The hope and dream of many Bernie Sanders supports, that superdelegates would rush to the Vermont Senator in the early weeks of June, was not only a reality for then-Senator Barack Obama in 2008, but also for then-Senator Hillary Clinton. Superdelegates, who had previously supported Clinton in large numbers, moved their support from the First-Female-President candidate to the First-African-American-President candidate. And as the days until the Democratic Convention waned, Hillary Clinton’s campaign began the process of suspending her campaign, preparing for the former First Lady to endorse a young, inspiring Senator from Illinois. On the afternoon of her concession, Clinton gave one of the most important speeches in modern American politics as she clearly identified the historic nature of her candidacy and its impact on feminism.
"Although we were not able to shatter that highest and hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you it has 18 million cracks in it, and the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time, and we are going to keep working to make it so, today keep with me and stand for me, we still have so much to do together, we made history, and lets [sic] make some more."
Her speech was undeniably prophetic and a testament to how far our nation has come with regard to women’s rights. Eight years after, on the very same night—June 7—Hillary Clinton became the presumptive nominee for the Democratic Party, a first for a major political party.
Hillary Clinton’s shattering of the glass ceiling began eight years ago when she won the popular vote in the Democratic primary and will conclude with a historic finish if she becomes the United States’ first female President. However, does this mean that the glass ceiling is completely gone? Does this mean that there are no more barriers facing women? If a woman can become one of the most powerful people in the entire world, why can’t women be paid the same as men, why can’t there be more than 23 female CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, and why can’t women be treated as equally as men all around the world?
Electing the first female President would be, undoubtedly, historic and pave the way for future female leaders which, in turn, would help to pave the way for greater gender equality. If that were absolutely true, then that would mean in other nations where females have been elected to a nation’s highest office there should be more female leaders after.
There have only been sixty-three (out of one hundred and forty-two countries studied) countries that have had either a female head of state and/or female head of government in the past fifty years. That may seem like a considerable number noting that around the world many women still face rigid traditional values that cease any participation of women in the labor force. However, there is an equally important number that many people do not consider: how many female leaders come after the first female leader in a nation? Although it is a sign of progress to have a female leader, how much does it say about “progress” if there has only been one female leader in a nation's history? If true progress has been made in a nation it would make sense for a number of female leaders to succeed the first. However, there are only nineteen nations that have had the privilege of being led by more than one female leader. (It should be noted that the number is soon to rise to twenty in October since the United Kingdom will have a second female Prime Minister.) This reality, which is a sobering glimpse into how much progress is still needed for women’s equality, demonstrates that the societal impact of having a female leader for the first time defies common logic.
It seems that, as history and the numbers demonstrate, that societies as a whole tend to venture into the realm of complacency following the ascension of a female leader to a nation’s highest office. If this weren’t true then there would be more female leaders in nations that have previously had them. If the glass ceiling were truly broken in these sixty-three nations, then we should have more than just nineteen nations with more than one female leader.
In November, the populous will be able to choose whether or not they want to elect a second historic President in the United States following the historic Presidency of Barack Obama. But if the trends are correct, then there may not be another African-American President for many years – and the same with a second female President if Clinton is elected. The United States may fall into the same trap that many other nations have fallen into: complacency.
For our society as a whole, it is far easier to elect a single woman to the highest office rather than having at least half of our legislature and governors be female. It is far easier to announce the fact that we have had a female President and we’ve made history than it would be to ratify an amendment guaranteeing equal rights for women. It is far easier to speak and to watch than it is to lead and change society. Is it fair to push on a small group of women (there are currently ninety-three women in Congress and only three on the Supreme Court) the responsibly of breaking up “the good ol’ boys club” instead of voting out the misogynistic members of our government and replacing them with feminists? The only way for true progress to be made in our society is to go beyond electing just one female President and one African American president. We must elect numerous women and numerous minority groups to the highest office in the land while creating a more diverse government in the process.
Among the great current of history there are numerous nations who have been tested when it comes to granting all citizens equal dignity in the eyes of the law. Take, for example, the LGBT rights movement. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court has ruled in favor of marriage equality, that does not mean that LGBT people have the same rights as non-LGBT citizens. If two women marry on Saturday, honeymoon on Sunday, and return to work on Monday displaying a picture of the wedding ceremony, they could be fired for the sole reason that they are gay. There are still no federal protections for the LGBT community in the workforce, housing market, and medical institutions and yet LGBT people are not saying that the fight is won just because they can marry and adopt children. The LGBT community is still fighting for full and equal dignity in the eyes of the law. Similarly, just because we have an African American President,that does not mean African Americans have full and equal dignity in the eyes of the law. If that were the case, than people of color would not make up over fifty-percent of prison populations while only making up approximately a quarter of the US population. And in the same regard, to say that Hillary Clinton's ascension to the Presidency will magically bridge the pay-gap is naive. As Secretary Clinton said herself, “I don’t believe you change hearts...I believe you change laws.” We are far from reaching the mountaintop that Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of the day before his assassination. We are far from treating women’s rights as human rights, as Hillary Clinton spoke of in the 1990s. We are still far from becoming that city upon a hill.
It is far easier for the United States to elect one woman and one African American man to the Presidency instead of working to diversify our legislatures and our courts and our city councils and our government as a whole. To say that electing a female to the Presidency would completely shatter the glass ceiling would be an overstatement and neglect to shed-light on the state of systemized sexism in the United States. If Hillary Clinton were to become the first female President, she would shatter the first glass ceiling. But it would be up to society as a whole to shatter the second glass ceiling, which is just beyond that first. We will fool ourselves if we believe there is only one roadblock in the way of progress. Only in complacency will we be blinded by our ignorance. Only when we deny complacency, deny racism, deny sexism, deny homophobia, deny religious intolerance will we begin to reach a more perfect union where women are equal to men, where LGBT people are equal to straight people, where blacks are equal to whites are equal to Native Americans are equal to Asian Americans are equal to Hispanics, where our laws treat all citizens the same and look upon all with the eyes of equality.
Because the importance of electing women to the highest office in the United States of America goes beyond the election of the first female President, it extends from this generation to the next until "from now on, it will be unremarkable for a woman to win primary state victories - unremarkable to have a woman in a close race to be our nominee, unremarkable to think that a woman can be the president of the United States. And that is truly remarkable, my friends."
Tapp is the editor-in-chief of The Millennial Times.