When Hillary Clinton ran for president in 2008, she rarely mentioned her gender as a distinguishing feature, but she has repeatedly done so in 2016. She especially embraced her gender in Manhattan on Monday on a stage surrounded by other female political figures.
There was no mistaking the topic of the afternoon. It was women, women’s rights and how Clinton would be the best candidate to advocate for them.
Talking to an overflowing crowd of mostly women at a ballroom of the Midtown Hilton Hotel, Clinton, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards each spoke about the female-focused issues that were most important to them and how Clinton embodies them.
[Related DecodeDC podcast: ‘Running as a woman’]
The four touched on access to women’s health care, paid family leave, encouraging women to pursue higher careers and equal pay for equal work. Sprinkled within their comments though was an underlying criticism of comments Clinton has faced that many have called sexist.
Speaking with a raspy voice thanks to back-to-back days of campaigning in the Empire State, Clinton told the crowd stories of being critiqued and told, “Don’t talk too loudly, but don’t talk too softly.”
The Democratic front-runner, who is leading Bernie Sanders in New York by 53 to 41 percent, said, “I want you to know that this election is not just about me, it’s about an agenda that we can present to New York and we can present to the country because that will gives us the chance to actually vote for the kind of country we want.”
Speaking on the issue of Roe v. Wade and women’s access to abortions, Clinton compared Republicans’ prolife stance to communist governments in China and once Russia-governed Romania.
“There is nothing more important than defending our human rights,” she told a cheering crowd. “We must not ever let governments and politicians make those decisions and as long as I’m around, we never will.”
The hour-long speech was one of Clinton’s most passionate and during it she clearly embraced and played up her “woman card.”
“Take the issues of equal pay for equal work,” she told the crowd. “If it was just an economic issue we wouldn’t be talking about it — some of it is just not explainable other than good old fashioned discrimination.”
Clinton has been criticized for playing up the possibility of her being the first woman president. While she has clearly taken the comments in stride this election, many Democratic voters have struggled to come to terms with being accused of voting for a woman because she’s a woman.
At the Manhattan event Monday, Linda Loffredo, a 72-year-old educator who used to work for Gov. Anthony Cuomo’s division for women, said she finds the insinuation that she’s only voting for Hillary because she’s a woman insulting.
“Look at her resume, if she were a doctor and you were seriously injured, you wouldn’t even look at the name at the top of the list, you’d just get the surgery,” she said. “She has an enormous hardworking history behind her. Those are only comments you hear about minorities and women.”
But there are other voters, who in addition to mentioning Clinton’s experience, don’t hesitate to mention her being a female – and how important they think it is for a woman to be in the White House.
“She’s the most qualified candidate we’ve had ever — and it’s really time for a woman,” said Nina Beattie, a 48-year-old New York Lawyer who rallied for Clinton outside of last Thursday’s Democratic debate in Brooklyn. “I was a big supporter when she was a senator, she was a great senator, she is somebody who really knows how to work with Congress and get things done, unlike her opponents who can’t.”
Many of her supporters have witnessed the criticism Clinton has faced during the campaign and see it echoed in their own lives.
“I do have to admit that a lot of [the criticism I hear] is because she’s a woman. It’s sad to say but it’s true. We have a history of not supporting other women. Third world countries can elect a woman but America, the greatest country on earth, is struggling with that issue? It doesn’t make any sense,” said Pat Moschella, a 69-year-old former partner of a Wall Street firm who attended Clinton’s Sunday evening rally on Staten Island, N.Y.
For Moschella, there’s one criticism of Clinton from commentators and her opponents that especially gets her angry, “They are all losing their voice. And I understand that with this hectic schedule, and then when she gets worse and tries to project, they go, ‘Oh, we hate when she’s being shrill, we hate when she’s yelling.’ But no she’s not, she’s just trying to be heard. Just like the men are. But nobody is commenting on when the men are trying to be louder.”
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