How feminism has been seen in the 2016 presidential candidates

Ashley Haberman

The 2016 top presidential candidates have brought many elements to the table for voters in all generations. From the potential for the first female president to Donald Trump taking the lead in the Republican party, many components of feminism have been seen throughout this year’s election.

Members of the Colorado State University community addressed how they see this portrayed in the election, but primarily, in the candidates themselves.

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“The argument that voters, particularly female voters, should support Hillary Clinton in order to break the glass ceiling and get a woman in the White House may be understood as a feminist argument,” associate professor in the political science department Courtenay Daum wrote in an email to the Collegian. “But I think this strategy has backfired at times as exemplified by the backlash to the comments made by Gloria Steinem and former Secretary of State Albright and the continued low levels of enthusiasm for Clinton among young female voters.”

Daum was referring to a comment made by Albright that there is a “special place in Hell for women who don’t support other women,” as well as a comment made by Steinem that women are voting for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders because that’s where “the boys are.” A New York Times article states that “female supporters of Mr. Sanders accused both women of undermining feminism,” and Steinem “issued a retraction” following criticism.

“I think it’s ridiculous to vote for a woman just because you’re a woman, the same way it wasn’t appropriate to vote for Obama just because one was Black,” social work graduate student Jeannine Sonnier wrote in an email to the Collegian. “While it would be a huge leap for women if we had a woman in the White House, it would be a huge step backward for women if we elected someone irresponsible and not well-suited for the job of running the country. As a woman, I am apprehensive in voting for (Hillary) because of her character, not her gender. Just as I question her, I question the other candidates regarding their issues as well.”

Ethnic studies adjunct professor Allison Goar also found issues with Albright and Steinem’s characterization of female voters.

“I think that’s a very over-simplified definition of what it means to be a feminist and participate politically,” Goar said. “Just because Clinton and I share an identity doesn’t mean that we automatically share everything else nor that she represents my best interest. I see a lot of that generational gap with a lot of older women, especially white women, not getting that younger women have different concerns and maybe representation isn’t the end-all we want to see in a president.”

An online survey of 800 registered female voters conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research found that women express a desire to support candidates whose policy agenda speaks to their distinct set of economic concerns, including equal pay, paid sick days and family leave, college affordability and affordable child care. 

The survey also indicated that female voters want a candidate who supports the well-being of women and families, who will protect a woman’s access to reproductive health and birth control. 

“There’s very little agreement on a definition of feminism,” Goar said. “For the general audience, feminism can be defined as the social, economic and political equality for all genders.”

With Goar’s definition of feminism, and the outcome of the GQR Research study, the views of Republican candidate Donald Trump on women and gender equality could be very concerning to women — and men — who agree with feminism.

“Donald Trump’s rhetoric is extreme,” said political science professor Sandra Davis. “He doesn’t talk much about issues or specific policy and can be very inconsistent. The essence of his campaign has been to insult many, including women.”

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Trump has directed many negative comments at women during his campaign, including saying that women reach higher-up positions in their careers because of their appearance and attacking Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton by saying that if she “can’t satisfy her husband, what makes her think she can satisfy America?”

“It’s pretty horrifying,” Goar said. “I’m really shocked at things he’s said. I don’t feel like if he were to become president that women’s views and issues would get respected in his administration, and given that we are half the population he’s alienating, I find that very disturbing.”

Sonnier also had strong feelings toward Trump’s views and discourse on women and equal rights.

“When I think of Trump and all of the oppressive things he’s said about women and all of the other minorities, I begin to think of all of the hard work that everyone has taken generations to accomplish in the name of peace and equal rights, all being stripped away in a very short time,” Sonnier wrote. “It’s not just Trump I’m afraid of, as a woman, it’s the behavior as a leader that he models for others. By him behaving as he does, he is saying it’s okay to treat others like this, and that is very powerful as a leader, and extremely terrifying.”

Some, like Goar, believe that Bernie Sanders’ policies best follow their definition of feminism.

“I find Sanders very refreshing because he’s actually talking about issues in a way that is honoring people’s experiences, which I think is a very feminist way to do politics, because it’s very inclusive and honors people’s lived experiences,” Goar said. “I also appreciate his record on a lot of gender issues, and I think if we are going to label someone a feminist politician, obviously he’s not perfect, but he’s at the top of the heap right now.”

The generational gap among younger and older female voters could also affect priorities and candidate preferences among voters.

“I think the fact that younger women seem to prefer Bernie Sanders, whereas older women seem to prefer Hillary Clinton, is indicative of a generational divide among female Democrats that certainly informs a discussion about feminism,” Daum wrote. “Younger women believe that the election of the first female president is just a matter of time and that they have the right to exercise choice and support the candidate that they want regardless of his or her sex. I think this could be construed as a difference in opinion among women about what it means to be a feminist.”

Collegian Reporter Ashley Haberman can be reached at news@collegian.com.