Debate discourse fails to break the cycle


The first presidential debate between former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and real-estate mogul Donald Trump was the moon landing of our generation. Like a glassy-eyed child glued to the morning cartoons, the world was enraptured by two figures that were incongruous, almost alien-like to the American narrative. The first figure was a man whose lack of political experience is indicative of his inability to handle a job that has been reserved only for men for centuries. The second was a woman who is, quite simply, more than prepared for a task that has never been available to her.
The popular opinion seems to be that we’ve landed on the moon—a victory for feminists. Hillary has the nomination. Her comments in the first debate were composed and calculated, especially compared to that of her rambling opponent. The theory goes that if Clinton is elected, she only needs to assume the office—a small, big step—and the opportunities for women to move up the economic ladder will skyrocket. I fear that it will not be so simple.
In the United States, we tend to check off our boxes and move on. We have the most powerful military in the world. Check. We have a free market, national parks, and Hollywood. Check. We have Barack Obama, the first person of color to hold the presidency. Check. Shouldn’t that final box mean that every position of power is suddenly accessible to every minority in the United States? Our current political, economic, and social climate shows the ugly truth—they aren’t. The number of minorities and women in Congress remains dismal. When society lets an outlier into the limelight, they remain just that—an outlier. When minorities assume positions of power, their potential to serve as a catalyst for social change is stifled by the intense examination of even their most insignificant actions by those who wish to halt progress. In his eight years in office, President Obama received an unprecedented amount of scrutiny not because he was better or worse than any man who had taken the office before him, but because he was different.
Clinton, should she win the election, will have a similar burden to bear. Did she smile too much in the debate? Did she not smile enough? Will she smile too much at her inauguration?
Take a look at the political career of Julia Gillard, who served as Australia’s first female Prime Minister from 2010 to 2013. You might remember her from her internet-famous misogyny speech, where she spoke out against the injustice and disrespect she received while in office.
“[Tony Abbott, leader of the opposing Liberal Party] says that people who hold sexist views and who are misogynists are not appropriate for high office,” Gillard said in her 2012 address. “Well, I hope the Leader of the Opposition has got a piece of paper and he is writing out his resignation. Because if he wants to know what misogyny looks like in modern Australia, he doesn’t need a motion in the House of Representatives, he needs a mirror. That’s what he needs.”
Gillard was later replaced by Abbott, the same man whose misogynistic attitude contributed to an atmosphere that led her to resign.
During the debate on Monday, Trump fought to keep Clinton silent. He interrupted her 51 times. Perhaps even more important is the language he used to conceal his misogyny in the debate. Although most of his words did not appear to be carefully chosen, a few key phrases were. Trump said that he doesn’t believe Clinton has the stamina to make difficult decisions, to travel to foreign countries and make trade deals, and to be the next president of the United States. The word stamina is a thinly veiled replacement for the word masculinity.
Based off of her performance in the debate, Hillary Clinton is clearly more educated on the issues that Americans face than Donald Trump is. Yet she was still constantly interrupted by a man whose authority is derived solely from his masculinity. This isn’t an isolated issue reserved only for presidential candidates—I can think of times when I experienced the same inequality in my classes at Emerson. I am no less educated than the man sitting next to me in class. Yet when he raises his hand, he speaks loudly and with conviction. When I raise my hand my voice is softer and more speculative. My male professor lets him finish his sentence, but cuts my words short.
Hillary Clinton holding the presidency will not immediately erase the inequalities women in the United States’ face, just as Barack Obama didn’t level the playing field for black Americans. They need our continued support, not only Clinton and Obama, but people like them—the people who have been excluded from our political system until relatively recently.
Today, more women than men are enrolled in college. There are also more women than men total in the United States population. Millions of Americans tuned into the debate on Monday night to hear the candidate’s talking points—but talking isn’t enough anymore. We must fight to ensure that underrepresented people in the United States not only speak, but are heard. Voting for Clinton is the first step. After that, there will be many, many more on the path to achieving equality.