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Changing history to herstory: Hillary Rodham Clinton and the Women’s Movement

Clinton Hillary 060716

This essay is based on a commentary from the June 11 episode of WMC Live With Robin Morgan, which is available by podcast at iTunes.

Well, we’ve come this far.

For the first time in the history of the United States of America, one of the two major political parties is nominating a woman candidate for the presidency of the nation.

Victoria Woodhull ran for president from the Equal Rights Party in 1872, when women couldn’t vote. Gracie Allen, the comedian, ran to poke fun at the political system; hers was the “Surprise Party,” and her platform was “Redwood Trimmed with Nutty Pine.” Margaret Chase Smith, a Republican senator, tried in 1964 but had difficulty being taken as other than a joke. Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress, ran seriously as a Democrat for the nomination in 1972, but the party chose George McGovern, who lost to Nixon. Representative Patricia Schroeder attempted but never won the Democratic nomination. No woman got this far before.

Indeed, while one party makes history running a woman at the top of its ticket, the other party makes history by running a deeply disturbed, ignorant, sexist, racist authoritarian at the top of theirs. Donald Trump’s attack on a U.S. federal judge adds to his bigotry a contempt for the rule of law itself, and his implying—post the Orlando massacre—that somehow President Obama is in cahoots with terrorists borders on treason. Certain wiser GOP rats are now deserting the Trump ship, but GOP leadership is still trying its two-step, “On the one hand I’m disassociating from what he says and does, but still on the other hand I’m supporting him.” What? For that matter, what’s all this about “discipline,” about Republicans calling for Trump to deliver a disciplined message? Are they saying it’s fine for him to be a bigot, but he really must learn to stop saying so? 

As for Hillary Rodham Clinton, remember that we’ve never before seen her in a general election for this high office, and I think we’re in for a treat. This woman can think and fight at the same time. Oh, they’ll throw all the old stuff that they’ve been throwing at her for decades—amplified by the virulence on social media (which, like Trump, doesn’t hold itself accountable to facts). Ho hum. They’ll also say she’s unlikable, hardly a new accusation for women with power. One of the reasons only 5 percent of Fortune 1000 CEOs are women, as well as only six of the nation’s fifty governors, and less than 19 percent of mayors, one reason is that women seeking executive office have to prove we’re capable enough, while remaining likable, which is not so simple. Generally, men don’t face the capability test, it being assumed that they’re sufficiently tough and experienced to handle the job—but women have to hit a balance between proving our capability, but not being too tough (whatever that is). The Barbara Lee Family Foundation did a study recently that found likability matters much more for women candidates than for men: voters are more comfortable voting for male candidates they don’t like but nevertheless think might be qualified to serve. Men get the benefit of the doubt. With women, likability and qualification somehow get tangled together in voters’ minds. So it’s our job to de-tangle that.

Personally, I find Hillary highly likable, not the least when she happens across a pun, like “Trump U” in the middle of a speech, then laughs that great bawdy laugh of hers and says, “Hey, that’s not so bad, I’m gonna use that more often!” She's finding her own voice again at last, especially in the recent full frontal attack on Trump’s mental unfitness for the presidency. And she’s just getting started.

As for toughness? Can you picture Demented Donald patiently answering questions before a hostile congressional committee for eleven hours? He’s just not in her league. And this is a time for a major leaguer.

Not for nothing does Hillary Rodham Clinton have the world’s women (and smart men) with her, and the winds of history at her back. It’s a historic moment, en route to an even greater historic general election. We’ve been working toward this moment for centuries—and you know what? We’re just getting started.

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Robin Morgan
Co-founder. Women's Media Center, Host & Producer of WMC Live with Robin Morgan, Writer, Activist
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