The United States has elected an African-American man twice in a row—in 2008, people remarked about the huge historical significance of Barack Obama’s election, since it marked an advancement in race relations. In being elected to the US presidency, however, Obama defeated Hilary Clinton, who if elected to the presidency, would have created history in her way, by becoming the first female president (Sen. John McCain must have realized that he was essentially a barrier to history)
With Hilary Clinton contemplating a run in 2016, Michele Bachmann, herself a former candidate for president, said that the United States was not ready for a female president1.
Part of her statement may stem from simple antagonism to Barack Obama—she claims that he was elected due to a sense of racial guilt. But as a woman who campaigned for the presidency, Michele Bachmann probably did encounter questions as to her suitability for the presidency.
Polls indicate that citizens believe that other voters are willing to elect a woman president, with seventy-five percent alone believing that a woman could be elected in 2016.
But how many people would actually vote for a woman once they are in the polls? Being able to predict how your fellow citizens may vote is no indication of how you would actually vote. How many people would go into the polling station only to hesitate due to their qualms about a woman leading the country?
Currently, the United States is still grappling with security in the Middle East and a war in Afghanistan—and that is just national defense. The US has to deal with other countries in terms of economic issues as well, as the government seeks to protect the somewhat-fragile domestic economy. The president of the United States would have to be aggressive on the world stage to secure its power, especially since the US is currently the only major superpower to speak of.
In this critical aspect, US voters still seem to be somewhat doubtful of a woman’s capability to lead (despite Hilary Clinton’s stint as Secretary of State, although the Secretary is concerned primarily with diplomacy). Forty-seven percent of the population believe that a woman president would make the United States seem weak2. While seventy percent of the population believe that a woman would maintain the power and influence of the United States, a critical twenty-five percent believe that a man would be better at the job.
In an election with debates regarding foreign policy, how many arguments would made about a woman’s capability to utilize both soft and hard power? During her presidency, would her attempts at diplomacy be seen as “weakness” unique to her gender, rather than her political standing? Would attempts at being harsh be seen as overcompensating for her gender?
These questions would not trouble men usually—as we move closer to a 2016 election where Hilary Clinton is the leading favorite between both of the political parties, we must consider how her gender and stereotypes of women will unfortunately play into how her policy choices and decisions are construed.