This is a man’s world. There’s no question about it. And in the United States, men definitely dominate the political sphere. In Congress, the White House, and even political media, female voices are few and far between. While the situation is nowhere close to reaching full equality for women in politics, there has been change for the better. Women representatives are increasingly being elected, or at the very least considered for election, which is a step in the right direction. With more women in politics, the generally overlooked binaries of gender and family values have become more prominent in the more recent elections.
Historically, womens’ longest-running role in politics has been that of the “first lady” – the wife of the president (p127). While they do have some other responsibilities, their main one is to look pretty and not do anything too controversial. They make it their goal to help the children while the nation’s media focuses on how her arms got so toned or who designed her dress (Michelle Obama, anyone?). They must stay within their female gender binary of feminine and domestic – a perfect wife for their powerful hubby. But as the world progresses, this role for women in politics is changing, and women have a fine line to walk between the boundaries of power and femininity.
Hillary Clinton began her career in politics as a first lady, and she certainly challenged the role. After leaving the White House, she has since served in the Senate and has made several attempts at becoming the President herself. And this didn’t come easy (p128). Throughout her career, Clinton had to (and still does) toe the line between being tough and being likeable as a woman. As Jeffrey Alexander points out, “narrowly traditional constructions of gender still rule from the center of the civil sphere during presidential campaigns.” Hillary could not be seen as too “manly” or she would lose, and her display of emotion that won the New Hampshire primary demonstrates this unfortunate reality. However, as Clinton continues to vie for the presidency, these binary lines women in politics must walk may start to change for good. What happens when a woman is elected to the most powerful position in the United States, and arguably, the world? Will there be a first man who must play the gender role of a good husband? Doubtful. Or perhaps the gender binaries that exist will begin to disappear entirely. With a powerful woman in charge, the meaning of what it means to be “feminine” may change. Maybe, for once, women in politics will be expected to walk the same boundaries as men – matters of real importance and not whether or not she can perform her duties as a wife. But unfortunately, this is still a man’s world and it will take a strong woman to change things. Agree with her politics or not, the world needs more women like Hillary.
Alexander, Jeffrey C. The Performance of Politics: Obama’s Victory and the Democratic Struggle for Power. New York: Oxford UP, 2010. Print.