Former First Lady and Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, is arguably one of the strongest and most politically active American woman to ever grace our national capital and the steps of the White House. Though Clinton didn’t emerge from the primary season victorious, she waged an excellent campaign, coming close to winning the Democratic nomination, and going farther than any American woman has gone before. As a freshman in high school during the 2008 election, I never initially took into account the types of adversity a woman in the political sphere has to face, especially as a potential nominee for the Presidential candidacy. Nor did I ever possess an interest in Clinton’s rigorous campaigning, as she exhaustively fought against stereotypes and challenges that none of her male predecessors would ever get to experience, even as the established figurehead that she was and still is today. The fact was, Clinton would not be judged as an individual, but rather a woman. As a political science major, I now can reflect back on her campaign with a new set of eyes. Hillary Clinton so cleverly crafted her campaign in such a way that would counter the gender stereotype. She knew that as a politician, but more importantly as a female, she needed to convince voters that she was competent, intellectual, and up for the job.
German sociologist, Max Weber, wrote in great detail about the fundamental ways in which politics are ethically guided, stating that a politician will either use ethics of responsibility or ethics of conviction. In Weber’s essay, Politics as a Vocation, he strongly emphasizes the importance of having a political leader who possesses responsibility over conviction arguing that with responsibility a man will say, “My consequences are to be ascribed to my actions”. Weber continued on to counter the ethics of conviction by stating that, “Such a man believes that if an action performed out of pure conviction has evil consequences, then the responsibility must not lie with the agent, but the world, the stupidity of men – or the will of God who created them thus”. On Weber’s account, he’d most likely disagree with the way in which Hillary Clinton ran her campaign as she possessed a substantial amount of conviction, as her way of establishing competence.
Though Weber makes a valid argument, I don’t think it can be justly applied to Clinton and her individual political process, as Weber didn’t take into account the challenges a woman would have to face since he lived in very different country in a very different time period. By reflecting on Clinton’s campaign, it’s extremely crucial to realize that her gender played a significant role in the way that she ran for office, and utilizing a sense of conviction was her only chance at possibly winning the election. According to social psychology research, a female candidate is required to assert her dominance as a consequence of social constructionism. In addition to establishing dominance, a woman has to effectively counter her emotional tendencies by appearing to be assertive and self-promotive, lacking the idea of warmth and selflessness that society promotes women to have. On the other hand, a woman also cannot appear to be insufficiently feminine as she will be likely to critiqued as being “too bitchy” by the media and even other politicians.
One of the best examples of conviction as seen through the Clinton campaign was her counter to being viewed as weak regarding her stance defense and national security. Clinton immediately countered the gender stereotype by voting to authorize the war in Iraq, and then seconding herself by stating that this was not a mistake on her behalf. Her repeated refusal instilled the concept of agency that she confidently delivered as a matter of principle. Alternatively, she could’ve have chosen to initially oppose the war or renounce her vote as a mistake (Obama chose to do this), however, as a woman, she would’ve most likely suffer a greater cost than Obama, his ethics reflecting responsibility (or maybe catering to the popular vote?).
In the end, I truly believe that Clinton’s candidacy has paved the way for future female candidates that have made it their choice to run for a presidential seat, just the way that Obama has paved the way for future African American candidates. Optimistically speaking, I hope future voters can view the world in such a way that gender won’t be such a concern, but rather the woman’s potential and determination. And hopefully one day, the American public and media will value the strength and assertiveness in female leaders as much as they value those characteristics in men.