Why the Woman Card Doesn’t Work for Hillary
With women voters young and old, competence and trustworthiness win out over gender
Hillary Clinton is winding her way through a Democratic presidential primary obstacle course of her own making, one laden with Benghazi and email servers.
But her campaign is positioning her as poised and ready for her inevitable ascension to her rightful place in history as the first female American president.
At campaign events, Clinton often quips, “I may not be the youngest candidate in this race, but I will be the youngest woman president in the history of the United States.” Her campaign is a house built of gender cards, as she woos women with stories of her mother and her own new title of grandmother.
But the battle cry “I Am Woman” is not enough for Clinton, President Obama’s former secretary of state, to win the presidency, as breaking the glass ceiling in the Oval Office is not as important to female voters as other pressing topics of the day.
“Being female is definitely not going to help (Hillary) Clinton get elected,” Amy Ridenour, chairwoman of the National Public Policy Research Center, told LifeZette. “Women are looking for the best person to solve a whole host of issues — terrorism, immigration, the economy, period.
“Being black wasn’t the only thing that helped Obama, and the black community is a lot more cohesive than the female population,” she said. “We don’t have the same feeling of oppression, either. We have husbands and fathers and brothers, and we share a concern with men about substantive issues.”
“The excitement of her being the first woman president is a little more muted than it was in 2008,” Anna Greenberg, a Democratic strategist unaffiliated with any presidential campaign, told Time.com. “And that’s just because she’s been around.”
Both younger and older women present a challenge for the Clinton campaign.
A 2014 Pew Research Center survey showed that half of all millennials (ages 18-39) now describe themselves as political independents, and many signify that they have low trust levels. Just 19 percent of them say most people can be trusted. And this year, millennials will outnumber baby boomers.
Clinton comes up short with this demographic in the latest Harvard Institute of Politics poll, garnering just 38 percent approval among all female democratic millennials surveyed. Sanders bested her slightly, with a 40 percent approval rating.
Meghan Speed, a 20-year-old college student from North Carolina, told the New York Times, “For me it was very difficult to wrap my mind about not fully supporting Hillary, because she is a woman. But I came to the realization that if I am supporting her because she is a woman, that’s equally as bad as not supporting her because of her gender.”
Clinton’s recent efforts at reaching millennials have included a surprise guest spot on “Saturday Night Live,” and chatting about body image and reproductive rights with millennial celebrity totem Lena Dunham.
Older women, often perceived as being in lockstep with Clinton, instead may be disappointed by her.
“Women voters, especially baby boomers and Gen X-ers, hold Hillary Clinton to a different standard than men when it comes to presidential ‘qualifications,’” said author Joanne Cronrath Bamberger in an interview on machelshull.com about her new collection of essays by women, “Love Her, Love Her Not: The Hillary Paradox.”
“Women of Hillary’s generation seem harder on her, especially when it comes to whether they can forgive her for being a politically ambitious woman in her own right, and whether that influenced her decision not to leave her marriage, which some consider inauthentic,” Bamberger also noted.
Feminist standard-bearers who might be assumed to be enthusiastic Clinton supporters are instead scrutinizing the candidate’s calculating nature as a reason to cry foul on her 2016 Democratic nomination.
“Hillary Clinton’s feminism is a fraud. She rode her husband’s coattails to wealth and power.”
Feminist writer Camille Paglia, 68, wrote in an email to The Daily Beast: “Hillary Clinton’s feminism is a fraud. She rode her husband’s coattails to wealth and power, and she has amorally colluded in the vilification and destruction of female victims of her husband’s serial abuse …”
Maybe old hatchets aren’t buried, even when it comes to women of Clinton’s own party.
“I will always remember (how) she insulted Tammy Wynette, saying she was not a ‘stand by her man’ woman, then turned around and did exactly that, for years, for political gain,” noted one female 54-year-old Connecticut Democratic voter.
Many women don’t feel pressure to make gender history. “I don’t think of it as now-or-never,” Dudley Dudley, a 79-year-old woman who was a 1970s New Hampshire trailblazer as one of that state’s few female lawmakers, told Time.com. “There will be another Elizabeth Warren, another Hillary Clinton.”
For all her supposed girl-power, Clinton trailed Vice President Joe Biden in an October Fox News poll with Democratic women – and Biden hadn’t even announced a candidacy. Women were shown to be more inclined to back a Democrat over Republican Carly Fiorina whether it was Clinton, who had a 7-point advantage, or Biden, with a 12-point advantage.
“A woman can give impressive answers in a debate — whether it’s Clinton or Fiorina — and women are not thinking, ‘Gee, how awesome, a woman said that,'” said Ridenour. “They’re stacking her answer up against the next candidate’s answer, period.”
Maryland voter Jean Primm Purcell boiled it down this way: “It’s both insulting and a serious step away from true feminism to say that just because Clinton is a woman, we somehow owe her. It’s nothing personal — Clinton is just not fit for the presidency.”