During the 2017 Inbound Conference in Boston, Mass. on Sept. 27, former first lady Michelle Obama delivered a troubling statement. During the conference, Obama was quoted by CNN as having said, “Any woman who voted against Hillary Clinton voted against their own voice.” While Obama is beloved by many, even those who disagree with her politically, her statement has caused tensions and divisions across the political spectrum. The issue with Obama’s statement is that it trivializes a much larger issue. Saying that not voting for Clinton is silencing the voice of women implies that Clinton as a presidential candidate was capable of representing the voices of all women, a statement that is simply not true. Women have the capacity and the right to choose to vote or to not vote for a candidate for a variety of reasons, and they certainly shouldn’t be tied to a candidate simply because they share the same gender.
There are many reasons why a lot of women might not have voted for Clinton, and several of them are reasonable ones. Any woman who is a member of the Republican party would have had issues with Clinton’s platform. It’s also worth mentioning that Republican women probably would have had issues with Trump’s platform as well; he alienated many Republicans during his campaign. During his presidential campaign, Trump claimed that John McCain, a U.S. senator and Vietnam War veteran, was not a real war hero because he was captured. In response, many people, including many Republicans, spoke out against him. According to an article in the New York Times, former Texas Republican governor Rick Perry said, “Donald Trump owes every American veteran and in particular John McCain an apology.” Therefore, a Republican woman could have easily chosen to not vote for either candidate just on a basis of platform. Isn’t that supposed to be the whole point of an election — choosing the candidate based on the platform that they are running on? It seems like Obama would rather see it as just a battle of the sexes and there was so much more to it than that. While I don’t deny that sexism and gender politics were involved in this past election, it’s simply naïve to act like they were the only or even the most prominent deciding factors. Clinton wasn’t the voice for many Americans, meaning that she also wasn’t the voice for many American women.
In truth, it really shouldn’t be such an issue. It’s impossible for any woman to speak on behalf of all other women — that’s why intersectional feminism is so important. Clinton is no exception. Even if one gives Clinton the benefit of the doubt and assumes that she is trying her hardest to be aware of her privilege, she will never be able to accurately understand the experience of all women, as she is both white and upper class, and has not had the same experiences as women of color, or women of the working class. While it does not render her incapable of learning and reaching out to these populations, it is another valid reason why women might have felt like Clinton’s voice was not their own.
In an article from The Guardian, author LaSha says, “Clinton’s status as both rich and white affords her a level of nearly impenetrable insulation from the oppression people of color face … she has used her influence to affect policies that have been exploitive, even fatal, to people of color … I’m not prepared to close an eye to that under the guise of ‘sisterhood.’” These policies that LaSha referred to includes Clinton’s 1990s assertion that black and Latino youth were “super predators”, and her overall support of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and his now controversial Violent Crime and Law Enforcement Act. According to an article by BBC News, “Critics [of this Act] say the bill decimated communities of colour and accelerated mass incarceration.” While Clinton has since rescinded her support and admitted that her husband’s Act took things too far, it doesn’t mean that any damage it might have caused will be erased or soon forgotten.
Furthermore, Obama followed her initial statement with a few additional comments. According to the New York Post, Obama also said, “What does it mean for us as women? That we look at those two candidates, as women, and many of us said, ‘That guy. He’s better for me. His voice is more true to me.’ Well, to me that just says you don’t like your voice. You like the thing we’re told to like.” Adding that onto her previous statement, Obama is not only saying that Clinton represented all women, but also that women who didn’t vote for her clearly don’t know their own minds. That doesn’t sound like gender equality. What it does sound like is the misogyny that has fueled political discourse all the way back to the suffragist days, when women were fighting to vote. Then, men believed that women were incapable of knowing their own minds, and thus must have important decisions made for them, hence why giving them the ability to vote would be a “bad idea.”
While I don’t believe Obama is in any way a misogynist, I believe her word choices at the Inbound Conference carried its tone. In saying that women didn’t vote for Clinton or did vote for Trump because they were doing what they were told to do takes away the truth that women are capable of making their own political decisions. I think that I speak for many when I say that I would have loved to see a woman in the White House — I just didn’t want it to be Clinton.
Obama’s comments were out of line because they essentially blame and shame women for the current political situation. The comments blatantly state that many of us didn’t know what we wanted, so we just chose what we were told to want. Blaming and shaming are not what we should be doing in light of the past polarizing election. We should be encouraging more women to take an interest in political office and in the office of president, for it is only through increasing the pool of female candidates that we can ever hope to find a woman who can be not only the voice of American women, but also the voice of the entire country.