The road to 2016 is shaping up to be an exciting journey. This week, Carly Fiorina officially joined Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail for president. As America ponders if we are “ready” for a woman president, the road to 2016 and beyond provides a unique opportunity to harness women’s political and economic power to elevate women’s voices in important debates and impact this election in a significant way, including supporting and electing more women.
There is an often-told story among women leaders about a common experience they have had in meetings where men significantly outnumber women. Maybe you have heard it. It goes like this: the team or committee is grappling with a problem and everyone is chiming in, offering different approaches and solutions. One of the two or three women present tosses out an idea, but the conversation continues. A few minutes later, one of the men repeats her idea and the group seizes on it as the way to go.
What causes the team to hear him, but not her? Did his deeper voice command reflexive respect? Was he a larger presence, physically or emotionally, or both? Did he speak with more authority?
It’s impossible to know exactly. Yet, it seems clear that a woman with a good idea was treated as “lesser than” the guy who subsequently succeeds with her idea. It also seems to be true that the whole group, women and men alike, discount her.
Nearly all voters say they are open to a woman president and two-thirds say America is ready for a woman president, but most voters tell pollsters that gender will not play a significant role in how they cast their vote. Of course a candidate’s gender will play a role on some level, whether voters are aware of it or not. However, party is far more important than gender as a vote determinant. Even within their party, women voters do not necessarily line up behind the female candidate.
This morning, Carly Fiorina officially launched her candidacy for president with an online video, website, and announcement on Good Morning America. In her launch video, she states, “We know the only way to re-imagine our government is to re-imagine who is leading it,” contrasting her role as a political outsider to Hillary Clinton’s membership in the “professional political class.” However, Fiorina and Clinton share some characteristics this cycle. They both have the potential to make history as the first female major party nominees or winners in a U.S. presidential contest. But they don’t have to wait until the results come in to break another barrier for women and the presidency. With both women in the race, 2016 will be the first presidential cycle in which there is a woman vying for the nomination in each major party. In fact, the only other presidential cycle in which more than one woman was a major party primary candidate was in 1972, when Shirley Chisholm and Patsy Mink competed for the Democratic nomination.
At the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner on April 25, “Saturday Night Live” comedian Cecily Strong – the first woman to host the event in 20 years – created a memorable moment when she asked all members of the media in the ballroom to raise their hands and vow: “I solemnly swear not to talk about Hillary’s appearance, because that is not journalism.”
Is the Republican Party doomed to repeat 2012’s “War on Women” in the 2016 presidential campaign? The three male, Republican candidates for president may surprise you. The Democratic Party’s narrative that the Republican Party was committing a “War on Women” was based on a series of remarks that made Todd Akin, Robert Mourdock, Rick Santorum, and Rush Limbaugh household names in 2012. From Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” for her advocacy around contraception, to Santorum’s opposition to abortion in cases of rape, this constellation of extreme statements gave the Democratic Party ample material to demonstrate that the Republican Party was hopelessly out of touch with women, particularly around issues of reproduction and sexuality. While the “War on Women” narrative was less successful for Democrats in last year’s elections, it has reemerged in 2015 with renewed attention to the Republican candidates for president.
Latina/o voters, and Latinas specifically, played a decisive role in the 2008 and 2012 national elections and are poised to play a similarly significant role in 2016. Owing to the growth of the population and especially their growing share of the electorate, as well as the strength of Latina/o support for Democratic candidates in swing states – Latinas/os command an increasingly important role in Presidential elections.
On Sunday, April 12, Hillary Rodham Clinton announced her candidacy for the 2016 Democratic nomination for President of the United States. Clinton will likely be joined soon in the pursuit of the presidency by a Republican woman, former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina. This is a good moment to reflect on the women who have blazed a path toward the White House and the potential for a woman to take the oath of office in years to come.