Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walks off stage as Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump looks on during the third U.S. presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on October 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The final of three debates ahead of Election Day on November 8 is finally over. While several moments during this final debate were notable, the entire campaign has been noteworthy for how women and women’s issues have come to the forefront. This political season has seen women in the spotlight like no other. From spotlights on powerful female figures across multiple political parties, to outright expressions of misogyny, intentionally or unintentionally, women have taken a leading position in this presidential campaign.
Women’s issues have risen to the surface in this election in a jolting and jarring fashion, and their significance cannot be overstated. Let’s take a look at some of the clearest signs of why gender really matters in this particular election.
Breaking the Glass Ceiling: First Woman Nominee of a Major Political Party in a Presidential Election
While women are making strides in political gender parity, the disparity in federal and local American politics between men and women holding office is still stark. The U.S. lags behind 93 other countries in the world in terms of the percentage of women in the federal legislature, according to the Center for American Women in Politics.
As the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton has made history as the first woman to ever secure the presidential nomination of a major American political party. Having devoted most of her adult life to public service, being first lady of Arkansas, first lady of the United States, New York State senator, and Secretary of State under President Barack Obama, Clinton was formally nominated on the second evening of the Democratic National Convention on Tuesday, more than nine years after launching her first presidential bid. Bernie Sanders, her opponent during the primary season, made the final nomination: “I move that all votes cast by delegates be reflected in the official record, and I move that Hillary Clinton be selected as the nominee of the Democratic Party for president of the United States,” as thousands of Democrat delegates on the convention floor clapped and roared their approval.
Shorter Hillary: I’m a wonk, I’m experienced, I’m a woman — and I’m not apologizing for any of it. pic.twitter.com/UfdS6fwngQ
— Ari Melber (@AriMelber) July 29, 2016
Allegations of Sexual Misconduct
To date, ten women have come forward with a variety of sexual misconduct claims against the Republican candidate, Donald Trump. Since the release of the Access Hollywood tape with Billy Bush, multiple women have publicly stepped forward to make allegations about non-consensual kissing, groping and more. As a result, Trump’s standing in a number of scientific polls has dropped several points, the Republican party is in disarray, and some battleground and traditionally Republican-leaning states are now turning blue.
Trump’s campaign has responded to the latest allegations from Karena Virginia, a yoga instructor and lifestyle coach, by blaming Gloria Allred, the lawyer representing some of the claimants.
“Discredited political operative Gloria Allred, in another coordinated, publicity seeking attack with the Clinton campaign, will stop at nothing to smear Mr. Trump,” Trump’s deputy communications director, Jessica Ditto, said in a statement, according to International Business Times.“Give me a break. Voters are tired of these circus-like antics and reject these fictional stories and the clear efforts to benefit Hillary Clinton.”
This response is seen by many (both men and women) as yet another in a long list of statements that are clearly dismissive and used to manipulate the facts and discredit women.
Undercurrent of Misogyny
Here’s a quick rundown of some of the things that have been said by the Republican candidate about women, in this election season alone:
- August 2015: Donald Trump comments to CNN on Fox News moderator of one of the GOP primary debates, Megyn Kelly: “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever”
- September, 2015: During an interview with Rolling Stone, Donald Trump commented on Carly Fiorina’s looks during the Republican primary season: “Look at that face!’ he says. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!”
- March 22, 2016 – Trump seemed to imply some sort of threat with a retweet from one of his followers during the GOP primary with a picture of his wife Melania side by side with Heidi Cruz, Ted Cruz’s wife. He also tweeted “Lyin’ Ted Cruz just used a picture of Melania from a G.Q. shoot in his ad. Be careful, Lyin’ Ted, or I will spill the beans on your wife!”
- March 30, 2016 – Trump stated during an MSNBC interview that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who have abortions if the practice is banned. He did alter his statement shortly afterwards, stating that he would punish doctors who performed abortions but not the women themselves.
- May 8, 2016 – At a rally, Trump said of Hillary Clinton that she was an enabler of her husband’s infidelities: “Bill Clinton was the worst in history and I have to listen to her talking about it?” he said in Eugene, Oregon. “Just remember this: She was an unbelievably nasty, mean enabler. And what she did to a lot of those women is disgraceful. So put that in her bonnet and let’s see what happens.”
- July, 2016: Donald Trump of Ghazala Khan, mother of Captain Humayun Khan, a US soldier who was killed in Iraq protecting his detail: “I’d like to hear his wife say something… if you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me,” Trump continued. “But a plenty of people have written that. She was extremely quiet, and it looked like she had nothing to say. A lot of people have said that.”
- September 26 , 2016 Trump interrupted Hillary Clinton 25 times in the first 26 minutes of the first presidential debate, talking over her and mansplaining. He also questioned Clinton’s health when she was suffering from pneumonia, saying: “She doesn’t have the look. She doesn’t have the stamina.”
- October 19, 2016 – Donald Trump to Hillary Clinton during the final presidential debate: “Such a nasty woman!”
The tactic backfired. Social media blew up over the statement, and women everywhere claimed “nasty woman” as a potent declaration of female empowerment. In fact, #ImaNastyWoman has become a rallying cry for every woman who has ever faced someone who wishes to exert control over her.
Women Tend to Vote Democrat
According to CNN’s most recent Poll of Polls, Clinton now leads her GOP rival by 8% among likely voters, with Clinton at 47% compared to Trump at 39%. Trump’s favorability has also dropped, likely due to the most recent scandals surrounding his past: a Bloomberg survey released on the day of the final debate showed that Trump’s unfavorability rating has gone up from 56% to 62% a month ago while Clinton’s has gone down from 56% to 52% in September.
Women are 52% of the voting electorate, and 67% of the voting electorate are over 40 years old.
Over the last nine presidential elections, however, women have consistently voted for Democratic presidential candidates at higher rates than men.
The size of the gender gap has fluctuated within a relatively narrow range over the past 36 years; on average, women have been 8 percentage points more likely than men to back the Democratic candidate in elections since 1980.
According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted June 15-26 (before the Republican and Democratic conventions), there is a 16-point gender gap in general election support for Clinton. Overall, 59% of women voters say they would support Clinton over Trump, compared with 43% of men.
According to the American National Elections Studies survey, the partisan gender gap in 2012 stood at 5 percentage points: 49 percent of women and only 44 percent of men identified as Democrats.
When it comes to which candidate is better described by the phrase “would use good judgment in a crisis,” 46% of men say Clinton is better described this way, compared with 60% of women. This 14-point gap is larger than the 6-point gap in gender-based views of Obama on this dimension in 2012 – with 46% of men vs 52% of women who described Obama as being able to “use good judgement in a crisis”.
Multiple Female Figures Supporting Cast
Like no other election, the personal and professional lives of the two presidential candidates couldn’t be more different.
On the one hand, we have for the very first time in US politics, a female Democratic candidate for the Presidential nominee of a major political party. Clinton was raised in a middle-class family with a strong and loving mother, maintaining life-long female friendships and standing up for women’s rights from her earliest days as a civil rights activist lawyer. She has, whether you agree with it or not, stayed in her marriage, weathering infidelities and decades of public exposure and analysis of the most intimate parts of her personal life.
On the other hand, the Republican candidate has been married three times, and had one very public affair while he was married to his first wife. Trump was born into extreme wealth, sent away to military school at age 13 and built a real estate and entertainment business empire with many successes and failures over the course of several decades, including multiple bankruptcies. He has a long history of making disparaging comments about women, and has revealed intimate details of his private life to the media, using publicity as a tool to gain even more exposure.
What’s particularly intriguing in this particular battle for the presidency is how noticeable a role the cast of female characters has played. Aside from all the other women who have had various parts in the overall cycle, the following female figures have emerged as consistently and especially visible and prominent in this political season:
- Melania Trump – former model and wife of Donald Trump, Republican presidential nominee
- Ivanka Trump – businesswoman and former fashion model, older daughter of Donald Trump and his first wife, Ivana Trump
- Kellyanne Conway – First Female Campaign Manager Republican Party, president and CEO of The Polling Company/Woman Trend, political commentator
- Michelle Obama – lawyer, writer and First Lady of the United States, married to the 44th and current President of the United States, first African-Amercian First Lady
- Chelsea Clinton – only child of former US President Bill Clinton and Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton, first daughter to introduce her mother as the presidential nominee at the Democratic National Convention
- Elizabeth Warren – former professor of law specializing in bankruptcy and commercial law, currently the Senior US Senator from Massachusetts, formerly Special Advisor for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
- Huma Abedin – American political staffer, vice chair of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Presidential Campaign, formerly deputy chief of staff to Clinton when she served as Secretary of State
- Nancy Pelosi – Minority Leader of the US House of Representatives, served as the 52nd and first woman Speaker from 2007-2011.
One sentence stood out to me particularly plainly from the debate last night, from Clinton as she talked about women’s rights: “And we have come too far to have that turned back now…”
Like no other election in American history, women and women’s issues have come to be front and center in this election. The contrast between the two candidates’ personal and public lives and their position on women’s issues could not be more stark.
Whatever your political beliefs, the differences between these candidates is especially divergent in this political cycle.
I realize that every woman will weigh the issues and the candidates according to their own criteria and decision-making process. What I do know is that we each have a voice, and that women matter … and so does our vote.