When I was in Bangladesh, sailing around the Sundarbans in the Sea of Bengal, I spent a lot of time on deck with some very interesting people. Over the course of three days, one man, a 65 year old retired and well-educated Bangladeshi, cruised around the boat asking people who they wanted to win the American preliminary election. He loved Bernie Sanders and was propagating his campaign any chance he got.
When he finally sat next to me, the only American on the boat, he crossed his bare feet and began the same conversation. I told him I had noticed a dramatic support of Sanders from many friends and people my age whom I respect. It was all I ever saw on my social media and as I felt myself wondering if I should support him, too. He was definitely popular and at a first glance seemed to have policies I liked.
But, I told him, I really want Hilary to win. I want to see a woman in the office. His response was one I’ve heard since I was in middle school. I shouldn’t vote for her just because of her sex. Out of politeness and the patience to examine my own feelings I moved the conversation to my opinions on the general American political system.
Two months later, with the limited amount of certainty anyone can have of American political candidates, I think they are both good options. But I have also seen an incredible amount of malicious posts on social media criticizing Clinton for things irrelevant to her experience, policies or credibility. I’ve read articles where both women and men shame women for siding with either Clinton or Sanders. And it seems to me that a lot of people are quick to belittle and ignore the barriers women face in our society.
To say that a woman shouldn’t vote for Clinton just because she is a woman, is kind of like saying that we should forget about the feminist struggle in America for the last 100 years. It’s also a clear reminder that the obstacles for women aren’t taken as seriously as the obstacles pertaining to both sexes. Isn’t it natural to want a candidate who you can identify with and who you think will fight for you? I’m not saying any female candidate would do, but as I have witnessed Clinton’s struggles as a woman and people’s harsh criticisms of her for fighting to achieve success in politics, she resonates with me and the struggles I face in my own life.
I think what people mean to say when they say I shouldn’t vote for Clinton just because she is a woman is that I should be informed about the candidates. Yet I feel that men are never held to the same accountability for supporting a male candidate. Gender gets to be irrelevant for straight men, but it’s a big deal for the rest of us. To say that a person shouldn’t consider Clinton’s sex in this political race is a tactic to pressure women into silence and/or compliance. Her being a woman is a big deal. If she became the next president, it would force tolerance and in a time when women are still fighting for rights over their own bodies in both their personal lives and in the work space, it’s imperative.
Do I think Sanders will also fight for women’s rights? Yes. But I think having Clinton in the office is a greater victory for women and sends a much louder message. I may not win the cool vote on this one, but frankly countless feminists have fought for me to be able to vote for whoever I want.