Can America Elect A Woman President?


Or Are U.S. Politics Still Too Sexist?


A few hours before the Sept. 16 GOP debate on CNN, I was on Twitter talking politics amiably with some gay Democrats in the heartland. Then along came a supporter of another candidate and things got ugly. First he called me a “stupid bitch.” When I said I didn’t engage with anonymous trolls with eggs for profile pics, he responded: “I would much rather look at an egg than some painted up whore trying to hang on to her fleeting youth.”


Whoa, dude!


Where have I heard that kind of rhetoric before?


From the leading Republican candidate for president, real estate billionaire, Donald Trump.


“Look at that face!” Trump reportedly told Rolling Stone about Carly Fiorina. “Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!”


According to Rolling Stone, Trump added, “I mean, she’s a woman, and I’m not s’posedta say bad things, but really, folks, come on. Are we serious?”


Those lines, which have dogged Trump since the Rolling Stone article “Trump Seriously” was published in this month’s issue, typify the sexism rampant in the 2016 presidential election. For a political party trying to woo new voters, the Republicans have been batting a big zero with women with Trump leading the male pack.


While Trump tried to walk back his comments about Fiorina, much as he had tried to walk back his comments about Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly after the last debate, Fiorina used Trump’s remarks to further her own campaign. Speaking at the National Federation of Republican Women Convention in Phoenix on Sept. 11, Fiorina, who battled breast cancer several years ago, said hers was “the face of a 61-year-old woman” and she was “proud of every year and every wrinkle.”

It’s a good video. Is it representative of America’s women? Not really; all but two of the women in the video are white and I doubt there are any lesbians in there. Fiorina also levels her attack at the “Democrat Party” (it’s the Democratic Party), not at Trump, and she rather nervily refers to the Republican Party as the “party of suffrage,” but regardless–it’s a salvo over the Trump bow and she got wild applause for it.


In a room full of Republican women.


And therein lies the problem–getting more than women to respond to female candidates. The two female candidates in the race, Fiorina and Hillary Clinton, are being shut out of media reportage on their campaigns. While it can be argued that Fiorina, polling at below 10% doesn’t deserve much press, Clinton is polling highest in her own party and highest overall.


So why the media shut out, even though, as the Washington Post noted, grudgingly, on Sept. 14, “Hillary Clinton is still the candidate to beat.” (


Veteran black journalist Eugene Robinson reminded readers of the facts, “Among registered voters who are Democrats or lean toward that party, Clinton is at 42 percent while Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont is at 24 percent and Vice President Joe Biden [who has yet to declare] is at 21 percent.” Robinson also noted Clinton’s strengths with voters of color. Recent polls put her close to 80% with both African American and Latino voters. If Twitter is any indicator, she also has the gay vote.


So what’s the problem? Why isn’t the media talking up Hillary Clinton the way they are Donald Trump? The New York Times has fielded backlash by its Public Editor for biased Clinton coverage (even an article about Clinton appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show was accompanied by clips of Ellen with President Obama, not Clinton.)

Is America ready for a female president, or are American politics still so Old School that any excuse will do to keep the girls out of the biggest clubhouse in the world–the White House?


The simple answer is not so simple. Clinton is unarguably the most qualified candidate in the race. She knows more about foreign and domestic policy than any of the other candidates. She’s proven she can garner votes and proven she’s tough enough to withstand endless attacks.


But she can’t get the mainstream media to cover her rallies, her speeches, her policy roll-outs. There’s been more media attention to the possibility of Vice President Biden possibly running than to Clinton’s actual candidacy.


On the other side of the aisle Fiorina, while a political novice, has also worked her way up the ranks in business, becoming the first female CEO of Hewlett-Packard in 1999 and keeping in the public eye ever since.


While the argument could easily be made that Fiorina’s strength is her corporate background, her tenure at Hewlett-Packard was fraught and she was forced out of the company. What’s more, Fiorina had a disastrous run for the Senate in 2010 against incumbent Barbara Boxer. Yet the mainstream media has paralleled her with Hillary Clinton–because in this most sexist of presidential races, someone who has never held elected office is equal to a former senator and Secretary of State.


Make. It. Stop.


Clinton won two Senate races in landslide victories, was known in the Senate as someone who could cross the aisle, and then went on to win the largest number of votes in any primary in American history, but lost the 2008 nomination to Barack Obama who had a higher delegate count. Her tenure as Secretary of State was solid, despite the Republican focus on the Benghazi attack which left four Americans dead.


President Obama has repeatedly said she would “make a fine president.”


Fiorina may be running for president as well, but only a sexist media would consider her candidacy equivalent to that of Clinton. But to take it a step further, only a sexist media would be suppressing news about Clinton while focusing on Trump and Clinton’s nearest–but not really–Democratic rival, Bernie Sanders.


A recent tabulation of endorsements from Congress and governors for current candidates puts Clinton vastly ahead of anyone else with a total of 331, including seven governors.


2016 Endorsement Primary

Her nearest competitor is Jeb Bush with 34. Not one endorsement for Sanders, even though he’s been in Congress for 26 years and these are the people who know him best. Not one endorsement for Trump, either.


The “anyone but Hillary” meme that pervades the mainstream media has been remarked upon by various pundits, from lesbian commentator Rachel Maddow to political satirist Bill Maher, who on Sept. 15 took MSNBC’s Chris Matthews to task for unfairness to Clinton in coverage.


“She’s competent, she’s a nice person and you’re just so mean to Hillary Clinton….It’s like they get her for parking the mid-sized car in the compact spot. Who cares? This is not Che Guevara in a pantsuit. This is Hillary Clinton we’re talking about. For the Republicans it will always be something. ‘Well she says she’s not a witch, but it’s kind of suspicious that she won’t let us dunk her.’”


That witch test? If you drowned, you weren’t a witch. If you didn’t drown, they burned you at the stake.


Yet this is where we are several months into the presidential race with more than a year to go: The overall front-runner, Clinton, eclipsed by media coverage of the Republican frontrunner, Trump, who talks about women like it’s 1950. On the other side, self-identified progressives seem incapable of understanding how historically huge it would be for America to have a female president.


Especially when so much of the world has already beaten us to that glass-ceiling-bashing goal. The most powerful world leader in the EU is Angela Merkel who has been the Chancellor of Germany since 2005 and the Leader of the Christian Democratic Union since 2000.


The first female president in the world was Sri Lanka’s Sirimavo Bandaranaike, elected in 1960 when Hillary Clinton was still in college. Indira Gandhi was the first prime minister of India, elected in 1966. She served until 1977 and then was re-elected in 1980 and served until her assassination in 1984.


Indira Gandhi

Song Qingling became acting co-chairperson of China in 1968. Golda Meir was the first female prime minister of Israel, elected in 1969. Isabel Martínez de Perón was elected president of Argentina in 1974. Margaret Thatcher was elected Prime Minister of the U.K. in 1979. Corazon Aquino was elected president of the Phillippines in 1986.


These women were among the ones who broke political ground, but more than 70 women have held the office of president or prime minister since the mid-20th century–including Jóhanna Sigurðardótti, who wasn’t just the first female prime minister of Iceland, but also an out lesbian.

Currently, in addition to Merkel, there are more than 20 women presidents or prime ministers globally, including the presidents of Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Poland, South Korea, Thailand, Norway, Sweden and Liberia.


Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (Current President of Liberia)

Brazil is the world’s fifth most populous nation and Germany is the EU’s most populous nation. Both have elected women. Why not the U.S., when the world’s two most populous nations, China and India, have both had female leaders?


What is holding us back? Why was Hillary Clinton the first female presidential candidate of a major party to make it past the starting gate and nearly cross the finish line in 2008, a full 88 years after women finally got the vote in America?


Why is it taking so long for women to be represented by the presidency? Women are more than 52% of the population according to the most recent census but are only one-third of the U.S. Supreme Court, 20% of the Senate, 17% of the House of Representatives, 10% of the governors and 9% of state legislatures.


What’s going on, America? 


Before Clinton announced her candidacy for 2016, the naysayers were complaining she was “too old.” But today the Republican front-runner is older than she is–just like Mitt Romney and John McCain both were when they ran in 2012 and 2008. And her only real competition in the Democratic primary, Bernie Sanders, is eight years her senior. Vice President Biden, who may or may not run, is older than Sanders by a year.


Age is not an issue when the contender is a man.


Nor, apparently, is emotion. Last week Biden appeared on Stephen Colbert’s new Late Show and amidst Colbert’s fawning and begging him to run, Biden spoke at length about his son, Beau, who died of brain cancer at the end of  May. It was painful to watch.


The Biden interview also served to underscore the difference between male politicians who are lauded for emotion and female politicians who are excoriated for it. No female politician could have said she wasn’t ready to run for president because she was too emotionally over-wrought, but would probably be better soon. That kind of admission would have sundered any chances of her moving forward because women are already deemed “too emotional” to govern.


Women are consistently referred to as more volatile than men and thus deemed ineligible be heads of state. Could there be two more volatile candidates than Trump and Sanders, neither of whom can get through an interview without arguing with the interviewer?


Why is an old man like Sanders who is a career politician who has had a fairly unremarkable 26 years in Congress considered a “maverick” for being out on the campaign trail at 75?


Why is Trump, a billionaire with zero policy to back up his (racist and sexist) bluster even considered a viable candidate?


How does a woman insinuate herself into this literal Old Boy Network?


Do we really not believe that a woman with Clinton’s credentials is up to the job of president? The only woman in the room when Osama bin Laden was taken out? The woman who logged more countries and more miles than any Secretary of State in U.S. history?


One of the criticisms of Clinton is that she’s a former First Lady. Yet Clinton ’s been involved in politics since college. She worked on the campaigns of George McGovern and Jimmy Carter. She worked on Sen. Walter Mondale’s committee for migrant workers in 1971. She was named one of the 100 most powerful lawyers in the U.S. by the National Law Journal in 1988 and 1991 (and had graduated top in her class from Yale Law School in a class with fewer than 15% women). And even though during the sometimes bitter primary of 2008 Obama said that “pouring tea” was not a qualifier (a line one hopes Michelle Obama has forgiven him for), Clinton’s eight years as First Lady put her in front of Congress fighting for the health care reform that was finally passed 20 years later and also propelled her into championing women’s rights worldwide, including in 1995 at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing where she famously gave a speech saying “Women’s rights are human rights.”

Why was it so groundbreaking to say something so obvious at the very end of the 20th Century? Why is that speech still considered so iconic?


Because we have barely moved the needle forward on women’s rights. Because globally women are still second-class. Because America still doesn’t have a female president. Because even though Clinton has been a two-term senator and Secretary of State, unlike any other presidential candidate in U.S. history, she’s still dismissed by the mainstream press and the other contenders as not-so-much.


Trump calls Clinton “the worst Secretary of State in American history.” Fiorina asserts, “Throughout this campaign, I have repeatedly asked Hillary Clinton to name an accomplishment. She has yet to name one.”


Well, there’s one of Clinton’s premiere policy efforts, if her actual positions in government somehow don’t count: the Global Health Initiative (GHI), which she introduced in 2010. The GHI is one of the most feminist achievements in modern American history, focusing on maternal and infant health, expanding medical facilities, reducing the spread of HIV, and lowering infant and maternal mortality rates.


(Read the text of her GHI speech here:


Why isn’t every woman in America lining up to ensure that she becomes president? Why wouldn’t we want the best, most qualified, most ready candidate who also happens to be a woman?


Or do we just not want a woman in the White House? Why would we want to remain so far behind nations much smaller than our own, like Norway or Australia, or the only two nations larger than our own, China and India, in this key example of moving the needle forward on civil rights.


But what about the issues?


Clinton is pro-choice and has been the most outspoken supporter of Planned Parenthood, which dovetails with her GHI. She supports equal rights for LGBT Americans in all areas. She opposes using “religious freedom” to justify cutting access to healthcare, like abortion rights and contraception and opposes the kind of discrimination fomented by people like Kim Davis.


Randi Weingarten

Clinton has focused much of her attention over the years on economic inequality, especially as it impacts women and people of color and has presented several policies addressing this in her campaign, including what both the Washington Post and Mother Jones called the most comprehensive and “game-changing” policy on student debt. She’s been adamant about her support for workers and unions and has been endorsed by America’s largest union, the American Federation of Teachers, which is headed by out lesbian Randi Weingarten.


On the Sept. 8 “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” Ellen was succinct as she hosted Clinton: “You are the most qualified candidate we have ever had.”


True. But is it enough?


There’s another five months till the first primaries. Plenty of time for a campaign to move hearts and minds. But if no one reports on Clinton’s candidacy, can she reach those hearts and minds, or will it be all-Trump and the woman who calls herself the “anti-Hillary”?


Clinton said recently, “I believe the rights of women and girls is the unfinished business of the 21st century.”


Having a female president is part of that unfinished business.