Project Wonderful

Sunday, July 5, 2015

I'm Voting for Hillary Because She's A Woman.

As an organizer for John Edwards in 2008, identity politics was not my friend. In particular, I was routinely frustrated by women's insistence on caucusing for Hillary Clinton (and challenging my choice to support of Edwards) despite the fact that I felt Edwards had been and would be a greater champion for women. Eight years later, with a Master's Certificate in Gender and Public Policy, I can see how wrong I was.

When people accuse me of supporting Hillary Clinton because she's a woman it's often meant pejoratively, the implication being that my reason is shallow, ill-considered or frivolous. Having spent the past 10 years both as a woman in politics and studying women in politics, I can promise you it is anything but. Yes, I support Hillary because she is a woman and frankly I think you should too.

Before you ask, that does NOT mean I would would vote for Carly Fiorina or Michelle Bachmann. The truth is that the Republican Party by and large does not support the rights of women. I have no intention of supporting politicians who do not support me, my rights, or those of others. In a paper I wrote in graduate school in 2012, I found that states with legislatures holding Democratic majorities favored maternity and childcare policies that supported working women while legislatures holding Republican majorities did not, irrespective of the percent of women legislators. Yet, research has reliably shown that female legislators are more likely to prioritize issues that impact women than are their male counterparts. One could theorize that Republican women could do as much or more than Republican men to jeopardize the rights of women, depending on the policy.

In the interest of full disclosure I will share that neither did I support a run by Elizabeth Warren. I am huge fan of Senator Warren, but setting aside the fact that she publicly declared that she was not interested in running, I did and do not believe her to be a viable Presidential candidate in the 2016 general election. I also believe the presence of two women in this year's Democratic primary fight would diminish the chances of either securing the nomination.

I think it's fair to assume that most readers of this blog will support the Democratic nominee for President no matter who s/he is. Whether your first choice or your last it's a good bet that whoever the Democrats choose as our standard bearer will represent your interests better than whomever is chosen by the Republicans. Yet when I wake up in the morning even before I am conscious that I am a Democrat, I am a woman. So why is it so much easier to accept me as a Yellow Dog Democrat than a Pink one?

Perhaps the fact that we have never had a woman President is the best argument as to why we need one. It is no coincidence that there is a staggering political ambition gap between men and women. In order to want to run for office and eventually ascend to the highest office in the land, women need to see role models who remind them of themselves. What does it look like for a woman to be President? Asking why so few women aspire to run for office or are recruited to run for office is like asking why so few women aspire to colonize Mars. Without a rubric or precedent or role models, why would it even occur to them? It's vicious cycle to be sure, but if women's political ambition is the egg, Hillary is the proverbial chicken cracking the eggshell/glass ceiling.

Until we have had more female chief executives, there will be little reliable research on their character as a group. However, we do know that as legislators women are more likely than men to address long under-prioritized issues that impact women, including reproductive justice, breast cancer research, equal pay, and military rape to name a few. It is worth noting that Hillary Clinton specifically mentions paid family leave and equal pay on the issues page of her website, whereas Bernie Sanders does not. Considering the amount of time I spend worrying about soft sexism and violence against women, I want a President who gets it.

Women legislators are more likely to reach across the aisle, more responsive to constituent requests, and more likely to sponsor legislation. It is easy to conclude that a female chief executive would be similarly effective. Margaret Thatcher, Benazir Bhutto and Indira Gandhi, for example are among their respective countries' most memorable and transformative Prime Ministers. Of course what is true is of women in general is not necessarily true of one woman in particular, but as clicking on the links above will help demonstrate, Hillary Clinton is far from the exception to these rules.

Apart from her gender, Clinton is exceptionally qualified. She is a Yale educated lawyer and children's advocate. Yes, she was first lady of the United States, (a position of diplomatic and political import, especially the way she held it, that should not be trivialized and discounted), but she is also an effective and accomplished former US Senator and Secretary of State. Given the extra scrutiny applied to women in the public eye, Clinton's biography is doubly impressive. Her resilience in the face of public inquiry into her marriage, media sexism during her 2008 Presidential campaign, and decades of partisan witch hunts prove not only her viability, but a strength of character that is extremely desirable in a Commander in Chief.

If you remain unconvinced to support Hillary Clinton for President in 2016, that is your right. But at very least I demand that you accept the validity of my choice and reasons for supporting her. For the overwhelming bulk of our country's history women were barred, on the basis of our gender, from becoming President either explicitly or implicitly. Consider my insistence on supporting the first viable woman for the office (who also happens to be the most qualified) a minor attempt to level the playing field.

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