During the campaign, I was very interested in how the different waves of feminism effected female voters. Before the start of this class, I noticed that there was a disconnect between older, second wave feminists and younger, forth wave feminists. This was something I wanted to explore further. This class gave me the platform to dig deeper into this separation. Throughout this semester I used this course to explore the different ways in which Hillary Clinton’s rhetoric often furthered that divide between previous feminist models and its modern undertaking. In my exploration paper, written prior to the election, I was able to explore this gap in understanding, and pose another series of pertinent questions regarding this divide.
I have to admit, initially, I thought that this project would be of little significance to the actual election, more of just a side note, a cautionary observation that would need to be addressed in more depth during future campaigns. The ideological divide was interesting and definitely worth examining, but I did not think it would actually impact the election in terms of votes cast. After all, I like most liberals in America did not see how she could lose, even despite her flaws. However, after the election results came in, and Hillary Clinton’s historic loss became a reality, I like many people realized that liberals in America have much more the examine than they thought.
It emerged that the female vote was one of the most fascinating points for this examination, especially in light of the fact that Hillary Clinton was the first female candidate for major political party. Gender played an important role in this election, but not always in a straight forward way. Hillary Clinton, had some amount of ownership in her defeat. I explore this topic further in my synthesis paper. Following the election results, I felt the need to expand my area of inquest and look at some other groups of female voters that were significant in this election, rather than simply second and forth wave feminists, and investigate how Hilary Clinton, her platform and her rhetoric, impacted these voters.
I have always been comfortable with writing traditional paper. It is what I am used to writing, so the structure of this class felt foreign to me in the beginning. Generating our own material for was very different from the structure of my other classes. The style of writing did not come easily to me, but with time I came to really enjoy “blogging.” I have always been interested in blogging as an outlet for expression, but I had very little experience with the format. This class gave me the opportunity to explore blogging format further, and I wanted to attempt to use it for my final project.
Over the course of this semester, I think our class blog has become an absolutely wonderful resource. This is mainly due to the fact that the class participants took the assignments seriously and posted articles that allowed us to engage in thoughtful and insightful discussion on a variety of topics related to Hilary Clinton’s candidacy and her rhetoric. There are many articles that I know I will refer to for further study and possibly even additional analysis. Having a resource with all of these articles, as well as the observations and analysis of my classmates, will be a great place to return to for any further political analysis I engage in, in the future.
This year’s presidential election will be endlessly analyzed and studied. The quest to answer the many, seemingly unanswerable questions that emerged after the election began immediately after Donald Trump’s win became official, the inevitable knee jerk reaction to what is now widely considered, the most stunning upset in United States presidential history. How did everyone, (everyone being the media, pollsters, pundits, basically everyone of note in political circles) how did they get this so wrong? The initial reaction was one of anger from many Americans. The anger was directed mostly outside of Hillary Clinton, her campaign and the Democratic party, to some external entity far beyond the control of anyone associated with the election of Hillary Clinton. Anger often works this way. Anger is about lashing out, especially initially. However, once the shock wore off, the anger turned into something else. It did not really go away as much as it morphed, changed its state, to something like abject sadness, embarrassment and a looming feeling that somehow, someway, the fault might not lie entirely outside of our control, but that perhaps some of the blame might, just might, lie within.
This is a hard truth to face, but a necessary one. The lesson we learned as children, that there is never just one side to a story, is still true, and unfortunately, very applicable to this situation.
In the weeks that have followed the election, there has been a lot of data that emerged about who voted for Hillary Clinton, who did not vote for her, and a vast array of possible reasons why. Following Hillary Clinton’s historic nomination, as the first woman to become the nominee of a major political party, I have been most interested in how women voted in this election. Who voted for her? If they did vote for her, did they love her or simply feel like she was the more logical option? Who did not vote for her? What were their primary reasons why? Were those reasons legitimate? These questions led me to examine several different groups of women and how the voted. Of course, as with the examination of any large group full of individuals, some of the trends are generalizations. They do not always represent the larger whole. But never the less, the numbers do not lie and they are worth examining.
Feminism is a seemingly ever evolving concept. Feminism is currently in its forth wave and if the trend continues, there will more than likely be more waves of feminism to come, until hopefully the concept of needing to delineate women’s needs from human needs is obsolete. This current realization of the project of feminism is centered on the concept of intersectionality, the idea the suppression of women can only fully be understood when examined along with the other marginalized populations.
There is a move toward an ideological expansion of oppression its its many different forms. Race, class, gender, sexuality, age, etc. all have commonalities that must be acknowledged in order to engage in the most effective and inclusive movement toward change. Hillary Clinton is a product of the second wave of feminism, a wave that emerged out of the civil rights protests and a growing awareness of oppressed populations as a whole. In that way, it can appear similar to this current wave and indeed there are many elements of the current wave of feminism that have been adopted from the ideology set forth during the second wave.
The second wave of feminism fought against the treatment of women as objects and the domineering societal patriarchy that defined women through such a narrow lens. The second wave of feminism is still very much alive, but the difference between second wave and the most current wave is important to note when examining why Hillary Clinton failed to generate “enthusiasm” in the numbers she needed to among younger voters.
Second wave feminism, while it worked along side other cultural movements and was a part of a larger cultural trend toward acknowledgment of the oppressed, did not demonstrate the inclusivity and intersectionality now adopted by forth wave feminists. This difference created a rhetorical disconnect between Hillary Clinton and younger voters, one that was difficult to remedy. Hillary Clinton was viewed by many as subverting traditional gender roles. She often came off as cold or unemotional. Clinton herself admitted that this was true in this Humans of New York piece. This perception, both in her demeanor and in her delivery, alienated people, many of which would normally be assumed to be her automatic supporters. She was seen as someone who wanted to be accepted into the patriarchy, rather than wanting to tear it down. She was perceived as someone who valued her acceptance into the system, rather than insisting on the integration of the feminine values simply as they were, into institutions of power.
Let me be clear. Overall, young women voters, did vote for Hillary Clinton, but young women did not come out in the numbers needed and more younger women voted for a third party candidate in this election than in the previous election between President Obama and Mitt Romney. Eight percent of young voters ages 18-25 voted for a third party candidate as opposed to only 3 percent in 2012. Young women voters were part of what is referred to as ‘The Obama Coalition’, the group of voters that Obama inspired to get to the polls during his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. Hillary Clinton was not able to incite the same enthusiasm in this group of Democratic voters as Obama was. Rhetoric has a great deal to do with this.
Hillary Clinton’s rhetorical strategy for combatting Trump was suggesting that America was, more or less, just fine; that America does not need to be made ‘Great Again’ but rather it is already great. What she failed to realize in her rhetorical retort was that Trump was hitting on something important. Yes, perhaps the bleak nature of his current vision of America seemed a bit extreme, but he harnessed a message of a need for change. While new age feminists were clearly not going to gravitate toward Trump and his rhetoric, they also did not gravitate toward Hillary Clinton. Reinstating the status quo was not quite what people wanted to hear. It was not an “inspiring” message.
Much of this can be linked to Clinton’s insider status as a politician and her belief that change can only come from working within the confines of the system. Since the system is, undeniably a patriarchal system, being a part of this establishment and relaying a message of “we’re really not that bad” did not hit with any real force among forth wave feminists who were looking for their own rule breaker and their own message of change.
This greatly impacted the enthusiasm of this younger group of women voters and perhaps can even be linked to the significantly higher percentage of young voters who chose to vote for a third party candidate. Forth wave feminists want the world to accept women as a part of it, to value their skills and innate qualities simply as they are, rather than weighing them through a masculine lens. They believe in the power of intersectionality rather than the power of gaining entrance to a system viewed as oppressive. That vision often directly clashed with Hillary Clinton’s ideological perspective and rhetorical strategy and perhaps can give us some incite as to why enthusiasm among younger women was an issue of note in this election.
First, I want to say, that black women voted for Hillary Clinton. They voted for her in higher numbers that any other group. A stunning 94 percent of black women voters, voted for Hillary Clinton. No one can blame women of color for this election. They showed up, even though there is definitely some truth to the fact that Hilary Clinton did not really address or represent them.
There seems to be a collective sense of acceptance among women of color. We have a two party system. Trump is clearly worse than Hillary and even if she is not perfect, she is still by far, the safer choice for the well being of people of color in America. They voted for her without complaint and without whining, but not without reservation. The question is why? Why did women of color fall in line so to speak? In terms of rhetoric, Hillary Clinton’s strategy toward people of color was mixed. She had moments of deep and seemingly genuine pathos with the black community in particular, seen most clearly with the Mothers of the Movement and their powerful display of support for Hillary Clinton during the DNC and throughout her campaign. Hillary’s interactions with these women seemed very genuine. The bond of motherhood was visible. However, there were also instances in which Hillary Clinton turned her back on people of color such as her “all lives matter” moment or her strategic side step of many race related questions regarding policing during the campaign. And these examples are just examples from the campaign. There are many more.
There is also the extremely complicated rhetoric of Hillary Clinton’s past, her unforgettable utterance of the phrase “super predator” and the extremely complicated and damaging 1994 crime bill passed by Bill Clinton that created tougher sentencing measures and welfare reforms that have since proved damaging to people of color. Yet despite these contradictions and complications, the overall consensus seems to be that many women of color felt they had more to fear during a Trump presidency. The downside potential for their lives was far worse than for other groups. In other words, these women did not feel they could afford to protest vote, or insist on more liberal policies because there was far too much to lose. Black women are rooted in realism. They want to do what they can, for who they can, in the most expedient way possible and black women clearly felt that Hillary Clinton was the candidate to do this.
Interestingly enough, the generational divide that is present among feminists or self identified liberal women, was the same within the black voting population as it was in the collective youth vote. Younger African Americans were less enthusiastic about Clinton than they were about Obama. This generational divide can be linked to Clinton’s rhetoric around some of the most important issues effecting black communities. Clinton was able to win over the older generation of black female voters with her rhetoric around the Mothers of the Movement. However, younger voters were not so easily swayed.
There were instances of young, black, female voters, many of them part of the Black Lives Matter movement, openly denouncing Clinton and saying that they were unable to support her candidacy because of the contentious legislative and rhetorical history about black people in America connected with her political life. But even despite this generational divide in support, the overwhelming number of black female voters, voted for Hilary Clinton. When Hillary Clinton received the Democratic party nomination, the popular hashtag, #GirlIGuessImWithHer started spreading across the internet, a public display of the tempered support Hilary Clinton received from many black women. My classmate allinclusived states,
As a minority, or person of color, you want your issues fully addressed and discussed. You want to also be fully a part of the conversation to bring equality to all women. The lack of addressing these unique issues only further removed Clinton from past and future left-aligned liberal constituents.
Hillary Clinton was not able to fully do this. There were moments where she appeared to acknowledge the truth and even acknowledge her own role in the terrible one sided, biased rhetoric that has developed around race in our country. But at other moments she played it safe, she side stepped questions and avoided what to many, seemed like obvious truths.
Even though the post election numbers showed strong support for Hillary Clinton among black women, the lack of understanding confirmed in some instances by her rhetoric, was definitely noticed and noted by many in communities of color. Her inconsistencies bring into question her level of real concern for these issues, which broadens into a overall questioning of her commitment to change in the conceptual sense. Did Hillary Clinton want to do things differently with regards to race? Or did she simply wish to appear as though she was doing things differently, all the while remaining attached to her identification as an establishment politician? These types of questions have far reaching effects. It is hard to tell how her rhetoric on race impacted the voting population as a whole, but it is beyond question, worth examination to understand the development of future Democratic voting populations.
White women are a complicated group of voters. Nothing confirmed this with more certainty than this 2016 presidential election. This group of female voters, perhaps more than any other group, cannot be pinned down or linked to one party or one ideology. Hillary Clinton succeeded in reaching a larger percentage of college educated white women. This Atlantic article posted by rgelmosner states,
The fact that she won college-educated white women while losing white women without a college degree suggests that her campaign had more success winning over Republican-leaning women who fit a similar demographic profile to the candidate herself: white, highly-educated, and affluent.
Winning over this group was a success for Hillary Clinton. Women like her were able to see themselves in her and see how her success would translate into their success. Her message of competence and experience reached them. But what about non-college educated white women?
There is a lot of talk about the educated versus the uneducated surrounding this election. It is a delineation that I am personally becoming very tired of hearing. It suggests that there is one type of intelligence, or at least one type that is valued in America. I would argue that this is true, that America does place a tremendous amount of value on one version of intelligence and often boarders on vilification of those who are considered uneducated by this standard. This topic deserves further expansion in a different piece. Non-college educated white women voted for Trump. There is no getting around it. These women voted for him and they did it in tremendous numbers. Trump won 62 percent of these women voters over Clinton’s 34 percent. This percentage difference is stark. Hillary Clinton personally failed to reach these women and empower them. This Politico article states,
“As the blue-collar voter has become central to the political conversation, a clear picture of who we’re talking about has emerged: He’s likely male and disillusioned with the economy and loss of industry.”
However, the reality is, most of the white working class is actually made up of women and this is a fact that Hillary Clinton’s campaign failed to rhetorically prepare for.
The suggestion by many is that nothing has actually changed; that these numbers are indicative of a growing trend over the past 40 years of the white working class moving toward the Republican party. There is a lot of truth to this. The white working class, including both men and women, have been slowly but surely moving away from the Democratic Party, away from the political party that historically was supposed to represent the interests of the working person. This problem is bigger than Hillary Clinton, but that does not mean she had no part in the very visible manifestation of this sentiment during this campaign, especially when it comes to white working women. It is the job of every politician to speak directly to the voters and the translate a message of understanding and of action. What the voters wanted in this election was change. Clinton and her campaign failed to hear that call or recognize that need. This Vanity Fair article states,
What mattered most to voters, exit surveys indicated, was the economy, and, to borrow Trump’s words, “draining the swamp” in Washington.
This was the ultimate goal, and draining the swamp meant draining it of everyone, Hillary Clinton included. The cost of this change did not seem to matter, as long as it was different. Hillary Clinton is the ultimate Washington insider. Her experience was her ultimate selling point. It was the component of her candidacy that she most wanted people to know. She was qualified and experienced. Trump was not.
However, while she stressed her qualifications, a large part of the American people only heard that she was a part of a system that they had come to despise. Her rhetorical choice to stress her staying power in government was in the end a mistake. This move did not buy her any points with white working women, who felt that the system and all the people in it, were not working for or representing policies that improved their lives. Her experience and intellect translated as the elitism of a group of people at the top, who considered the uneducated voter to be unintelligent and therefore less than. Clinton was never able to make white, working class women believe that she understood them or even really cared about them and their revenge was harsh and public.
Thoughts from the After Aftermath:
Hillary Clinton lost this election. No, women are not responsible for her loss. She won the women vote, 54% to Donald Trump’s 42%. This is not an insignificant margin. It is also not an unexpected one. Barack Obama won 56% of the female vote to Mitt Romney’s 44%. Democrats usually win when it comes to female voters. This year was no different. One thing we, as a country have learned is that there is not the same unity around gender as there is around race. Hillary Clinton won the female vote, but not in a significant way by comparison to previous elections. The fact that she was a woman barely mattered to other women.
Needless to say, there are many more ways that the female vote can be analyzed, all of which would yield some interesting analysis. More than likely this is where the conversation will go in the months to come. The breakdown of the female vote will be extremely valuable in future elections, especially for Democrats. This election illuminates the fact that identity, especially female identity is a multiplicity. It cannot be reduced to gender alone. There are many other components of the female identity that impact the action involved in voting.
But perhaps this outcome was the event that was necessary to incite the proper type of rebellion, a rebellion with staying power against the institutions of power in our country. I say this with the necessary caution required of a hopeful sentiment, following what was considered by many, an utter collapse of American democracy. Voters cannot be so easily categorized, especially female voters.
The conceptualization of identity as a multiplicity is not going away and neither is the desire for change. It is a reality of human existence and it is here to stay. But it is the understanding of the connectivity of these two realities and the embrace of this conceptualization by liberal individuals, that the real hope lies. This embrace must be all encompassing, for it is in the power of the multiple, in the embrace of the feminine, that the reimagined future of liberalism lies. If nothing else, this election illuminated the rhetorical and strategic need for inclusivity and for the recognition that the oppressed populations of America want change, and must be not only remembered, but acted upon.