US election thrusts gender equality into the spotlight

Lucy Purdy

Though it has been characterised by negativity, the US presidential election race has also brought women’s rights sharply to the fore. Does it show that sexist rhetoric will no longer be tolerated?

“I listen to all of this and I feel it so personally, and I’m sure that many of you do too, particularly the women,” said Michelle Obama, emotion tangible in her words. Taking to the stage in New Hampshire several weeks ago, the first lady was mid-way through a speech in reaction to Donald Trump and the “hurtful, hateful language about women” he used throughout the election campaign.

“The shameful comments about our bodies,” she continued. “The disrespect of our ambitions and intellect. The belief that you can do anything you want to a woman. It is cruel. It’s frightening. And the truth is, it hurts.”

As Obama went on to explore in a speech hailed a “masterclass in speaking from the gut”, gender equality remains a distant prospect in the US. A typical woman working full-time can expect to earn 21 per cent less than her male counterpart, while women hold only 19 per cent of seats in the House of Representatives – just 84 of the 435 available spots.

The world’s eyes are firmly fixed on the election result, partly because what happens in the US has so many global reverberations. Many believe Trump threatens to not only slow progress for women, but also to chip away at existing rights: access to contraception, abortions and sexual health checks among them.

The biggest single factor in the presidential race – and the most overlooked – is gender

Catherine Mayer, co-founder of the UK’s Women’s Equality Party, writes: “The biggest single factor in the presidential race – and the most overlooked – is gender. Though often discussed, its true impacts have largely gone unremarked.”

If only women went to the polls today, it is likely that Hillary Clinton would sweep into office in a landslide victory.

Chantal Pierrat, who lives in Boulder, Colorado, is founder and CEO of Emerging Women, a company that helps women excel in business using feminine values. “In my view, this election has been valuable in bringing to light the clear imbalance of masculine forces in our culture,” she told Positive News. “In Donald Trump we see the masculine as a caricature of itself, distorted, unbound, and narcissistically clinging to an old paradigm where women (and other marginalised groups) do not have a strong voice in the shaping of our future.

“This old paradigm is breaking down, especially in the face of a more connected and interdependent world. We are entering into an age of connectivity, where technology, systems, and all of life are increasingly shared. The model in which there is one master, one CEO, one celebrity, one dictator, one product, one channel, cannot survive in this new age, where those who learn the ways of a more connected and collaborative approach where diversity is celebrated, will thrive.”

Meanwhile, 11 descendants of suffragists have reminded us that only a relatively few years ago, women couldn’t vote for president, let alone run for the position.

“If you don’t understand what your history is, you don’t understand that you have to fight for things,” Shirley Marshall, surrogate granddaughter of suffragist Elizabeth Green Kalb, told New York Magazine.

There had been 70 years of brave, selfless women fighting to give us the right to vote

“There had been 70 years of brave, selfless women fighting to give us the right to vote. People forget you have to keep that fight going.”

Regardless of political leaning, many have welcomed the way women’s rights have been central to debate around this race for the White House. A presidential election with the first female nominee for a major party has sharpened this focus, but Donald Trump’s choice of language has helped galvanise women too.

As Marshall says, recalling the time her grandmother spent in jail for being a suffragist: “There’s more to be done. Someone needs to keep fighting and passing that spirit on.”

Read about three of our favourite women’s rights campaigns sparked by the US election.

Image: Participants in the October National Pantsuit Day on Brooklyn Bridge, New York City – Benjamin Sidoti/www.benjaminsidoti.com

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