In the winter of 2007, I had the opportunity to work on
Hillary Clinton's first presidential campaign. I packed up my suitcase with my
Los Angeles "winter" clothes and traveled to the great state of Iowa, where the
first caucus of the race to name the Democratic nominee for U.S. president would be.
A native Angeleno, I was unprepared for the bitter winter and
for the crazy things people told me under the guise of anonymity allotted by
the telephone. In the months leading up to the caucus, I spoke to hundreds of
voters, and, every so often, someone would tell me that our country was not ready
for a woman president. In one instance, someone told me that women probably
shouldn't be doctors, much less president.
Growing up in an immigrant family, I
thought these ideas about women were reserved only for my Latin-American
grandmothers. But after months in Iowa, it became clear that gender stereotypes
are still present in our country. The attitudes I encountered were not unique
to Iowa. In her book "Big Girls
Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women," Rebecca Traister wrote that Hillary Clinton was "a prism through which the country's attitudes
about sex, power and the place of women in society were going to be
Whether or not we all agree with her politics, Hillary is indeed "a
prism" for the ambiguity modern women live in. In case we wondered if things
had changed since 2008, a few days after the announcement, Cheryl Rios, CEO of Dallas marketing and public relations firm Go Ape Marketingfrom Texas, told reporters that a woman shouldn't be president
because we have "different hormones" and because of "biblical sound reasoning."
Seeing a marriage where the female has the more prominent role will serve as a powerful example of what a modern partnership can look like.
A female presidency would indeed be a symbol for women
everywhere. In a recent interview with Elle magazine, Chelsea Clinton
talked about why the symbolism of a female president mattered.
you ask about the importance of having a woman president, absolutely it's
important, for, yes, symbolic reasons—symbols are important; it is important
who and what we choose to elevate, and to celebrate," she said. "Who
sits around the table matters. And who sits at the head of the table matters,
These conversations are framed around what these
symbols do to girls, but these symbols matter for boys. too. Here are a few
gender stereotypes a female presidency could challenge, and an important lesson
Hillary can illustrate to boys and girls:
1. Women are mothers, grandmothers, wives—and also do things outside the house
In the media women are often portrayed in archetypes of
career obsessed or maternal. There seems to be no room for anything in-between.
Hillary is a mother, wife and grandmother. In fact, if this letter published shortly before the official
announcement is any indication, it seems that Hillary herself is finally ready
to publicly embrace her role as a mother and grandmother. In her last election, Hillary was quoted that she didn't want to be labeled as the "woman" candidate, because she feared that could alienate
certain voters. It is not uncommon for women to have a fear of being put into
boxes at home or at the office. If you do not work outside the home, people assume you have no interests or passions outside of motherhood. If you
talk about being a mother at work, you can be punished, too.
Mothers who work
inside and outside the home both feel pressured to engage in mommy wars or to
defend their status as "working" or "stay-at home" moms. I am one of the few
mothers in my extended family who works outside of the home, and I have heard
my own share of well-intentioned but misguided comments from
relatives—such as the time a relative asked when I had time to sit down
and interact with my child, since I had such a busy career.
Exposure is an
important method of socialization. This is why seeing a woman running the
country would be a benefit for both boys and girls, who would see a different
model of what females can and can't do.
While we often focus on creating a world where girls can achieve anything their hearts desire, let us not forget that our boys suffer from gender norms and stereotypes that paint a narrow picture of masculinity.
2. The Bill Clinton factor
A Hillary presidency would mean that there would not be a
first lady in the White House but a "first gentleman." For the first time in history, our country would contemplate what the role of this person
would be: Would he assume the roles normally assigned to the first lady? Or
would he carve out a new role for himself?
As our country moves
forward on greater LGBT inclusiveness (the White House just put in place gender neutral restrooms), this would
be a good place to evaluate the presidential spouse's role, which has
previously only been filled by women. Bill Clinton's new role would catapult us
into a bigger conversation about masculinity.
These issues are explored in the
documentary "The Mask You Live In," which argues that it
is not only girls who are suffering from preconceived notions of gender norms
but that boys are also suffering from cultural messages that tell them that
they need to be strong, in charge and in control of women. While a woman who
demonstrates traits like ambitions and aggression might suffer, men face
pressures to be dominant and powerful even if it doesn't suit their natural
abilities or desires.
Seeing a marriage where the female has the more prominent
role will serve as a powerful example of what a modern partnership can look
like. Boys will see that their partner (male or female) can take the lead and
be the one in the spotlight without having their masculinity called into
3. Dealing with failure, not just wins
After her devastating loss in Iowa, Hillary spoke to those
of us who had worked on her campaign. In a moment of candor, she asked us not to
lose faith in the political process or in ourselves. She reminded us that, for
most of us ,our lives were just beginning and so this failure should not define
us. After fighting a tough campaign, I would have thought that Hillary would
retreat to a bunker to wallow in self-pity and despair. (OK, that's what I wanted to do). This is a person who not only
campaigned for her opponent but then served in his administration for four years.
This is a valuable lesson for our boys and girls on how to deal with defeat
with poise and humility.
During the course of
this year and next, Hillary Clinton will, once again, force us all to confront our
notions of what it means to be female in contemporary America. Whether or not
we agree with her politics, it is important that we remember that symbols
matter—and so does what we do and say in our homes.
While we often focus on
creating a world where girls can achieve anything their hearts desire, let us
not forget that our boys suffer from gender norms and stereotypes that paint a
narrow picture of masculinity. While a female presidency (whether it is Hillary
or anyone else) will not solve these issues, it will take us one step forward
and that is something we can all get behind.