US Presidential elections 2016: Is the US ready for a woman president?

Over the last few months, we've seen the election race unfold in quite a disconcerting manner, particularly with concern to Trump and his demeaning views on women.

Written by Radhika Iyengar | New Delhi | Updated: November 8, 2016 10:49 am
US elections, US presidential election, US election date, election result US, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, world news, US news US presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. (File)

It is ironic that in a country where women rights are far more progressive than many other countries, the United States is yet to have a woman President.

The race between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is a strong one. Over the last few months, we have seen the election race unfold in a disconcerting manner, particularly with concern to Trump and his demeaning views on women. But the fact that Trump, who is the epitome of male entitlement and misogyny, is still standing strong, unscathed, speaks volumes. The fact that he’s still giving Clinton stiff competition – regardless of the tapes and derogatory remarks against women – attests that there is an alarming percentage of Americans who fiercely advocate his ideology, a majority of whom do not respect women.

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Among the white conservatives, the idea of having a woman becoming president seems discomfiting. Here’s why.

The 2008 elections brought about a seismic shift in the history of the United States. The elections saw the United States heralding its first African-American President to power. That did not sit well with the white conservative Americans. To them, having an African-American run their country seemed outrageous. It symbolised a collapse of the racial privilege that they felt entitled to.

After bearing an African-American President run the country for eight years straight, the conservatives find the idea of having a woman take on that responsibility of their country discomfiting. It would mean a collapse in gender hierarchy and the male privilege. In their mind, Trump, the white affluent male with supposedly sharp business acumen seems to be the perfect choice.

Historically, while the world has witnessed strong national women leaders like Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher and Angela Merkel, the United States with its history of 44 male presidents, is yet to have its first woman president. But Clinton isn’t the first woman to run for presidency in the United States. The first woman who ran was Victoria Woodhull back in 1872. Twelve years later in 1884, Belva Lockwood gave it a go as well. However, it has taken the country 144 years to have a woman win the presidential nomination in a major political party. Clinton though is yet to make history.

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Recently, President Obama bluntly called out the sexism inherent in American society. In a speech at Capital University, he said: “Hillary Clinton is consistently treated differently than just about any other candidate I see out there… I just want to say to the guys out there. I just want to be honest. There’s a reason why we haven’t had a woman president before.”

But it seems that times are changing. Although a country that has seen centuries of political patriarchy, the US seems more receptive to the idea of having a female president today. In August, the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research decided to look at the voters’ views on Clinton’s candidacy. The survey reported that “large majorities of Americans regard women political leaders as equal to men and think a woman would be up to the challenges a president may face.” It also showed that only 3 in 10 Americans believed that Clinton’s gender would deter her win in the elections. The same number felt that she stood a greater chance of winning because she was a woman, and the only woman competing.

During these elections, Clinton has been able to harness a majority of support from women, even though several of these women do not necessarily believe in the policies she represents. And Trump has a considerable role to play in that. In September, CBS and New York Times conducted a poll that asked American women whether Clinton was the best representative for women to stand in the elections. The response seemed in favor of Clinton, stating that 58 per cent women felt that Clinton was a “good role model for women”. However, this percentage has dropped by 10 points since the survey done in pre-2008 elections. “In July 2007, 68 per cent felt she was a good role model,” it reported. Even so, Clinton is still being appreciated by a number of women and has a strong backing by feminist icons like Beyonce and Lena Dunham.

Does this mean that the United States is ready for a woman president? The future does seem promising. However, in a race where Clinton and Trump stand to represent and hold polar opposite worldviews, this author feels that whoever wins may not necessarily win because of his/her gender. But if Clinton does win, it will be a landmark win that will certainly set a precedent for young American women who’d aspire to run for presidency in the future.