This past week saw the primary for New York state, where I am registered to vote, and I did not end up voting. The vast majority of my friends are giant Bernie Sanders supporters, but the decision wasn’t so easy for me: as an extreme liberal, Sanders represents everything I stand for, but as a woman, Hillary Clinton represents everything I stand for. When I’ve discussed my presidential indecision with others, I’ve been told that supporting Clinton just because she is a woman is demeaning and sexist; however, just as racism is too deeply instituted into the function of American society for us, as a society, to be colorblind to race, sexism is so deeply ingrained in American society that sometimes women just need a helping hand to offset the disadvantages society affords us.
There are enough people not voting for Clinton because she’s a woman (both directly because of her gender and indirectly through belief in covertly sexist propaganda and cloaked double standards) that it doesn’t hurt for her to get a few extra votes because of her gender. I’m not saying that one should completely disregard candidates’ political views or experience and solely consider candidates on the basis of their gender (or race). On the contrary, I believe that it is important to consider these aspects of candidates first and that Clinton and Sanders are similar enough in terms of their platforms and levels of political experience that one can begin to take non-political factors (such as gender, religion, or race) into account. While there are certainly points in Clinton’s platform that leave something to be desired, she is liberal enough that, at least in my mind, her gender offsets her political weaknesses. America has been sorely in need of female leadership, and a Clinton presidency could help open doors for women that have long since been shut.
What some men don’t realize is that being a woman sometimes puts an upper bound on one’s ability to dream big. As it currently stands in America, to be a good leader is to have traits typically defined as masculine (assertiveness, confidence, competitiveness, etc.). In both real life and in the media, there are not many role models for women of conventionally feminine women in positions of power — even the most intelligent and capable women in books, movies, and TV are usually relegated to the positions of sidekick, girlfriend, or wife. Unless a woman has the imagination to entirely reconstruct the idea of leadership, she will, at some point in her life, inevitably undergo the personal crisis of wanting to succeed but not wanting to give up the feminine traits such as kindness, gentleness, and beauty that she takes pride in embodying, traits that make her who she is. While Sanders supports social change, a Clinton presidency would be social change in and of itself. If Clinton were president, America would be forced to revise its conditions for leadership and power. Women and girls dreaming of success would no longer have to reinvent the idea of female leadership to imagine simultaneously being themselves and being in a position of power because the idea of American female leadership would be real and concrete.
An additional perk to having a woman president such as Clinton is that women’s issues would not fall to the wayside. I don’t doubt Sanders’s dedication to feminism and equality, but there is a certain visceral connection feminist women have to the issues that even the most feminist men just generally don’t feel because it is not their bodies or futures being legislated on. Having a woman president would be especially helpful right now with people like John Kasich who make it their goal to personally undo the progress of Roe v. Wade. Maybe Sanders would prioritize women’s issues highly, but, as a man, he has the privilege and the right to choose not to that Clinton just doesn’t.
I do not hold Sanders’s supporters’ choice against them, and Clinton supporters should be afforded the same respect — both candidates would make fine presidents for a variety of reasons, some the same and some different. Taking Clinton’s gender into account when voting for her is fully legitimate and does not make a person sexist. One cannot be sexist against men just as one cannot be racist against white people: individual acts of discrimination are not comparable to years of institutionalized prejudice. Genderblindness was never an option in America, so it is better to vote for Clinton and use gender as a way to advantage women than to vote for someone else solely because one has bought into misogynistic anti-Clinton propaganda.