Clinton Can’t Break Every Glass Ceiling

September 7, 2016

This post originally appeared in US News & World Report, here.

download (1)In 1920, the 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote. Yet, 45 years later, black women in the South like Annie Lee Cooper still could not register to vote because of Jim Crow laws. Cooper was denied the right to vote over three times in Selma, Alabama, and upon finally successfully registering, she was fired from her job.

Experiences like this are why black women in America cannot fully identify with white women. As black women, we’ve faced exclusion from the Women’s Suffrage Movement,demeaning stereotypes of deviance and the relentless struggle of defending our femininity. Sojourner Truth attests in her infamous speech “Ain’t I A Woman?” that black women weren’t included in the idea of the ideal American woman. The neglect and invisibility of black women’s existence and their struggle is still ongoing today with issues that black men tend to be the face of, such as police brutality and the school-to-prison pipeline.

And so, as a black woman, when I hear Hillary Clinton say, “I can’t believe we just put the biggest crack in that glass ceiling yet,” I feel that the symbol of her presidency doesn’t really break the glass ceiling for me, even with her platform of avid feminism for women as a whole.

The term “glass ceiling” first emerged in the 1980s to describe the transparent barrier that prevents women and other minorities from climbing up the corporate ladder in the workplace. Particularly in the field of politics, women have historically been underrepresented in leadership. If Clinton wins the presidency, it will be a monumental step for women towards more representative government. To some, the election of this country’s first female president means the shattering of the ancient glass ceiling that hangs over the head of every woman who enters politics.

But the glass ceiling is more than a vivid metaphor of exclusivity that will disappear after one election; it exists as a barrier within the minds of many young women in the way that they view themselves and their capabilities as women of different races, sexual orientations and belief systems. Until every young woman can look at the country’s leaders in political office and see an accurate representation of themselves, the glass ceiling will still exist.

Clinton is a 68-year old straight white woman, and as inspirational as her candidacy and possible presidency might be, there are still young American women who would never consider running for office because of their intersectional identities. Clinton cannot represent every type of woman in America because she has not had the same experience as a black woman, a Latina woman, a Muslim woman, a transgender woman, a lesbian woman or many others. Although she supports many issues and policies that I believe can positively impact women as a whole, I cannot fully relate to her on the experience of being a woman in America.

Representation is about more than the issues that a leader supports; it’s about the archetypal image of a politician being one that reflects every constituent. For me, seeing a black woman serving in a position like president of the United States would break a completely different glass ceiling because of the empowerment that comes from knowing that it is possible to overcome the struggles unique to women like myself. In the United States, fewer than one in four political leaders are women, and within that group, women of color are terribly underrepresented. We still have a long way to go before the glass ceiling for every American woman is broken.

downloadReniya Dinkins was a Summer 2016 intern at Running Start. Born and raised in Washington, D.C., she is currently a rising junior at Columbia University with a major in political science and concentration in sociology.

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