Run Like A (Wo)man

“There’s something about her that I just don’t like.” This phrase plagued Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and became one of its many unsolvable problems. In an interview with The Guardian, Jennifer Palmieri, Clinton’s Director of Communications, concluded that the “something” was “female ambition for power.” 

Many would disagree, of course, and attribute Clinton’s loss to her leaked emails, Donald Trump’s unexpected political maneuvering, or other campaign missteps; it is hard to argue with the fact, however, that sexism played some part in Clinton’s defeat. Whether or not you supported Clinton’s candidacy, her role in the 2016 election transformed American politics and, more specifically, how a woman runs for the highest office in America. 

So where are we now, almost three years later? The current field of 2020 Democratic hopefuls is being hailed as one of the most diverse ever, in terms of gender, race, and sexual orientation. Following the October Democratic Debate, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is seen as the frontrunner for the nomination, and California Senator Kamala Harris has also been polling within the top five candidates, according to Real Clear Politics. 


While Palmieri said that they essentially ran Clinton’s campaign as if she were a man, Warren and Harris have used different strategies. During most of her public appearances, Clinton could be seen in one of her signature primary color pantsuits. CNBC quotes Clinton saying that she wore pantsuits to signal that she was “different from the men but also familiar.” Clinton subtly curbed her femininity to conform to the familiar image of a presidential candidate. Warren, on the other hand, can usually be seen in casual black pants with a bright blazer; this simple look makes her appear confident and more feminine. Similarly, Kamala seems to embrace her femininity by often wearing skirt suits. Female candidates continue to be scrutinized more than men on their appearance, so whether intentionally or not, Warren and Harris’ outfit choices signal to the voters a break from past norms.


This election cycle we also hear much less talk about the (still intact) “glass ceiling” that prevents women from professional advancement. As the first female major party candidate, Clinton had to emphasize the historic nature of her candidacy and run on the idea of breaking the glass ceiling. As a country we are now moving towards normalization of this idea, however, so women like Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris do not have to sell themselves as the woman for the job, but just as the person for the job. 

If, and when, a woman wins the presidency, her choice of wearing or not wearing a pantsuit probably will not clinch her victory, but the differences between these campaigns signal that America may be ready for its long awaited first female president.