I’m “all in” for Hillary Clinton — and yes, that includes the gender card
What is it about a deck of cards that inspires political analogies? There are “cards stacked against you.” There’s the “poker face” and “bluffing.” Then, as we saw in Nevada this past weekend, there’s an actual tie-breaking procedure involving a deck of cards. Fitting.
As the March 1st caucuses are fast approaching here in Colorado, I decided I would write about why I’m supporting Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party nomination. As I brainstormed, I found that I could write about many things, including (in no particular order):
- Her breadth of foreign policy experience
- Her dedication to breaking the barriers of systemic racism and discrimination against the LGBT community
- Her commitment to comprehensive immigration reform
- Her plan to help alleviate the student debt epidemic striking my generation
- Her fight for equal pay for equal work
- Her determination to build upon and improve the Affordable Care Act
- Her life-long devotion to the protection of reproductive rights
- Her vision to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, a disease that affects my family
Indeed, I soon realized that if I wrote about all of the reasons I’m supporting Hillary, it would probably take me until after March 1st. So instead of writing a long post on all of the reasons, I want to use the opportunity to bring additional perspective to something that has gained some traction in the primary race recently and many have mixed feelings about. My play here is yet another infamous analogy: the gender card.
Before I move on, I want to get a few disclaimers out of the way. Yes, I am a man. And I know that this does not qualify me to speak on behalf of women or their experiences as women. However, I do have personal and professional reasons for choosing to speak and provide insight to this dynamic in the race.
Personally, I have grown up around strong female role models that live several attributes I attempt to duplicate in my own life. My dad’s mother, a former grade school teacher, taught me the value of a good education. My mother taught me the importance of hard work and being a cheerleader for life itself, even when things don’t go your way. And my mom’s mother and sister have shown me the merit of a strong wit and will.
Professionally, I have a penchant for working with female candidates. I got my start in politics volunteering for the Blanche Lincoln campaign in my home state of Arkansas. In college, I interned for State Senator Wendy Davis of Texas. In grad school, I researched and wrote about issues facing women in politics. And at my current job, I have had the opportunity to serve clients who are women candidates and organizations working on behalf of female representation in government.
The double standard
Now to the core question: Should gender be a [major] factor one considers in a female candidate? Popular opinion, as it seems, would say no — that one should primarily consider the qualifications of the person, no matter gender. We do have a female candidate in the 2016 race that is also leaps and bounds ahead of the other candidates in the qualifications arena. But the flaw with this gender-blind logic is that it assumes that we don’t already systemically use gender as a qualifier to the advantage of male candidates. It assumes that we as a country are ready to put women on equal footing with men in all areas of society. And in both cases, this is sadly not the case.
Female candidates are subjected to a bias very uncommon to male candidates. This disadvantage reveals itself in the unfair requirement of a balanced gender performance from women candidates — a double standard of showing the strength that tends to be attributed to masculinity while at the same time demonstrating attributed feminine qualities, such as nurture. If caught off balance, female candidates are quick to be labeled negatively, per the notions of acceptable female behavior engrained in our society. This usually manifests as the woman being tagged as either too strong or too weak. And the pressure is always on: female politicians have been found to be put through more evaluation and interpretation than their male counterparts.
Let’s take a couple of examples. In 2014, in the midst of her Texas gubernatorial race, candidate Wendy Davis’s personal story was scrutinized and re-contextualized negatively, in large part due to her husband at the time helping to pay for her to attend Harvard Law School and questions about how her subsequent time away from Texas may have affected her parenting. Imagine: would a male candidate be criticized for a spouse helping pay for school or for time away from his children? I just listened to Davis’s “Candidate Confessional” podcast episode, and she cites this campaign disturbance as the lowest emotional point in her campaign. Similarly, I was at a Chelsea Clinton and America Ferrera event at the University of Denver last week and recollections of attacks on Hillary Clinton during one of Bill Clinton’s gubernatorial runs in Arkansas were recounted. A common attack in that cycle was that if Hillary was always in the courtroom (she was a practicing lawyer at the time), she must not have time to take care of her daughter. There are countless other instances of this bias in races across the country.
Why I think it’s fair to play the gender card for Hillary Clinton
Given all of this, I have a couple of thoughts for undecided voters and Hillary supporters on why I think it’s fair to play the gender card amongst the many other reasons to choose Hillary:
1. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to see the diversity of our country represented at the highest levels of government. Women make up just over half of our country’s population. Yet Nancy Cohen points out in her recent book “Breakthrough” that 80 percent of our nation’s current governors and members of Congress are men. She also notes that throughout our history, 11,872 men have served as members of Congress, compared to 308 women. For the strong women in my life and the women of this country — past, present and future — I want to see a fair representation. Full stop.
2. Issues facing women affect us all. Equal pay for equal work. Reproductive freedom. Representation in all areas of society. And there is no one I trust more to tackle issues facing women than a passionate, tested and capable woman (see: HRC).
3. And finally, Hillary, a very accomplished person in her own right, has come a long way to get to this point politically as a woman. She’s had to take on the male establishment that continues to dominate our country’s politics. She’s had the courage to stand up to sexist attacks that seem to follow her every footstep. She’s been through the gauntlet, and she’s still standing. This shows that she is exactly the kind of fighter we need in the White House.
So there you have it. On March 1st, I will be “all in” for Hillary, and that includes the gender card. I ask you to join me in supporting Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party nominee and 45th President of the United States. See you on caucus night!