Women and the 2016 Election

As the commencement speaker at Howard University, President Obama optimistically noted that, “If you had to choose a time to be, in the words of Lorraine Hansberry, ‘young, gifted and black’ in America, you would choose right now.” As the contentious primary contests draw to a close, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are the likely Democratic and Republican nominees for president, and, as such, they have begun to shift to a general election rhetoric. Donald Trump has accentuated the gender of Hillary Clinton, asserting that it is an unfair advantage for her to play “the woman card.”  Women have figured prominently in the 2016 campaign, and as our president added at his speech at Howard, “To deny how far we’ve come would do a disservice to the cause of justice.”  A review of the many ways to play “the woman card”—if that’s what you want to call it–reveal that no longer are women relegated to “staying home and baking cookies” (though, that is a nice option, if one chooses), the women who are part of this election are proof that unlike the small sphere of influence not that long ago relegated to women in the political world, the role of women have expanded and the real possibility that we may elect a woman president is only one part of that expansion.

Megyn Kelly, Fox New anchor has sparred publicly with Donald Trump after challenging his characterizations of women as “fat pigs, slobs – and disgusting animals” in the first presidential debate.  Barbara Bush, former first lady and mother of former presidential candidate Jeb Bush, publicly wondered how women could vote for Trump and encouraged her son to interrupt more.

Melania Trump, business woman and former model, wife of Donald Trump, has encouraged her husband to act more “presidential” while his daughter,  Ivanka Trump, business woman and former model, who just gave birth to her third child, is one of the more articulate spokespeople for her father’s campaign, especially when juxtaposed with Sarah Palin, former governor and vice presidential candidate who commented that Paul Ryan may well be “Cantored ” for not supporting Donald Trump. Chelsea Clinton is a surrogate on the campaign trail for her mother while feminist icon Gloria Steinem and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright have had their moments in the spotlight during this campaign. North Carolina Governor Nikki Haley endorsed Marco Rubio’s failed presidential effort  and Lena Dunham, who insists that “I am a female, millennial voter” … “And I’m not only voting for Hillary, but I really like Hillary.”

And of course, there is Hillary Clinton, the front runner in the Democratic party and the Rorschach test of what it means to be a woman in America—she is a former “Goldwater Girl”, first lady, senator, secretary of state, mother and grandmother. And the voters who are women!  What do they really think about a woman president?  Most of course love the idea, but they are not voting for Hillary because she is a woman.  They are, however, donating to her campaign, as the NY Times noted that close to half of Mrs. Clinton’s “bundlers” — the volunteer fund-raisers who solicit checks from friends and business associates — are women, compared with about a third of President Obama’s 2012 bundlers. As Gail Collins noted in her  five decades long review of the women’s movement, When Everything Changed no woman would want to turn back the clock to the “Man Men” or “Apollo 13” days when a woman needed to be thin, perfectly made up with floors that gleamed to be worth anything.    

So, yes, the woman card – play it on in lots of different ways.  It is definitely not your mother’s woman card and positive proof of progress.





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