rights. Clinton states, “Women and men that understand that gender equality is not just morally right but the right thing to do are growing in number” (Psb2usa). While speaking to an audience that already supports women’s rights, Clinton attempts to establish her rapport as a feminist. Within the first five minutes she speaks about closing gaps between men and women, increasing education and healthcare, and opening doors for women in the economic field (Psb2usa). These are all valid points and admirable goals, but most if not all the people at the conference already understand and agree with her position. Moreover (and more unfortunately for her Presidential campaign), a large percentage of the UN audience cannot vote in the United States in the upcoming election.
Clinton uses multiple avenues to portray herself as a feminist, but what type of feminist is she claiming to be? The definition of a feminist isfluid; there have been several waves of feminism in America. As defined and explored in Martha Rampton’s “Four Waves of Feminism,” the first wave dates back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth century and can be characterized by a focus on women’s suffrage. The second wave around the 1960s was a more progressive movement. Protesting sexist subjection to men, women altered the idea of feminism again, endowing it with the meaning of a women’s only club. The third wave, beginning in the mid-nineties, focused on “universal womanhood.” The leaders of this movement took back tokens of femininity such as lipstick, bras, and cleavage and redefined them in terms of encouraging women to embrace themselves and their own power and autonomy.
Clinton has lived through multiple waves of feminism, which have affected her persona and now threaten to divide older generations of feminists from younger generations—two groups that she’d like to unite under her voter base. She grew up during the second wave of feminism, which focused on rejecting traditional gender roles. This is the feminist base with which Clinton identifies and appeals to, but the young female voters have grown up in a drastically different wave of feminism—one that embraces women’s ability to choose what is right for themselves. Sophmore at the University of Connecticut, Ariana Javidi, spoke for a report in the CNN stating, “Like my fellow young feminist women, I recognize that voting for a woman because she’s a woman is sexist, just like voting for a man because he’s a man is also sexist” (Wallace). This newer feminism undoes much of the women for women attitude that characterized the second wave of feminism, Clinton’s. The women for women attitude is what prompted Madeleine Albright, a second wave feminist, to declare, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other” at the Clinton rally in New Hampshire (Wallace). Attempting to guilt young women into voting for Clinton at her rally is not the best way to win support from such a large group. Javidi goes on to say, “When older feminists like Albright and Steinem engage in increasingly baseless and wild explanations about why young women don’t support Hillary, they display the limitations of their brand of feminism, while young women like me realize that one’s gender isn’t what makes them a feminist” (Wallace). Here, Javidi hints at the notion that Clinton cannot simply be considered a feminist because of her gender. Moreover Clinton must prove to young women that she is adaptable enough to understand this newer wave of feminism to win the support of the young feminist voters.
It is true that Clinton was among the first women senators to wear a pantsuit to work in the White house. At the time, this defiance against the norm was considered a success for womankind and Clinton has stuck with the pantsuits ever since. Her rainbow of pantsuit colors has toned down with the impending election to greys and blues (Friedman). This business-like attire commands both power and respect, two characteristics more frequently attributed to men. Some feminists today would encourage Clinton to embrace her femininity and ditch the pantsuits, a symbolic display of masculinity and power. She should be able to express her power even while wearing a dress or a piece of jewelry. Along similar lines of gender norms is Clinton’s short haircut. Although women have embraced many different hairstyles, traditionally women are expected to have longer hair while men have shorter hair. Some critics even suggest that Clinton likely sports a short hairstyle to appear more masculine, and thus convey a sense of power. Clinton’s hair and pantsuits are so central to her identity that she even includes them in her Twitter bio: “hair icon and pantsuit aficionado.” Dress and hair might seem trivial, but it could provide a further disconnect between her and young female voters.
McThomas and Tesler studied the effect of gender on national elections, specifically Clinton’s former 2008 run for the presidency, and published it in the Cambridge Journals. They found that when national positions are at stake the general public tends to be biased against women candidates and those who lack masculine traits. The study also shows, “Individuals rate typical ‘male’ political strengths as more important for national office.” This sexist bias is particularly challenging for women candidates, which Clinton experienced during her 2008 presidential campaign. If a woman embraces her femininity, she’s perceived as less qualified, but if she attempts to embrace masculinity, she’s perceived as less likable. The term for this phenomena is the femininity/competence double bind, the catch-22, which is explained in McThomas and Tesler’s “The Growing Influence of Gender Attitudes on Public Support for Hilary Clinton, 2008-2012,” “The evaluated woman has deviated from the female norm of femininity while exceeding or falling short of the masculine norm of competence, she is too strident and abrasive or not aggressive or tough enough.” Clinton has fallen into this trap once before and is on track to repeat this same mistake. Although she possesses many traits typically attributed to men, she is not a man and therefore cannot be the perfect male candidate. The obvious next step then becomes how to portray her female self as competent when competence is viewed as a male standard.
In her Times article “The Speech Hillary Clinton Should Give to Young Women,” Jay Newton-Small identifies a major problem of Clinton’s campaign. Although Clinton has been an unofficial leader of the quiet revolution of feminism, she has not explained to young female voters what this means. The quiet revolution of feminism refers to the slow progress women have made in the workplace, a pattern which Clinton has overcome by being one of the first women senators and the first Secretaries of State. What she has failed to do is communicate these important facts to her young female audience or incite passion and excitement among the these voters. In 1872 Victoria Woodhull became the first woman to run for the presidency of the United States (Editors). One hundred and forty four years later, America has yet to have a woman President. Being the closest any woman has ever come to the presidency, Clinton has changed history and politics forever. She has paved the way for other women to seek the highest public office in America. Whether she becomes President or not, she has made history. Then, why hasn’t Clinton’s ambition to seek the presidency been met with the same enthusiasm from young women voters? Newton-Small explains, “Millennials are the first generation born assuming equality of the sexes. Most millennial women assume there will be a female President in their lifetime. What they remain unconvinced about is why that President has to be Clinton.” (Newton-Small). Because young women today did not grow up in a culture of sexist struggles as their mothers and grandmothers did, they have not seen or properly measured the huge strides Clinton has made for females. Because Clinton has failed to explain exactly how big and important those strides were, she has not been able to unite women of all generations in the voting booth. Clinton could be a relatable figure who easily communicates the struggles and challenges she has faced as a woman to her audience, if she only harnessed the right message.
Clinton has failed to excite young women during her current campaign in part because she has failed to explain her accomplishments as a woman to young voters who have not faced or overcome the same challenges she has. Clinton’s difficulties portraying herself as a feminist may just cost her the young women’s vote, and possibly the presidency.
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Clinton, Hillary (hillaryclinton). “Every woman-regardless of income or zip code- deserves access to health care. If you don’t get that, you have no business being president.” 30 March. 2016, 3:53 P.M. Tweet.
Clinton, Hillary (hillaryclinton). “Isn’t it time to finally guarantee equal pay for the work women do?” 30 March. 2016, 9:41 A.M. Tweet.
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Newton-Small, Jay. “The Speech Hillary Clinton Should Give to Young Women.” Time. Time, 17 Feb. 2016. Web. 31 Mar. 2016.
Psb2usa. “Hillary Clinton Speaks at UN Conference on Women.” YouTube. YouTube, 10 Mar. 2015. Web. 02 Apr. 2016.
Rampton, Martha. “Four Waves of Feminism.” Four Waves of Feminism. Pacific University of Oregon, 25 Oct. 2015. Web. 10 Apr. 2016.
Wallace, Kelly. “Why the Female Generational Divide for Hillary Clinton?” CNN. Cable News Network, 9 Feb. 2016. Web. 15 Apr. 2016.