On Her Own Terms

August 2, 2016

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

Hillary Clinton, our country’s first female major party nominee, presided over a Democratic National Convention last week where the feminine side of leadership was on strong display. From the speeches on the floor to the buttons on sale in the street, unity, love and empathy were the watchwords of the convention. That Hillary didn’t feel the need to exert a macho leadership style at the convention was a tipping point for women’s equality. There was hardly a macho moment to the whole affair, and that in itself was groundbreaking.

download (2)The buttons and T-shirts I saw while walking around the convention were almost all positive. There were some people wearing “Dump Trump” T-shirts, but they were overshadowed by the hundreds of buttons, signs and T-shirts proclaiming “Love Trumps Hate” and “I’m With Her!” All week the theme in the hall was unity and empathy, even in the face of contentious news coverage and lingering dissenters. Michelle Obama spoke about how “when they go low, we go high.” Tim Kaine spoke about how America has “an incredible cultural diversity that succeeds when we embrace everyone in love.” AndPresident Barack Obama asked us “to reject cynicism and reject fear, to summon what is best in us.” Especially compared to Cleveland the week before, Philly was a love fest of epic proportions.

When Hillary took the stage Thursday night she spoke to us not just as a candidate, but as a woman. She spoke openly about the historic nature of her race and what it means for the country: “Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come. Happy for grandmothers and little girls and everyone in between. Happy for boys and men, too, because when any barrier falls in America, it clears the way for everyone.” She spoke about her faith and her values: “No one gets through life alone. We have to look out for each other and lift each other up. … Do all the good you can, for all the people you can, in all the ways you can as long as ever you can.” She spoke about the importance of uniting people as a leader: “I will be a president for Democrats, Republicans, independents. For the struggling, the striving, the successful. For those who vote for me and those who don’t. For all Americans together!” And she spoke about how kindness and love are crucial to what makes us Americans.

All of this is remarkable because women historically have felt great pressure to show toughness: to make sure the voters know that they may be women, but that they are as strong as men, as hard-hitting as men and as unsentimental about serious issues as men. As a senator and secretary of state, Hillary has had ample opportunity to show her toughness and to prove herself in the hyper-masculine worlds of defense and diplomacy. No one can say she isn’t tough and battle-ready. And maybe this is why she is now free to show her softer side.

Women really do have a different style of governing, but they have not always felt comfortable emphasizing this uniqueness. When women are elected to positions of power, they tend to be more collaborative, more creative in solving problems and more willing to work across the aisle than men. (In fact, because of these traits, women in Congress really do get more done.) As those most often in the caretaking roles, they are especially cognizant of the needs of the weakest in society. They tend to govern in a way that gives power to others rather than keeps power for themselves. I know these are stereotypes, but I have spoken with so many elected women over the years, up and down the ticket, that I feel strongly that there is great truth in these generalizations.

Last week we reached a major milestone in women’s rights because the tenor of the convention, and Hillary’s remarks show that we are not only at the point where a woman can be her party’s nominee; she can also do it on her own terms.

Susannah Wellford
founded two organizations to raise the political voice of young women: Running Start (which she now leads) and the Women Under Forty Political Action Committee. Susannah previously worked in the Clinton White House and for Senator Wyche Fowler. Ms. Wellford is a graduate of UVA School of Law and Davidson College. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her twins, Ben and James.

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