227 Years in the Making

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Rebecca McDowell
Master of Public Affairs ’16

Yesterday, California voters voiced their political opinions and headed to the polls. As a result, for the first time in history, a woman won the nomination of a major political party. On the news this morning, the anchors were discussing Hillary Clinton’s primary election win and said something that caught my attention. In 1960, Sirimavo Bandaranaike became the first female prime minister, ever. Now, I already know equal representation within elected office severely lacks in this country, but with yesterday’s win, I saw gender inequality, particularly in politics and leadership roles, with new eyes. The United States is fifty-six years behind other nations electing women to lead a country, yet people often assume the United States is a leader in many areas. That may be so for some things, but electing women to office, not so much.

As a recent graduate from the Master of Public Affairs (MoPA) program at the University of San Francisco, I’ve had a lot of conversations about this election both inside and outside of the classroom. Within an academic setting, topics such as rhetoric, campaign strategies, organizing methods, and policy agendas were discussed and analyzed. The academic setting taught me how to critically assess the campaign, research lobbying efforts, analyze campaign messaging and rhetoric, determine which polls were credible and how to check the polling data among other things. For a political enthusiast, it was exhilarating having discussions and debates with Hillary and non-Hillary supporters on an academic as well as practical level. Even with all the conversations I’ve had and numerous articles I’ve read about how the election could go, nothing prepared me for what it felt to have a woman win a major political party nomination.

Why it took so long for a woman to make it this far to becoming President of the United States has a lot to do with the deeply entrenched structural gender bias in our society. It’s easy for people to say, yes, gender equality is important, but balk at the idea of having half of the President’s Cabinet women. It’s easy to say that gender equality also means equal pay for equal work yet women as a whole continue to make less per dollar than men at 79 cents. Broken down by race and ethnicity, women earn closer to 60 cents per dollar, and if one woman is unfairly paid less than her male counterpart because of her race or ethnicity, we all earn less. It’s easy to say that sexual assault is wrong, yet women are often blamed for assault based on the clothes she wears or for drinking alcohol. When John Kasich, answered a woman’s question about sexual assault on campus with “don’t go to parties that have a lot of alcohol”, we can see that the harmful gender bias continues. When Donald Trump talks about women with such disrespectful and harmful words, it’s terrifying to think about what a Trump presidency means for women.

Hillary Clinton’s primary election win is historic because it represents real change from a national level. Women are underrepresented in politics, yet they significantly contribute to this country. It was a woman who helped ignite the civil rights movement and the Montgomery bus boycott by refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white male. It was a woman who authored the first federal food stamp program. It was a woman who challenged the unfair pay she received in the workplace. It was women who helped get the government running again after the shutdown in 2013. And now, a woman is finally the presidential nominee for a major political party. For the first in time in history, a woman could give the State of the Union address this winter. For the first time, a woman could address the country as Commander in Chief. Regardless of political affiliation or ideology, Hillary Clinton’s win is historic for all women.

More women holding elected office and in leadership roles shows what so many already know: that women are smart, capable of high-level responsibility, have a lot to offer to the world, and can have a successful career as well as a family. It’s also inspiring to see so many women, although not exclusively women, volunteering and working at high levels for Hillary’s campaign. Specifically, Nicole Derse, Senior Organizer for Hillary Clinton’s California campaign, professor in the MoPA program, a woman who inspires me and who I’ve learned so much from over the last couple of years.

While it is too soon to say what will happen in November (make sure you’re registered to vote), history is already made with the results of yesterday’s election. Should Hillary Clinton becomes our first woman president, the battle for gender equality will not be over, but we will be closer than we were before to greater equality. It will take more than hopes and dreams to ensure women receive equal pay, paid maternity leave, affordable childcare, justice in sexual assault cases, and so many other services; it will take the political will and voter accountability to ensure that change is created at a national level. But for now, the saying that you can be anything in the world is true. For the women and girls with big dreams, whether it’s attending college, playing basketball in the WBNA, going into space, running a Fortune 400 company, heading a law firm, or becoming President of the United States, it is possible. And hopefully, in a couple of months, one of my dreams, hearing the title Madam President get used, will come true.

I already knew it was possible for a woman to become president, and now, it’s plausible, 227 years in the making.

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*The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the views of the Leo T. McCarthy Center or the University of San Francisco.

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