It is no surprise that Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama would face a close race. The declared first woman and black candidates have received more attention for being non-traditional nominees than any presidential candidate in recent years, and voters seem to be torn between the two.
“I didn’t even vote [on Super Tuesday] because I still couldn’t make up my mind,” said Annabelle Davis, 23. “I’m just going to sit back and see what happens now, but I think it’s really cool that there’s two firsts in this race.”
In fact, neither Clinton nor Obama are firsts in the history of female or black presidential candidates.
In the U.S., women have been nominated for president even before women were granted suffrage. Though many women had been nominated, the first woman to make it to a party convention was Victoria Woodhull, who ran under the Equal Rights Party in 1872. Her running mate was abolitionist Frederick Douglas. They lost to Republican Ulysses S. Grant.
In 1972, Shirley Chisholm was the first black woman to appear on the ballot as a candidate for president, and was the first woman to run under a major party, the Democratic Party. Chisholm ultimately lost the nomination to former South Dakota Senator George McGovern. That year Richard Nixon won the presidency.
But Clinton and Obama are still making history as they are considered the first female and black presidential candidates with the possibility of winning.
Wary of voter perception, Clinton and Obama have had to manage their identities cautiously.
Following Clinton’s campaign trail, media attention seems to focus more on the fact that Clinton is a woman than on her presidential platform. Mills Senior Caitlin Strom-Martin said this can be attributed to social acceptability of sexism.
“You can be a little more underhanded about being sexist than you can about being racist,” Strom-Martin said.
Feminist author Robin Morgan seems to share Strom-Martin’s opinion.
In her essay, “Goodbye to All That # 2,” Morgan points out how shouting, “Iron my shirt,” at Clinton’s final appearance before the New Hampshire primary was deemed amusing instead of sexist. “If a racist idiot shouted, ‘shine my shoes,’ at [Barack Obama] it would have inspired hours of airtime and pages of newsprint analyzing our national dishonor,” Morgan wrote.
Questions like “Who does your hair?” and “Do you prefer diamonds or pearls?” are examples that Hillary is treated differently than her opponents. Strom-Martin said such questions are an example that “we’re living in a very patriarchal and sexist society.”
Let us not forget however, when former President Bill Clinton was infamously asked whether her preferred “boxers or briefs,” during his presidential campaign.
Still, political commentators, strategists, and voters have been more inclined to judge Hillary Clinton’s appearance and the way she presents herself, rather than her politics.
“Although I don’t really like [Clinton’s] attitude, I would have voted for her because she’d probably get stuff done,” said Davis who did not vote at the Feb. 5 primaries. “If she would present herself the way Barack does, she’d win no doubt.”
If perceptions suggest that we need Clinton to present herself like a man in order to be successful in the presidential campaign, how ‘female’ does that make our first potential woman president? And what does this say about our society?
It is a common misconception that women who attend women’s colleges are all feminists, and that in order to be a feminist one must surrender her feminine traits.
Seemingly, Clinton, who attended Wellesley, also carries that stigma as she is viewed as having masculine mannerisms.
When The Campanil asked Clinton what the advantages of attending a women’s college were, Clinton said, “Everything, I loved it. I made so many good friends, it was great.”
In terms of first impressions, Clinton came off as cold, giving an obligatory handshake. It is something the satirical newspaper, The Onion, also picked up on.
With a picture of Bill Clinton next to a headline titled, “Screw It, I’m Running for President,” the fake-news article quipped, “No longer will I have to endure watching candidates like Hillary Clinton engaging in single-pump handshakes with voters, as I use every last ounce of restraint not to shout out, ‘No! Warm double-clasp! Warm double-clasp!'” Clinton said. “America deserves someone who can do it right,” wrote The Onion.
Arguably though, Senator Clinton is equipped with proper presidential skills, and skills are what should be the basis for judging our presidential prospect.
One woman who has been involved in both the Clintons’ campaign since 1992 said, “People think [Hillary] is cold and she’s definitely very warm. She strikes me to be so excited to be in the position she’s in and she has a certain glow about her that I didn’t see when she was first lady.”