One hundred years ago, women weren’t allowed to vote or even participate in politics. That knowledge drives a strong sense of feminine power in this year’s presidential election, clinical psychology senior Haleigh Hicks said.
“It really makes you think about the responsibility that you have as a woman in this upcoming election and even in previous elections,” she said. “Having that right now really makes a difference.”
Women have largely exercised their right to democracy.
In 2016, 63% of eligible women voters cast their ballots, compared to 59% of eligible men, according to Pew Research Center. Women have voted at slightly higher rates than men in every presidential election since 1984.
However, despite making up half of the U.S. population, women weren’t allowed the right to vote until Aug. 18, 1920, when the 19th Amendment was ratified.
A century later, Kamala Harris is the first Black woman ever nominated for vice president by a major U.S. political party.
Potential first female vice president
Having a smart, strong, biracial woman like Harris running for vice president is a huge step for women, said Dustin Harp, women and gender studies program director.
“It is a big moment for women in politics, both as politicians and as voters,” she said.
Hicks said the nomination is definitely a step, but we still have a long way to go. If Harris and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden win the election, young girls across the country could be impacted and inspired to pursue political careers.
“Women are just underrepresented, period, in politics, especially in leadership roles,” she said. “That’s probably the biggest challenge that women are facing today: just being underrepresented and not having their voices heard.”
For political science senior Haley Ariyibi, it would definitely be “cool” to see Harris elected, and she said she’s excited to see how it could play out. However, she wants to see how it goes and what Harris actually does with her power if elected before hailing her as the political savior of American women.
Nevertheless, she’s optimistic because she said it couldn’t be worse than President Donald Trump.
Women and Trump
A large reason why Trump was elected in 2016 is because women — particularly white, suburban women — were voting for him, Harp said.
Fifty-two percent of white women voters voted for Trump in 2016, compared to 4% of Black women and 25% of Latina women.
Since then, he has lost much of that voting demographic. If he loses this election, it will surely be because of the female support he lost, she said.
During recent campaigns, Trump has sought to hold on to the women who once supported him.
“Suburban women, will you please like me?” he said at a rally in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, last week. “Please. Please.”
However, women cannot ignore Trump anymore, Harp said. He makes it impossible.
To many, Trump’s history of misogyny is evident: he’s bragged on multiple occasions that he loves beautiful women and married three of them, and he has sexualized his own daughter, Ivanka. Some critics have said his comments are not motivated by sexual desire but rather a dehumanization of women.
In a taped 2005 conversation with TV personality Billy Bush, Trump said he can do anything he wants to women.
“You know, I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them,” he said. “It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.”
One of the most important political issues to Ariyibi right now is a woman’s right to choose.
No issue is a “women’s issue,” but the quintessential “women’s issue” right now is indeed abortion, Harp said. This is a major aspect of America’s current political conversation at the height of this election.
When Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, America lost a champion for women’s rights. Her death put into perspective everything she did for women and showed just how far sexism has taken over politics, Hicks said. She had a large impact on the way people perceive women in politics now.
If Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed as her replacement, women’s rights will be thrust into jeopardy once again, and abortion could likely be outlawed in at least some states, Harp said.
It’s important to note, though, that Barrett wouldn’t be where she is now if not for the work of Ginsburg, public health sophomore Nibi Khadka said. With that in mind, we should respect Ginsburg’s last wishes and wait until after the election to fill her position, she said.
Political science senior Kayla Wilson said if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, women will lose control over their own bodies.
As women’s political influence continues to grow since the 19th Amendment, Hicks said women should exercise their right and take women’s welfare into consideration when they vote.
“Now our vote matters,” she said.
Women’s political affiliations
Even after women were given the right to vote, it wasn’t considered a norm, Wilson said. Many women were cast out or shunned by family and society for exercising their newly granted right. This was especially true for Black women.
“White women could vote 100 years ago, but Black people were discriminated against and persecuted for voting,” she said.
As a Black woman, she said it’s her duty to vote.
“If I'm going to be talking about change, I need to be about change,” she said.
The most democratic and easiest way to initiate change is by voting, Wilson said.
Much like voter turnout, political affiliation differs widely by gender. In 2018 and 2019, 56% of women voters identified as Democrats, while only 38% of women voters identified as Republicans. By contrast, 42% of eligible men leaned Democrat, and 50% claimed to be Republican. This disparity has grown consistently since 2014, according to Pew Research Center.
Ariyibi said that while America has made strides in getting more women at the table and included in political conversations, these conversations are still chaired by men.
“It’s too premature to say that we’ve come so far, and we only have so little to go,” she said. “No. We’ve come so far, and we have so far to go.”
More women at the forefront of politics could help fix that.
To see that change, more women and more diverse demographics must vote, Harp said. The more women who vote, the greater the chance that women will be elected.
“If more people that are diverse are voting, they’re gonna vote in more diverse people,” she said. “People like to vote for people like themselves.”
Sexism in politics
America’s history objectively shows that we live in a heteronormative, white supremacist patriarchy, Harp said. It’s normal and traditional that men are considered superior to women.
It’s time to break that system.
Even in 2020, women don’t receive the respect, recognition or representation they deserve in politics, Harp said.
A 2016 study by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 42% of Americans thought society was becoming “too soft and feminine,” and 39% of Americans thought society would be better off if men and women stuck to “the jobs and tasks they are naturally suited for.”
It’s interesting, Wilson said, because society still often thinks of women as unable to think or act for themselves. This is why it’s so hard to elect a female presidential candidate.
Having more women “step up to the plate” with the courage to pursue political careers will encourage more women to make their voices heard, Hicks said.
“There’s not a difference between a man and a woman running as a candidate,” she said. “But we still let those gender roles from 100-200 years ago impact the way that we see women in politics today.”
Two old white men
Despite the fact that America could see its first female vice president this year, the fact remains that both presidential candidates are white men in their 70s.
Since white men have been the norm in leadership for so long, it reinforces the fact that both women and people of color have been underrepresented for hundreds of years, Hicks said.
“We’re not an America of old white males,” she said. “There [are] more people that are just not being represented fairly.”
The fact that both presidential candidates have sexual allegations against them shows even more how blind the country is to the way women are treated, Hicks said.
“This has definitely been a hard election for me, just seeing that we do have two white old men in office and those are our only two options,” she said. “It’s really just eye-opening, and it really does enforce the fact that that’s who has run this country forever: old white men.”
Even though Biden also has several allegations against him, they don’t match the severity or number of allegations against Trump, Harp said. Neither of the candidates are ideal, so choosing the lesser of two evils is necessary.
“When we’re choosing between these two men, and these are our only choices, not voting is not an option,” she said.
You can tell even from the current president how America treats and talks about women. By depicting women as sexual figures, he belittles their political power, she said.
The difference between Biden and Trump, Ariyibi said, is that it seems Biden considers it OK when women think differently from him. Trump, though, wants to surround himself with like-minded people.
That’s not what America needs. Although she does consider herself liberal, Ariyibi said it’s important to have a wide range of political perspectives and voices.
“If my opinion can hold truth or my opinion can be respected, then I should be able to respect someone else’s,” she said.
Ariyibi said Biden also has Harris, who can help give him even more perspective.
The future of women in politics
Still, this anniversary isn’t just about having any woman in office, Harp said. It’s about having women who advocate for women. It’s about having the women that Americans want and need to see in office.
Khadka said she wants to see someone strong-willed who knows what she wants. There are too many women who hide behind others and don’t try to take leadership. America needs a woman who can take charge and take a stand against sexism.
Ariyibi wants to see a woman who isn’t stuck in her own way of thinking. Many men think with a “my way or the highway” mind-set, so it would be refreshing and constructive to have a leader who can understand that they don’t just represent one type of American. They represent all Americans and their respective beliefs, religions, ideas, thoughts, perspectives and callings. Respecting that is essential.
She wants someone who isn’t afraid to reach out and make connections with other political parties for the good of the country.
“We don’t need any party politicians who are just so stuck in their party,” she said. “We need people who are public servants who are going to be ready to serve us, the people who voted them in.”
She wants a woman who understands that and is ready to fight for all underrepresented communities — not just women.