No Shit, Sherlock: Hillary Clinton's Women's Rights are Human Rights

No Shit, Sherlock: Hillary Clinton's Women's Rights are Human Rights

Hillary Clinton's historic (and obvious) speech at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women
485
views

On September 5th, 1995, then-First Lady Hillary Clinton addressed the United Nations Fourth World Conference in Beijing, China. The resulting speech, commonly known as, “Women’s Rights are Human Rights”, was a huge milestone in the fight for women’s rights. Clinton’s speech was coherent, impactful, and had all the makings of the great speech. In fact, it is still well known and highly regarded over twenty years later. According to President Bill Clinton, it is one of (if not the most) important speeches of Secretary Clinton’s long and storied career.

And, as Secretary Clinton herself said on the twentieth anniversary of the speech, “[it] seemed like a very obvious thing to say, but I wanted to say it, because people would say various things about human rights and throw something in about women. And luckily it did catch the imagination". While Secretary Clinton’s speech was, at the time, groundbreaking, it failed to make a lasting impact, and women’s rights are still a huge issue today.

The United Nations Fourth World Conference was attended, as these events usually are, by dignitaries, officials, politicians, and other powerful figures. The preliminary audience for Clinton’s speech was not the everyday woman, it was primarily women (and men) of some means and some political power. At the time, China (the host of the conference) was seen as a flagrant violator of women’s rights due to the one-child policy and other sexist policies. China also banned representatives of non-governmental organizations from attending the conference. Because of the many restrictions China imposed on the conference, Clinton’s participation was especially important to the United States. The speech is an example of an issue-framing speech, used to raise the profile of a certain issue and frame it for both the immediate and larger audience.

A commentator on an ABC News show at the time stated, “There’s no national interest in Hillary Clinton going to China, going to this women’s conference. It’s not an important conference.”. Clinton herself said, “ a lot of people said, this is not important to the United States government. It’s a nice thing, and we’re glad you care about it, but if Hillary Clinton goes to Beijing and talks about women’s rights, that elevates an issue, [...] and with so much else going on, maybe you (meaning me) should just talk about it from afar.” Many people also believed that Secretary Clinton would not address anything of importance, either. Mona Charon said on CNN that, “ [...] if she would go there and give a hard-hitting human rights speech, it would be worth it. But she won't do it.”. That perception was widespread in the mainstream media at the time.

The conference opened with a speech by former Prime Minister of Pakistan, Benazir Bhutto. Bhutto criticized the western world generally, and the United States in particular. Bhutto’s remarks, along with the Chinese government, put particular pressure on Secretary Clinton’s remarks. Because of various international tensions, the exact wording of her remarks was under close scrutiny. According to Alyse Nelson, who attended the conference as a recent college graduate, China had no idea what a women’s conference would entail, and were expecting, “a knitting conference, not these radical feminists”. The conference was only six years after the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre, and an American activist was arrested (and released) in the days leading up to the conference, all of which made Secretary Clinton’s participation controversial.

Before Hillary Clinton was the Democratic Nominee for the presidency, before she was Secretary of State, even before she was a senator, she was the First Lady and a powerful and prominent lawyer. According to Ann C. McGinley, a scholar at the University of Nevada, Los Vegas, “Hillary Clinton was an accomplished lawyer and partner in a well-known law firm, graduate of prestigious Wellesley College and Yale Law School, first lady of Arkansas, law professor, and mother of one child in 1992 when her husband, Bill Clinton, announced his candidacy for President of the United States.[...] When she married Bill Clinton in Arkansas, Hillary Rodham retained her own surname, a practice that was common among feminists of her age in order to avoid losing their identity and independence. Because of a chilly reception in Arkansas to her use of her birth name, presumably because she was too independent of her husband, she soon switched her name to Hillary Clinton.”. According to many scholars, different (and often explicit) challenges face gendered rhetorical speakers (in this case, Hillary Clinton). Clinton has for decades now been criticized not only on the basis of her politics, but on the basis of emotional appeal, psychological inquiry, fashion choices, and other personal matters that, in all likelihood, would not have played nearly as big a role if she were not a woman. Indeed, Secretary Clinton has perceived as, ‘unlikeable’, for many years, with no clear basis and with very little factual merit, although she has repeatedly tried and failed to address the issue by portraying emotional availability (as noted at the time in The Washington Post).

During Clinton’s time as First Lady, she was an extremely polarizing figure- either hated or loved for the threat she posed to traditional femininity, gender roles, and the office of the First Lady. As McGinley notes, “Throughout her career, Hillary Clinton suffered criticism for her dress and appearance. During her campaign for President, she was criticized for her pant suits, a symbol of women's empowerment since the 1960s. This criticism demonstrates the bind that women often face when they appear in public. The public evaluates women's competence and authority based partially on their clothing. [...] This double standard creates an additional burden on women running for public office. A sixty year old woman who apparently struggles with her weight, Clinton may not have gained public approval for her clothes even if she had dressed in high style feminine clothing. The pant-suit was her uniform, like the men's suits were their uniforms. [...] Clinton showed her masculine toughness by wearing pants, while distinguishing herself as feminine by choosing pant suits of many brilliant colors.” In this case, Secretary Clinton went above and beyond in establishing her femininity (appropriately, for a women’s conference). At this particular conference, it seems laughable that she would be a threat to traditional gender roles, with her pretty blonde curls and her pink sparkly suit. According to Secretary Clinton, “A friend of mine had given me this suit, and had said if you’re going to go, wear this suit. At first I thought it was a little too much, in your face, but then i thought, why not? So, I wore this pink suit, I was jetlagged, I was nervous, and i was anxious. Went into the hall [...] I was apprehensive. There was a lot riding on one speech. The people in the room were the people who were the delegates, who would ultimately determine what we voted on, for the platform for action.” Clinton’s suit probably caused people in the immediate audience (and those watching after the fact) to underestimate her based on her appearance. That is, until she opened her mouth.

Secretary Clinton recently said, “I was coming of age at a time when there were jobs girls couldn’t have, schools we couldn’t attend, so when i heard about the conference I very much wanted to go, because whatever role I played, I wanted to be seen as supporting the full participation of girls and women. It was just profoundly important.. Speaking to the conference, she wanted to be very clear in her intentions. Secretary Clinton began by establishing her credibility to speak on the topic - something which, as a woman, she probably should not have to do. This reinforces the idea that women are treated as less than human- a man probably wouldn’t have to prove his credibility on the topic of the rights of men. Hillary Clinton first spoke from her own experience before turning to examples from the international community to establish ethos while using a narrative to keep the audience’s attention. As she says “Over the past 25 years, I have worked persistently on issues relating to women, children, and families. Over the past two and a half years, I've had the opportunity to learn more about the challenges facing women in my own country and around the world.”

In terms of ethos (meaning the speaker’s qualifications), Clinton begins her speech by developing her credibility and position as someone able to advocate for women. And, as a woman, she refers to global women as a ‘we’ rather than a ‘they’, which further establishes her credibility. She establishes her credibility and the collective identity of global women early, and reaffirms it throughout the speech. She also established herself as a member of global leaders, able to make change and improve conditions. Because Secretary Clinton is a woman, and a woman in a position of power, she was able to use her Beijing speech as a way to give voice in a rhetorical performance. She used her gendered subject position as a way to represent an issue for unempowered women worldwide.

Clinton’s speech declared, "that it is no longer acceptable to discuss women's rights as separate from human rights". Historically, women’s rights have been a subset of human rights, thought of as less-than. By Clinton’s logic, if women are humans than women’s rights are equal to human rights. This statement is a pretty basic syllogism and an example of deductive reasoning. As an onlooker said, “...what she saved till last was forced abortion and forced sterilization. Everyone in that room understood she was talking about China.” . Using a specific example to call China out on their human rights abuses without actually calling them out on their human rights abuses is a pretty great example of dog whistle politics, and it also demonstrates the Secretary Clinton was a better rhetorical speaker than generally believed at the time (and, really, now).

In Clinton’s own words, “I wanted my speech to be simple, vivid and strong in its message that women’s rights are not separate from or a subsidiary of the human rights every person is entitled to enjoy”. She was not aiming to be flashy, or overly emotional. She just wanted to draw attention to an ongoing human rights issue. Additionally, Secretary Clinton knew her speech was being translated live to her primary audience; it was written with that in mind, and she received little reaction initially because of it. That would have made it hard to perceive the impact of the speech whilst it was happening, making her performance all the more impressive.

The main rallying point of Secretary Clinton’s speech was, "If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights, once and for all.Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely—and the right to be heard. " Because she echoed her sentiment twice, and uses key verbs, she made the symbolic nature of her rhetoric even more powerful. The words she used, meaning ‘speak’ and ‘heard’, opened up a space not historically open to women - the public space. As women have been historically regulated to the private space (the home) they are often thought of as afterthoughts, not meant for political participation. Secretary Clinton used her powerful position to make clear that any woman has the same right as she does to participate in the public discourse.

Unfortunately, despite Clinton’s groundbreaking speech, women’s rights have not made much progress in the last twenty years.According to a report released by Deloitte, the gender wage gap in the United States will not close until at least 2069. According to the IWPR, if progress continues at the same rate then women will not have fifty percent of seats in the US Congress until 2117. This is in spite of the fact that a higher percent of registered voters than men, and that since 1980 more women have voted in presidential elections than men. In fact, Hillary Clinton herself is the first woman to be a major party’s presidential candidate. Clinton herself says that despite some progress made, “Women and girls still comprise the majority of the world’s unhealthy, unfed, and unpaid. At the end of 2013 women held less than twenty-two percent of all seats in Parliaments and Legislatures world-wide”. While Clinton’s speech was a milestone in the fight for women’s rights, she herself would acknowledge that the struggle is far from over. “As I dove deeper into my work on behalf of women and girls, I started describing our quest for equal rights and full participation for women as the unfinished business of our time. It was a reminder to audiences, and to me, just how far we still had to go.”. In fact, in Hillary Clinton’s opening statement during September’s first debate for the 2016 Presidential election, she reaffirmed the need for equal pay for equal work. Hopefully, Secretary Clinton will continue her advocacy for women’s rights for the next twenty years.

Cover Image Credit: Sharon Farmer/White House Photograph Office

Popular Right Now

A Thank You Letter To My Best Friend

All the things I should thank you for more often than I do.
111874
views

To My Best Friend,

This thank you is long overdue. There are so many things I want to thank you for, and I’m sure I’m going to still be missing some by the end of this letter. But here is a small token of my gratitude for just being by my side in this life and making it all worthwhile.

Thank you first of all for accepting me and loving me for exactly who I am. This isn’t easy. I can be stubborn, difficult and confusing, but you love and accept me for me. There are days I wonder when you’ll finally come to your senses and move on and find a new BFF, one who isn’t so complicated, but to my amazement, you never do. You tell me you’ll take the good with the bad, and when I question whether I have any good left, you’re always there to reassure me and show me that I do. Thank you for loving me in my dorky and difficult moments, moments where if the rest of the world saw them, they’d probably walk away. Thank you for understanding me like no one else does; if we didn’t have the connection we did, I can’t imagine how lonely and big this world would feel. Because of you, this world seems like a little friendlier place, one I can see myself being a part of.

Thank you for being my biggest fan. Besides my family, you are my biggest supporter, and I know that when I win, you win, and when you win, I win. In this battle we call life, it doesn’t matter who’s in my opponents corner, because I know I am always going to have you in mine, and that’s the best asset I could ever ask for. You encourage me to chase my dreams like no one else does, and I can tell that you sincerely hurt when I hurt — not many people care about me in such a deep way. Whatever crazy dream I tell you I’m going to chase after next, you believe I can do it, even when the rest of the world thinks I’m crazy for even suggesting it. When something good happens, you’re the first person I want to tell, and when something bad happens, you’re the first one I go to for support.

Thank you for being you. You are incredible my dear, and I can’t wait to constantly remind your husband that he got crazy lucky and out kicked his coverage big time. You are beautiful inside and out. On the outside, you are so gorgeous; you’re very own unique and incredible definition of beauty, and I know I’m one of many who see it. You’re intimidating to stand next to in pictures because I know your light shines so bright, but I’ll gladly stand next to you and take a picture, because I’m so excited to show the world how breathtakingly beautiful my best friend is. On the inside you are even prettier, with a warm heart, a sharp mind and an unbelievable personality. You are hands down the funniest person I know, and I still can’t believe that someone as funny and hilarious as you chooses to spend her time with someone as dweeby and awkward as me. I mean, half the time we’re laughing at some fail I had or something stupid I did, so I guess I contribute a little bit to our constant laughing. You are so kind and so sweet, and have the biggest heart of anyone I know. God spent a little extra time when he made you, because you’re the total package: you’re beautiful, awesome and amazing, all wrapped in one, and I’m so lucky he put you in my life—he knows I’d be lost without you.

Thank you for being there for me whenever I need it. It was once said that “all that relationships are are being there for someone when they need you,” and you’re a pro at this. Whether it be because another boy is being stupid or I’m feeling alone, I know all I need to do is call you, and I’ll instantly feel better. You help my through the countless problems Lord knows I have trouble solving, and you reassure me that no matter what, you’re always going to be there for me. This is huge, and something very few people have been able to do for me, but you always have, and I know you always will be. And that is the most reassuring thing I know, knowing that if all hell breaks loose, the world falls apart and I have no one, I’ll have you. And that is all I need.

Thank you for being a spark, a light in my life that no matter how dark the world around us gets, is always there to light my way and show me the way home. Thank you for laughing with me when God blesses us with a funny moment, and crying with me when God is trying to tell me something. Thank you for standing beside me in the greatest of moments and the darkest of hours. Thank you for being the one I share my fondest memories with: all the nights we stayed up really late, all the exciting adventures we went on and all the inside jokes we still laugh about today. Thank you for growing up with me; for being there every step of the way and creating some of my happiest moments with me. Thank you for all the memories I've shared with you, and I can't wait for what crazy adventure we're going to go on next.

So thank you for accepting me, loving me, and supporting me. Thank you for being your wonderful self, and thank you for being there for me, through thick and thin, even when I'm at my lowest. Thank you for shining your brilliant light into my life and illuminating my world.

Oh, and thank you for being my maid of honor. I know I won’t need to ask you for a while, but you had to know it was coming, right?

Thank you for being the godmother to my future children, the sister to my family, and another daughter to my parents.

And finally, thank you for being the best to my friend.

Cover Image Credit: EnkiVillage

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

The Gun Control Debate Comes Down To The Power Of God

My opinion on two parts to the most, in every sense of the word, "loaded" issue.
373
views

There are a plethora of difficult issues in a Christian's life, and despite what it looks like on social media and mainstream media, gun control is high on that list. It pains me to see such a divide on this issue. Liberals are painted as children who want to give up all their rights, while conservatives are seen as idiots who value guns more than human life. And Christian conservatives are seen as hypocritical Pharisees, not unlike the Nazis.

But we all know, at least I hope we all know, that this isn’t the case for either side. We all love our families, and we all cherish life. We all prefer a world where murder doesn’t exist or at least a world where mass murders don’t exist. We all want a world where our children, siblings, friends, and parents can live safely

So, what gives? If we value the same things, why are we so divided on gun control? The answer, I believe, has more layers and more depth than I could ever hope to understand, let alone write about. But I can share my own thoughts and concerns on the issue in hopes that it is a positive, edifying contribution to the dialogue.

There are two main parts to the gun control debate that most social media posts can be divided into: Gun Control Laws, and the reason for gun control. What I mean by Gun Control Laws tends to either challenge or support certain claims like “more guns= more deaths.” The second part, the reason for gun control, asks why school shootings and general acts of terrorism are happening in an attempt to answer if gun control is even needed. I think the reason why communication on this topic is so difficult is that people are often arguing on these different parts of the same topic. So, I hope my own thoughts, or rambling at this point, can help with the general discussion, even if it’s just a Conservative Christian’s (note: not a conservative that’s also a Christian) opinion on Gun Control.

The first issue, the gun control laws, is that the gun control debate is not about gun control, and it’s not about guns. I’m talking about the debate itself, the “dialogue” surrounding gun control. I think a gun control debate would look into methods and strategies of gun control. It assumes a bipartisan agreement that gun control is actually needed, which we haven’t reached, at least, not on a mass level.

Rather, the debate is about us: the people who are gunned down, the people that witness the deaths of friends and family, the people that hear about the tragedy on the news or social media, the people that want to do something. It is also about the people that seemingly don’t want to do something. It is also about the people who shoot other people, the people who go on shooting sprees in schools and other public places. The issue is about an enormous, democratic nation that is split on almost every topic, like a Giant with feet that does not want to walk in the direction its walking, arms that does not want to hold the things its holding, and a head that plans out things it does not want to plan out.

But the solution isn’t somehow forcing half of the individual body to a restriction or code. The United States isn’t a single body, it’s a group of people divided into 50 states, each with their own restrictions, which are at least just as strict as any overarching restriction. And in each state, there are municipalities. This is good because individual people are different! And oftentimes, people in a certain area tend to think alike, or agree on the same ideas.

It feels like people forget that there are stricter gun laws on the state level than the Federal level. For example, Minnesota has gun restrictions on the mentally challenged. If one feels those restrictions aren’t sufficient, one could work on changing the local, or state laws. In fact, it might be easier to work on the local and state level rather than the federal level.

The second issue, which is the reason for gun control, isn’t about us. It’s about God. The United States might work like some form of democracy, but any leader or government was placed there by God, and even they are subject to the authority of God.

But this doesn’t mean God is okay with the murderous lashes of people. God is very much against murder. He is against any form of action that places a person in the seat of the Judge. By judge, I mean defining actions, or cases, according to one’s own prescription, for example, the judge of who lives and who dies, who steals and who’s robbed, who’s to be loved and who’s to be hated… the judge of who’s judge and who isn’t judge, the judge of who’s God and who isn’t God.

Sadly, there are people who do play Judge, like the Parkland shooter, or the Santa Fe shooter, or even myself. To think that I’ve never judged in one way or another is a lie. I do it every day. But admitting that society is filled with self righteous people doesn’t solve anything, it won’t solve mass shootings, it won’t stop sin. The lamentations of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes comes to mind, “Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”

What I’m trying to say is that whether or not we have strict gun control, loose gun control, or no gun control, we won’t be any better off. The United States in 1918 wasn’t any better then than it is now in 2018. Horrors have been performed now that the people then could never imagine. And people then practiced things that were so horrible, we riot against them a century later.

I think my conclusion, then, would come from Ecclesiastes, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.”

But I’ll also tack on a line from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, “...God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” We can work hard to make this world a better place by pushing for stricter gun control, by lobbying for or against issues, and by protesting for what we believe in. But the most we can ever do is pray.

Cover Image Credit: Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Related Content

Facebook Comments