Clinton, Fiorina and Feminism in US Presidential Campaign

"Carly Fiorina (16669797001)" by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America - Carly Fiorina. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 || Wikimedia Commons

Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina – the American presidential campaign is more and more dominated by two female candidates. Although each of them represents quite a different stance, both of them approach the women’s issues as a key element of their campaigns.

The system of the American primary elections can be a useful example for other democracies, also for Hungarian parties would worth to observe this system. Leaving that aside, let us, however, take a closer look at the issue of feminism in the presidential campaign – the topic which, undoubtedly, will not decide who will be the next president of the United States alone, but which seems equally important for both Democrats and Republicans. This fact makes the whole situation even more than remarkable from a Hungarian point of view, where there are no women in the government (0 of 10 ministers) and the parliament (9 % of members) as well as at the top of the companies’ management or among academics.

Recently, it became obvious that women’s issue and the fight for enhancing the situation of American women is a priority not only for the Democrat Hillary Clinton, but also for a Republican candidate: Carly Fiorina. The former Hewlett-Packard CEO who won the second debate of Republican presidential candidates on CNN in September (according to surveys conducted among Republican voters). Her victory was partly due to her resolute defense against Donald Trump who criticized her appearance and femininity. Those who have been following Fiorina’s campaign couldn’t be surprised that she stood up for herself, but the generally positive perception of this by Republican voters was a surprise for some analysts. (Fiorina used to be among the “also-rans” in the previous debate and in the general popularity surveys she is far behind Trump, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson or Marco Rubio.)

At the beginning of June I had the opportunity of listening to one of the first official speeches of Fiorina as a Republican candidate in Washington DC. Then she talked about the situation of American women – spoken as a conservative woman who was successful in the business life as well, and knew what kind of difficulties a woman has to struggle with in her private and professional life.

Hillary Clinton || No source indicated
Hillary Clinton || No source indicated

She called on the American right-wing to address the issue of American women as a political one and not let only the Democrats do that. This and the unequivocally positive reaction of the conservative side came to me as a surprise – so far, the American Republican candidates weren’t usually known for caring about gender issues (or female voters). If they did talk about it, they often made insensitive or uncomprehending comments about issues such as sexual violence – which affect women regardless of their political ideology.

Fiorina’s conservative, feminist messages and suggestions how to solve certain problems are very different from the mainstream Democrat proposals as they are made for a different political target group: the smaller role of the state, simplifying the regulatory environment of business, the cutback of the social benefit system, which she considers to provide bad incentives, the importance of individual efficiency and stricter regulation of abortion. Thus she combines the traditionally right-wing political messages with the women’s issue. And so far all this seems to be working for her benefit.

It is not clear what chances does Fiorina’s have as a Republican candidate, how significant the anti-Hillary part of her strategy will be, how effectively she could help the situation of women in the U.S. and how much she can accost conservative voters in the sharply increasing competition. It is also uncertain, whether Hillary Clinton – who until recently was the almost-certain winner among the Democrats – is able to keep up (or win back) and will become the first female president in the history of the United States.

However, the fact itself that Clinton’s apparatus reacted to the Democrat voters’ demands making the feminism a central topic of her campaign, and also that the conservative party can keep a female candidate in the forefront, shows well that the issues affecting women are becoming one of the dominant topics of the American political scene. It is therefore already a huge success for all those who care about gender issues – even if they don’t agree on all (or any) of the solutions and strategies of the abovementioned female candidates.

Reka Csaba