IT IS wonderful news that Hillary Clinton has announced she is running for the US Presidency and that this time she is doing it as a woman.
Clearly she has not had gender re-assignment, but on the previous occasion she ran Hillary made the decision not to bring attention to her femaleness, or to the idea of positioning herself as making history as a woman, believing she should just run on her record.
Ironically it was when she shed a tear in a cafe in New Hampshire during the 2008 campaign, showing what people felt was a softer, more female side, that she made a big connection with the voters. She was having coffee with a bunch of local women, undecided about who they would vote for, when one of them asked the candidate how she managed to keep going on the campaign trail.
There are various accounts of a single tear running down Hillary’s cheek, or how her eyes welled up and her voice quavered. Her answer, as well as the emotion so evident on her face, was a defining moment of the campaign and while it was clearly personal, it was also very political. “I couldn’t do it if I didn’t just passionately believe it was the right thing to do,” she said. “I just don’t want to see us fall backward as a nation. I mean this is very personal for me. Not just political.”
She won that New Hampshire primary — a victory that allowed her to stay in the race. Ultimately, though, it was Barack Obama’s moment.
Back in 2008 there wasn’t a sense from her campaign that if elected it would matter particularly that there was a female in the Oval Office. It was never a Thatcher-like situation — she may as well have been a man — but Hillary obviously did not feel the fact she had ovaries was a good card to play even as the first woman to come within reach of the White House.
It was not until she made her concession speech, which ironically is considered the best speech of her campaign, that she went for broke.
Speaking in Washington she told her supporters how “on a personal note” when she had been asked what it meant to be a woman running for president she always gave the same answer that she was proud to be running as a woman, but she was running because she thought she’d be the best president.
“But I am a woman and like millions of women, I know there are still barriers and biases out there, often unconscious, and I want to build an America that respects and embraces the potential of every last one of us.”
She then uttered the line that I remember most from that campaign: “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it. And the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.”
She also managed to endorse Barack Obama — to me a sign of her magnaminity and pragmatism — as the Democratic candidate in such a way that many of her millions of supporters felt they could and should now cast their votes for him. She then went on to answer the call and become his Secretary of State and surprise many, including those in her own party, by serving dutifully and with loyalty.
Of all the Hillary Clinton “moments” over the decades my favourite is when she stood at the podium at the UN women’s conference in Beijing in her pink suit, with her gold and pearl jewellery, and gave it absolute socks in terms of women’s rights in the world. She didn’t just wear her womanhood on her sleeve but she spoke out for women all over the world, women and girls who desperately needed a strong advocate. She was magnificent. The 20th anniversary of that milestone in feminist history will be marked in September this year.
It sounds almost odd now to hear her say that it was no longer right to discuss women’s rights as separate from human rights. Tragically, she went on, women are the ones who most often have their human rights violated and they are even more vulnerable to abuse when they are excluded from the political process
“It is a violation of human rights when babies are denied food, or drowned or suffocated or their spines broken, simply because they are born girls. It is a violation of human rights when women and girls are sold into the slavery of prostitution.”
Re-watching that rousing speech, made when she was the wife of the US President, there is the hope that this woman as President herself would make a major difference to women internationally.
Of course this is a candidate that comes with an enormous amount of baggage. She has spent so much time in the public eye and been the focus of attention on such a range of issue from the ridiculous — her pants suits; to the humiliating — her husband’s philandering, to the more serious issues such as her use of private email while Secretary of State.
But I’m rooting for Hillary. Her candidacy and ultimately, I hope, her success, will be good for women. Feminism is having a moment. The positive effects of having a woman in power don’t always trickle down, but in the case of Hillary Clinton being elected President of the US I believe they would. On the campaign trail we will see her putting issues that matter to women and children first, issues such as pay equity, as well as paid family and medical leave, a higher minimum wage and affordable access to child care.
She’s unlikely to be phased by the online abuse she’s been getting since announcing her candidacy on Sunday, not least the misogynistic #HillarysSoOld hashtag on Twitter. After all, this woman has possibly endured more public opprobrium than any other human being on the planet, and that just relates to how she styles her hair and her occasional penchant for wearing scrunchies. She’s had everything else thrown at her and now it’s ageism.
I love that she’s actually playing up the fact that she’s now a doting grandma. A few days prior to announcing that she would be running she released a new epilogue to her memoir Hard Choices, where she spoke about this new phase in her life.
“Becoming a grandmother has made me think deeply about the responsibility we all share as stewards of the world we inherit and will one day pass on,” Clinton wrote. “Rather than make me want to slow down, it has spurred me to speed up.”
In every US presidential election since 1980, women have voted in higher numbers than men, and that gap keeps widening. Hopefully this time Hillary will get enough cracks to shatter that glass ceiling.
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