I haven’t written a lot about the Democratic side of the 2016 presidential election. (Frankly, if it weren’t that the Republicans had picked the nominee they apparently they have picked, I wouldn’t be writing much about them either.) But I don’t think I ought to let the week go by without saying something about what Hillary Clinton accomplished on Tuesday night, when primary victories in California and two other states underscored what had been clear for a while: that she would be the first woman nominated by a major party to run for president of the United States.
Frankly, I feel much like the woman from Chicago who told the New York Times that she thought it was wonderful to have a woman achieve this feat: “I just wish it was a different woman.” To the degree I support the former senator and secretary of state, it has more to do with my feelings about her opponent than my enthusiasm for her. But even if I were a stauncher critic of Hillary Clinton — or if it had been, say, Carly Fiorina making this history — I hope I would pause and celebrate that, nearly a century after women finally got the vote in this country, a woman is the odds-on favorite to move into the Oval Office.
Eight years ago Clinton fell just short in a race against a fellow senator who made a different kind of history. “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time,” she told her supporters, “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.” It wasn’t exactly easy, thanks to an unexpectedly strong challenge from Sen. Bernie Sanders, but the result is no less historic. Political scientist Andra Gillespie told NPR, “The impact is just as important for a woman to head the top of a major-party ticket as it was for an African-American to do so eight years ago…. you’re now letting people who don’t fit the traditional white, male model assume positions of leadership in the country.”
People like my six-year old daughter, Lena, who could only smile when she watched news coverage of Clinton’s victory speech. This is the first presidential election she’ll remember, which means that, in her experience, women have always been contending for the highest political office in the land.
And that’s true of so many other positions. Lena is represented in the U.S. Senate, U.S. House, and Minnesota House by women. Not only her teacher, but her principal and the school board member down the street are women. Two of her pastors are women. Two of her father’s bosses are women, as are most of his closest colleagues. Among the mothers of her friends and relatives, Lena knows women who are engineers, meteorologists, philosophers, doctors, bankers, therapists, and so on and so on.
Now, she’s also coming of age in an economy that doesn’t yet pay women equitably or give them anything like equal access to positions of leadership, in a culture that both treats women as sexual objects and blames them for sexual assault. (And, in my field, women are treated very differently than men by their students.) No single presidential election will erase those problems.
But for the moment, the glass feels more full than empty. We’ll see what happens this fall, but as far as Lena knows, the most powerful person in the world is more likely than not to be a woman.
Not that she’s interested in the presidency for herself: “No, I like to be calm,” she told me yesterday when I asked. “And the president doesn’t have time to relax.”
Except that Lena actually replaced “the president” in that sentence with a pronoun: “And she doesn’t have time to relax.”