Is the United States ready for a female president in 2016? This seems to be the reigning question as the presidential race quickly approaches and all signs are pointing to Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee, even if realistically it’s still way too early to really know. Clinton has great potential to be the first female president of the United States, but has this country, for all it’s change and forward thinking, really progressed enough to vote her into office? Recent statistics can give us a clue. “Since 1937, polls have asked whether respondents could vote for a well-qualified woman nominated for president by their own party…approval has increased from only 33% of respondents in 1937 to 92% in 2006.” “However, in response to the question about whether America is “ready for a woman president,” only 55% agreed in 2006, up from 40% in 1996 when this question first appeared (Eagly, 7).
If these statistics correlate to the likelihood of Clinton being elected, then we can see that there may still be barriers that Clinton will have to face come election time. According to Professor Alice Eagly from Northwestern University, contemporary women have been proven to have the rights skills to make better leaders than men and yet women still come in second to men in the fight for leadership positions. Women are in a paradox, an era, according to Eagly, “marked by considerable change in women’s roles, combined with the persistence of many traditional expectations and patterns of behavior (Eagly, 2).” Historically, leadership has been defined solely in masculine terms, characterizing what makes a good leader with stereotypical male qualities. Therefore people have an easier time accepting men as leaders over women because of traditionally giving men leadership credit.
Yet a new study on leadership styles by leadership researchers concluded that transformational leadership, characterized by encouragement, support, and consideration, has been proven to be the most effective form of modern leadership and is considered relatively feminine. Eagly comes to a conclusion that “women leaders, on average, exert leadership through behaviors considered appropriate for effective leadership under contemporary conditions (Eagly, 5).” Even with this recognition women still face conflict in climbing the leadership ladder. They still struggle with the dilemma of fulfilling the female role society expects of women while also playing the role of a successful and strong leader. Once in a leadership position, they are expected to continue to play out the traditional female gender role yet somehow balance that role with the expectations of what it takes to be an effective leader. This is where Hilary could run into trouble in 2016. As Jeffrey Alexander puts it, “With contemporary feminism challenging the ways in which struggles for power walk these gendered boundaries, Hillary Clinton becomes subject and object of this change (Alexander, 127).” Clinton has to walk the fine line between being a strong, feminist figure while also showing her “womanly” emotions in order to win voters over. Alexander argues that traditional gender roles still have great impact in the political sphere, prohibiting women from moving past just being a candidate, but a candidate with strong, “masculine,” leader attributes. “Sometimes people dislike female leaders who display these very directive and assertive qualities because such women seem unfeminine (Eagly, 4).” For example, it was only when Clinton showed a moment of raw “female” emotion that she won over New Hampshire voters.
A large portion of Clinton’s support system lies is in the hands of female voters, and Clinton may have a better chance of being successful if she can win the hearts of women not just on the left, but in the middle as well. But the female vote will not be enough. In 2016, Clinton will still face prejudicial barriers, confronting challenges that male politicians do not, especially fighting for the ultimate leadership position in a setting dominated by men. “Women in highly masculine domains often have to contend with expectations and criticisms that they lack the toughness and competitiveness needed to succeed (Eagly, 6).” Eagly says that because women have to face these hurdles, climbing this male-dominated hierarchy takes a “strong, skillful, and persistent woman (Eagly, 6).”
But there is hope. Clinton has proved time and again that she possesses the right qualities to overcome the obstacles to the presidency that she will face as a female. And despite the divide between women being more capable as leaders than men but voters preferring male candidates to female candidates, the trend in the country is leaning favorably to women politicians. With the fight for equality being at the forefront of social politics, the prejudice against women has been decreasing. People who are more supportive of leadership opportunities for women are also supportive of disregarding traditional gender roles (Eagly). Social change continues to dominant the political world, opening the door to women for more opportunities to prove themselves as strong and effective leaders.
Eagly , Alice. “Female Leadership Advantage and Disadvantage: Resolving the Contradictions.”Psychology of Women Quarterly. (2007): 1-12. Web. 27 Sep. 2013.
Alexander, Jeffrey . The Performance of Politics . New York: Oxford University Press, Inc. , 2010. 127-130. Print.