There’s been an elephant in the room for the entirety of the 2016 election. For a year and a half, our collective political thought has ignored and omitted a key characteristic of one of the presidential candidates on a major party ticket. The elephant in this election hides in plain sight, and it is Hillary Clinton’s simple existence as a woman.
Throughout this election, Clinton has shied away from talking about the fact that she is a woman. Besides referencing “that highest and hardest glass ceiling,” Clinton has had to tiptoe around the idea that she would be the first female president. Any mention of her womanhood brings cries from her opponents and accusations of “playing the woman card.” For fear of being seen as voting for Clinton solely because of her being womanhood, voters have brushed the historical power of this moment under the rug.
But for some voters, the “woman card” has real meaning. Last Thursday, I got the chance to see Clinton speak side by side with one of the greatest political voices of our generation, Michelle Obama. The two filled a stadium at Wake Forest University in Winston Salem, NC. They talked about the importance of early voting, made their cases for their fellow Democrats running down-ticket races in North Carolina, and referenced several important issues in the election. The crowd was a diverse and excitable group, populated by many women. I spoke to a few women that day, asking what it meant to them to see two powerful women take the stage.
The first of these women was Georgia. Georgia is 6 years old and came to the rally with her dad. She told me that she was excited to see other girls speaking to such a large group of people.
“I’ve never seen them in real life before, only on TV,” she told me. “I think [Hillary Clinton] will talk about why you should vote for her.”
The possibility of a female president is a big deal for girls like Georgia. In a political system in which 43 of the 44 occupants of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave have been white men, representation and visibility are important. In The Politics of Presence, Anne Phillips brings light to the issue that a male-dominated legislature often leaves behind issues that primarily affect women. A woman in the White House makes it possible for little girls to aspire to the highest office in the world, and know that it is, in some way, attainable. It calls attention to the unsung battles that women still fight in this country: battles against misogyny, battles for equal pay, battles to be taken seriously in the workplace. The presence of a woman in the White House would promote real conversations regarding marginalized communities across our nation. Above all, putting a woman in the White House sends a message to all people, boys and girls, that women are just as capable and just as valuable as their male counterparts.
The women I talked to last Thursday aren’t supporting Hillary Clinton simply because she is a woman. They have strategic political reasons for casting their ballots one way or another. But these women also recognize the simple, intense power of this moment for themselves and for future generations of women.
The last woman I talked to was Ruby. Ruby is 91 years old, and she came to the rally with her daughter and granddaughter. Ruby was born in 1925, a mere five years after women’s suffrage was passed. Her granddaughter pushed her wheelchair into the floor of the venue, holding her hand and beaming with pride.
When I asked her why she came to the early vote rally, Ruby put it succinctly.
“I’ve been watching Hillary since her husband was running, and I’ve always admired her,” she said. “I think it would be just wonderful if a woman were president. Just wonderful.”