BY AJANTA GOSWAMI
Coming from India where our first female Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was elected in the sixties, it has been a little difficult to explain to my friends and family in India, why USA has not elected a female President till date. In recent history two women have won the Vice- Presidential nomination of major parties in the USA, Geraldine Ferraro from the Democratic Party in 1884 and Sarah Palin from the Republican Party in 2008, but none for the post of the Presidency till today. Guess one has to live in this country to figure out the many factors that have contributed to this great amiss. First, both the major political parties in this country, Democrat and Republican, tend to nominate candidates with a known tract record of holding important political posts, like being a senator, governor, military general and of course Vice President, for this important job.
Though the numbers are gradually increasing, we still have very few females holding these kinds of stepping-stone jobs. Second, the whole political process of electing a President in the USA, is an extremely long and complicated one. Indeed, in a presidential form of government the potential candidate has to individually win over the entire country state by state, not just his or her constituency, as is the norm in a parliamentary system of governance, like we have India. In my opinion, the few females holding the high political posts, struggling with their many family & social obligations, found it extremely hard to meet the rigorous demands of such a Presidential election process; therefore, most females except for a handful, did not show much enthusiasm for being considered for this job. The third and perhaps the most relevant factor that works against female candidates here, is of course the latent ‘gender bias’!
Erika Falk in her article titled ” Women for President ” analyzed in great depth, the media gender bias that was evident in the campaign of all nine female Presidential candidates that had run for that office in this country, till 2008. Her major finding- no surprise here “the press portrays female candidates as unnatural and incompetent and often ignores or belittles women instead of reporting their ideas and intent. This thorough comparison of men’s and women’s campaign reveals a worrisome trend of sexism in press coverage, a trend that still persists today” I am sure there are many other reasons per the political pundits. But these three are the most commonly discussed. Today Hillary Clinton broke that ‘glass ceiling’ by accepting the Democratic nomination for the highest political job in this country. And like all her predecessors, her political journey up-to this point has been an extremely arduous one.
For me, Hillary Clinton become my hero & my role model with her famous speech uttered on September 5th 1995, at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women Rights in Beijing. Spoken with great conviction and against the cautious advice of her USA delegation, the very famous often quoted line ” if there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be said that human rights are women rights and women rights human rights once and for all” , soothed my battle weary ego. The battles of trying to forge an identity outside of the societal acceptable “female role” has been a difficult one for many in my generation. The snide comments about why I didn’t opt for a pet that needed less care than a baby, or why I wasted a medical seat when I decided to go part time, that I was too vocal too opinionated for my own good, that I was not feminine enough, that I needed to toe the woman line -the traditional kind; no I was not maimed, not sold, not raped, not beaten like thousands of my unfortunate fellow sisters around the world, who complied or were cajoled to conform to these terrible dictates of society, but criticism overt and covert were heaped on us daily for being females trying to ‘break’ into a mans world. Thus when I arrived in the USA in 1993, I was amazed, no horrified to find that the First Lady of this so called progressive nation, faced similar ‘gender bias’ attacks. At that time she was being vilified over and over again for refusing to play the typical female role of the First Lady! Numerous insulting comments were heaped on her by her husbands political opponents, the media and much to my surprise, by many of her women peers. Almost on a daily basis there were comments made about her crackling laugh, her choice of clothes, her lack of trustworthiness, her lack of softness, her non traditional radicalism and what not.
The criticisms covering and hiding her passions, her intellect, her social & political contributions. Just because. “I suppose I could have stayed home, baked cookies and had teas. I chose to fulfill my profession as a lawyer, which I had before my husband was in public life. The work that I have done as a professional, a public advocate, has been aimed … to assure that women can make the choices, whether it’s full-time career, full-time motherhood or some combination.” was her reply but a reply that got lost in the media frenzy. I was aghast. Flabbergasted to be precise. I truly did not expect such gender prejudice in this great nation. But it was there. Right there on your face for one and all to see. She is a strong woman that Hillary. She truly is. And definitely not a quitter. 40 plus years of such assault on her personality, her character, her professional life, her personal life, her political ambitions….. But nothing seems to frazzle her. Firm in her convictions, her head held high, tuning out the din around her, she has marched forward relentlessly all these years, paving the path for millions of us behind her. “People can judge me for what I have done. And I think when someone’s out in the public eye, that’s what they do. So I am comfortable with who I am, what I stand for, and what I have always stood for’. How can you not admire the strength of such a woman? She has achieved what she believed in and fought for there is no doubts about it. Indeed her life achievements cannot be denied, cannot be nullified, cannot be belittled..
- Her contribution to the formation of the children health insurance program in this country, that provided millions of children with health care in the nineties
- Her role in expanding health care and family leave for military families
- Her fight to help the 9/11 first responders get the health care they needed
- Her contribution to women rights all around the world
- Her significant fight for climate change
- Her negotiating skills in creating and implementing tough sanctions on Iran
- Her role in negotiating a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas
The list goes on and on and on….. Her many achievements speaks the true testimony of her worth. However to the vast majority of folks living in USA, none of these landmark achievements seems to matter. None of her hard work, her tenacity, her intellect is talked about or publicized. During this primary election season- society said and media endorsed the following: She is strong, sincere, tenacious & intelligent. Qualities we admire in all the male politicians right? But no ‘not in that woman’ These traits are her weakness, the reasons for strong dislikes by many….isn’t that interesting? She is a little closed & not at all trustworthy. Tell me which politician does not bend any rules? But in her case even after being thoroughly investigated for Whitewater, Benghazi, the emails scandal etc and after being cleared by the FBI & Republican led house committees, she still continues to be vilified of these many transgressions. I have never seen any male counterparts being demonized in such a manner whether it be Nixon or George. W Bush…. have you? She is a little paranoid?. As a woman I am very paranoid ..aren’t you? Specially when you are the ‘witch’ being hunted. Again did these unfounded attacks stop her. Nope. Not at all With a smile on her face she continued on her march and finally did win that historical nomination. As I watched her acceptance speech at the Democrat Convention, my eyes teared up.
The long road to the final victory has only begun, a fight she may ultimately lose to gender bias. Yes gender bias! But for now today…….all sisters, mothers, daughters, granddaughters has won with her. This indeed was our moment!!! In her typical authentic self Hillary spoke from her heart, about her dreams for this great country, her dreams for each and every citizen from all ethnicity, religion, marginalized communities and most important the dreams and the future of our children. Her life’s philosophy from her Methodist beliefs ‘ do all the good you can, for all the people you can, In all the ways you can, as long as ever you can” A philosophy she has never wavered from. And I believe and trust her completely! ‘I know you will do what is right Hillary, especially your promise to our children because that is what you have always done. Children First. And when you care so deeply about children I know you will work hard to leave a legacy that will only raise them in every way possible. Like any other human being you have your faults. We all do. But loving and doing right by our children is definitely not one of them. Congratulations, on a well deserving long awaited nomination. A heartfelt congratulations from all of us. As a woman to a woman – You will make a great Madam President. You truly will!’