Hillary Clinton and the New Feminism Movement

The crowd is cheering as former First Lady and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton appears on the stage. Although she is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to support Democrat Tom Wolf and encourage voters to participate in the midterm elections, she overshadows him. Michigan on Thursday, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, California, Colorado and Iowa and other places yet to come – Hillary Clinton is back on the campaign trail.

But while supporting Democratic candidates running for the U.S. Senate and for Governor, she is in the focus. People are eager to know whether she will run for president and what her message in the campaign will be. Women, especially feminists, are curious and exited about Clinton’s plans.

“Multiple studies by Catalyst, McKinsey, and others prove that increasing the number of female leaders in an organization improves the organization through enhanced decision making styles,” says Pamela O’Leary, 30. She has a M.A. in Applied Women’s Studies and has been an expert and consultant for the United Nations System-Wide Action Plan for gender equality and the empowerment of women. “Men and women experience the world differently. America could deeply benefit from being led by someone with a perspective outside the traditional male paradigm,” she adds.

Whether it is the news of Hilary Clinton possibly running for president in 2016, singer Beyoncé Knowles, standing and performing in front of the word “Feminist” at the MTV Video Music Awards 2014, or actress Emma Watson, holding a speech on gender inequality in front of the United Nations, feminism remains a hot button issue. The question arises whether the nation would change with a female head of state. Since there are still inequalities in payment between men and women in the same job positions and violence against women as seen in the news, feminism is still up to date. And, apparently there is a new movement in feminism.

According to the report “Underpaid & Overloaded: Women in Low-Wage Jobs“ from the National Women’s Law Center, published July 30th, 2014, the low-wage sector in the U.S. consists to two-thirds of women, although women make up less than half of all workers in total. These jobs pay $ 10.10 per hour or less and women are even paid 13 percent less than men, the gap is also bigger for African American and Hispanic women. The wage gap between men and women differs from state to state. Women are paid worst compared to men in Louisiana, where they get only 65.9 percent of men’s earnings.

Women’s rights need to be improved. Hilary Clinton might change the situation for women if she becomes president. But Lauren E. Weis, Ph.D., the Director of the Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies Program at American University is skeptical. “Yes, the nation could change in some ways, but I fear a female president would have to perform a delicate balance of “appropriate” femininity combined with potentially exaggerated aggressiveness in foreign affairs in order to get any respect,” says Weis, 40. However, she states that just the fact of Clinton running for president has the power to bring feminist issues to the forefront of politics and at least be the catalyst to help correct inequity.

Taylor Kuether, the Campus Communications Associate of the Feminist Campus, the world’s largest pro-choice student network and a project of Feminist Majority Foundation, is positive about changes Clinton could bring. “I think we’d finally put to rest the tired, drawn-out arguments over birth control, abortion access, the wage gap, etc.,” Kuether, 23, says. In her eyes it is an absurdity that women in 2014 are still making less money than men for the same work. “A woman in charge would recognize that those obstacles have an easy answer (simply, grant women equality!) and would then devote her time to solving much larger issues, like the state of the economy or U.S. foreign policy,” she states.

But giving a closer look to countries where there is already a female head of state, it becomes clear that these issues did not resolve by themselves. Germany got its first female chancellor, Angela Merkel, in 2005. Anne Wizorek, a German blogger who writes about feminism and became popular stating the “#aufschrei” (German for outcry) Twitter hash tag movement in Germany that uncovers the truth about everyday sexism and sexual harassment, thinks it is great to have Merkel as the chancellor and that young generations grow up and think it is normal to have a woman in that position. But she still sees is realistic.

“A female chancellor doesn’t automatically mean that policy becomes fairer regarding gender issues,” says Wizorek, 33. “With Merkel we rather see her not dealing with these issues after all. Instead she gives the impression ‘We have achieved everything!’ while the status quo looks different, “ she adds. But in Wizorek’s opinion it is interesting to see how the fact that Hilary Clinton is a feminist herself would influence her actions in the position of the president, which might be a great step towards gender parity in the U.S.

Also, the difference between Merkel and Clinton is that the latter is an outspoken feminist. She holds speeches about women’s right at various events like the Women in the World Conference. The final chapter of her book “Hard choices” is dedicated to global gender issues. And, in September 2012 she launched the US-Pakistan Women’s Council, a public-private partnership between the U.S. State Department and the American University in Washington, D.C. The council aims to improve the economic situation of women in Pakistan and promotes entrepreneurship, employment, and education. Samssa A. Ali, the program coordinator of the council, describes herself as a feminist and takes her role in the council very seriously. “I believe in gender parity”, says Ali, 30. “I believe in equality. I believe, women work just as hard as men and we should be recognized for that. A society like Pakistan is a clear example of a society that lacks gender parity,” she adds. Women have to fulfill strict expectations to the immediate family and to the society. They have to get married and bear children at an early age, and then they have to take care of the mother in law.  All these responsibilities are the reason that there is only a limited number of female employees in the formal sector. Limitations also occur in the U.S., they are just not that restrictive. “Not that the U.S. has discovered it, absolutely not,” Ali adds. “We still have differences in wage, in the treatment of women, we still have expectations that are very gender based. But there is just a bigger gap in Pakistan.”

What differentiates this new feminist movement from older generation’s feminism are the issues dealt with and the circumstances of the specific era. Kuether thinks it relates to the changes within the society. “The first wave of feminism was the era of suffragettes fighting for the right women now have to vote; the second wave dealt much more with birth control, sexual liberation, and women in the workplace, and now we as the third wave are fighting against domestic violence, sexual assault, and for the equal rights of others,” she says. “But I think that even as the movement changes to adapt to the issues of the era, feminists themselves haven’t – we’re still out here, boldly and sometimes brazenly speaking out for equality for all. “

The first wave of feminism took place in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It aimed to give women opportunities in an environment of urban industrialism and it was focused on suffrage. Middle class white women were the participants of this movement. From the 1960s to the 1990s, the second wave took place. The anti-war and civil rights movements surrounded this phase of the movement and minority groups began to feel more and more conscious about their disadvantages. The tone of this wave was much more radical and reproductive rights were issues dealt with. This wave also included women of color and “sisterhood” was the order of the day. The third wave started in the second half of the 1990s. It is influenced by post-modern thinking and deals with body, gender and sexuality and is carried out by young female feminists who are proud to be women and show their femininity.

Nowadays, many young celebrities help the cause. The word “Feminist” lit up in capital letters on a huge screen, an excerpt from a talk of the Nigerian feminist Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was running in the background – Beyoncé’s performance in this year’s MTV Video Music Awards on August 25th stood in the light of feminism. It was a powerful and dramatic scene, presented by female dancers who were barely dressed and stood with great confidence in front of the bold display of the lines spoken by Adichie, followed by Beyoncé singing “Flawless” from her self-titled album.

Actress Emma Watson has been appointed an United Nations Women Goodwill Ambassador and in her speech on feminism and gender at the U.N. headquarters in New York on September 21st she addressed the inequalities women and girls face all over the world and launched the “HeForShe” campaign, which aims to abolish these inequalities. The campaign wants especially men to address discrimination faced by women. And there are also other famous initiators – Lena Dunham, who doesn’t want to stick to female body- or beauty ideals and is proud not to wear size zero, Pussy Riot, who want to change inequality with punk rock, Sheryl Sandberg who wrote “Lean In” to encourage women to pursue their ambitions, and many more. They help bringing feminism to the public agenda.

Kuether thinks celebrities like Beyoncé or Emma Watson influence the public opinion and they can make a change regarding gender inequality. “I admire them for using their enormous celebrity platform to call attention to these issues, and in that sense, yes, I think they can influence change,” says Kuether. “I also admire them for attempting to make it “cool” to call oneself a feminist. The word has undergone so much stigma, so when popular celebrities adopt and embrace it, we all win,” she adds.

The video of Beyoncé from the VMAs went viral. The same holds true for Emma Watson’s speech. O’Leary also sees a big advantage in their popularity: “I believe the modern feminist movement benefits from having female icons like Beyoncé and Emma Watson waving its flag,” says O’Leary. This allows the movement to touch people it may not otherwise have been able to connect with.”

This modern feminist movement could help Hillary Clinton in her election campaign. Maybe then, celebrities like Beyoncé or Emma Watson could be standing in front of the audience and talking about changes Clinton could bring, like she is doing now for Tom Wolf and other democrats. In any way, she would have a lot of (female) voters. “If she runs, she’ll have the support of every feminist in the world. That’s powerful,” Kuether says.