Gender Still Matters

Gender bias continues to hover over both male and female voters as they assess a woman's credentials for the presidency. Bias is so subtle that even feminists may not find it in themselves. Today, some women pride themselves in believing that we live in a post feminist society, where there is no longer a need to support women, just as some claim that we live in a post racist society. We may be seeing a new phase of liberation where people can proclaim that they do not have to loyal to either gender or race.

Wait a minute. Yes, progress in both racial and gender justice has been enormous. Once upon a time, when I served in the Vermont legislature, married women couldn't have their own names in the telephone book or obtain a mortgage in their own name. Times have changed, but one look at any group photo of the global leaders tells us who rules the world. If it were not for the suits and German Chancellor Angela Merkel's skirt, then they could pass for a men's soccer team.

The number of women in the United States Congress is at a record high at 19.4 percent. We still are obliged to include decimal points to boost the number. We cannot stop promoting (qualified) women in leadership until the number reaches 50 percent, not just because of gender, but because political leadership will look more like American voters. Studies have shown that corporations which have a significant number of women and people of color on their boards did better than all white male boards during the 2008 recession. Diversity in the workplace mirrors diversity in political leadership; it is guaranteed to produce different outcomes in some areas.

We receive a preview of what a diverse Senate would produce from how female U.S. Senators behave. They have a history of working across party lines and even dine together on a regular basis. It was Republican women, Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) who led the negotiations that avoided the most recent effort to force another government shutdown. New York democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has lead the effort to reduce sexual assaults in the military. For the first time, female and male victims of sexual assault in the military were invited to appear before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee to tell their stories.

Female political leaders are not completely different from their male colleagues. If we wait to vote for the perfect woman to run for President, we will never get a chance to vote for her. Popularity wanes with ambition. When Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State she was acclaimed as the most admired woman in the world and her favorability was at 56 percent. When she became candidate Clinton, her favorability sank into the low 40s. A woman who wants to be President -- now that is ambitious -- does not easily win a popularity contest.

If Hillary Clinton is elected, she won't be a different kind of president in every respect. I know from experience that ninety to ninety-five percent of the time when I was Governor of Vermont, I dealt with the same issues as the governors before me, those old men who stared down at me from their dark portraits in my executive office with names like Ebenezer and Erastus. The remaining five to 10 percent of the time I was different because I had additional priorities. Some of my time was focused on establishing universal kindergarten, increased funding for childcare, setting up rape crisis centers, and Doctor Dinosaur, a law that provides health insurance for children and pregnant women.

Women in the Congress have initiated almost every piece of legislation which is incorrectly classified as "women's issues." They are, in fact, economic issues. Experience tells us that first female President of the United States would spend some of her political capital on a slightly different agenda concentrating on providing quality, affordable childcare, reducing child poverty, enacting paid family and medical leave, and equal pay for equal work. These changes would enable more women to enter and remain in the workforce. Booze & Co has demonstrated that if women were in the workforce to the same degree as men, the United States would experience a 5 percent growth in GDP; a direct way to reduce income inequality.

As I assess the candidates running in the primaries, I am voting for Hillary Clinton not only because she is a woman. I want her to be the next President of the United States for two reasons: Yes, she is qualified. She has demonstrated that she has the temperament, knowledge, experience, passion and compassion to lead our country. There is a second reason. For the first time since the Founding Fathers created our country, the female half of our nation will be allowed to speak for themselves, directly from the White House.

Madeleine May Kunin, who served as governor of Vermont for three terms from 1985-1991, is a Marsh Professor at the University of Vermont, and the author of "The New Feminist Agenda, Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Family."