In an effort to assert the pretty obvious fact that Hillary Clinton is more than the sum of her lady parts, several writers have emerged to argue against voting Hillary purely on the basis of her gender. Of these, the Guardian’s Hadely Freeman offers the most considered objections. She claims (1) electing Obama didn’t end racism, so electing Clinton won’t end sexism; (2) Thatcher was a woman and look at that mess; and (3) “The reason to vote for her isn’t because she’s a woman; it’s because she’s the best candidate for the US.”
I want to address all of these points, but let me start with the thrust of the general argument. Freeman et al basically contend that voting ♀ diminishes Clinton’s accomplishments and reduces her to... well... a symbol. But this argument ignores the fact that the trials of being a woman in the US actually do count as good training for the presidency.
Voters on the right and the left accept that a politician’s religious upbringing primes her to be a presidential candidate. Gender, a more apparent and pervasive cultural marker, does, too. I don’t think it’d hurt to have a president who’s maintained high levels of tenacity and poise while operating in a world dominated by old dudes who don’t really want her there. Seriously, check out this tenacity and poise:
Nor would it hurt to have someone who boldly wears pantsuits in the face of criticism because fuck 'em that’s why.
Women's perceptions and values have never been represented by the person behind the desk in the Oval Office. Telling people that you’re voting for Hillary because she’s a woman raises awareness that a consideration of gender does and should factor into our decisions, especially when those decisions involve putting someone in power.
As for Freeman’s point on Thatcher? Clinton might be an Iron Lady, but she’s not a conservative Englishwoman. She’s a neoliberal Democrat with a long history of fighting for women’s rights. I don’t mind the comparison in one way, though. After all, it was Captain Yuri Gavrilov, a writer for the Soviet newspaper Red Star, who gave Thatcher the nickname. Does Putin already have a name lined up for Clinton? Oh wait, looks like he thinks the fact of her being a woman is already an insult.
It’s true that Obama didn’t end racism. Cornel West voices this a little more pointedly, claiming that “the state of Black America in the age of Obama has been one of desperation, confusion, and capitulation.” Electing Clinton won’t end sexism, either, but Freeman’s point underestimates the reverberating power of the symbol. A female commander in chief will radically challenge stereotypes that paint girls and women as soft, vulnerable, and unable to fight back.
It’d be nice if we voted for a president based on The Issues. But we don’t. We vote for images, symbols. There’s a reason the Koch brothers are budgeting $889 million for 2016, which is $150 million more than the entire Obama campaign spent in 2008. They want to put out a lot of images. If you want Clinton to win, you need to have a really good image. News flash: “The First Woman President” is a really good image.