In wake of election, students raise concerns about women's rights

Monday, November 21, 2016 - 3:27pm

Hilary Clinton made history this past presidential election cycle after securing the Democratic nomination for the 2016 election as the first female to ever win a major party nomination, promoting excitement among many young voters, including on campus. However, for many students, the election of her opponent, President-elect Donald Trump, has sparked concern over what his presidency will mean for women's rights.

While Clinton wasn’t successful in her bid for the White House, research has shown some inspirational effects from her campaign on young girls interested in politics. While her status as the first female nominee wasn’t a center point of her campaign, it became a focal point in her concession speech as she reminded aspiring female politicians to keep working toward their goals, despite her loss.

“To all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams,” she said in her speech.

LSA senior Lauren Gallagher, president of the University of Michigan’s chapter of Students for Hillary, said while Clinton’s loss was upsetting, she has hope for the future.

“Having a woman running for the highest office shows girls that they do have the ability to run for office,” she said. “I heard a quote that the first female president was watching Hillary run, so in our lifetimes there will be a female president and I’m really confident about that.”

Gallagher noted it wasn’t just securing the nomination that made this election so unique for women. On the Republican side, primary contendor Carly Fiorina made it further in the nomination process than any other previous Republican woman. In addition, many notable women joined Clinton on the campaign trail.

“Clinton also just surrounded herself with strong women,” Gallagher said. “We saw actresses, business leaders, all of these women speaking out about issues they have faced and how they have overcome them and we saw Clinton echoing that same story.”

However, amid those advancements, students have also voiced their concern for the future of women’s rights in the coming years under Trump.

Business sophomore Mira Sanghvi, director of special projects of the University’s chapter of nonprofit organization Lean In, said Trump’s election made her more than just sad for Clinton’s loss, but scared as someone who identifies as a woman of color, given the president-elect's derogatory statements about women and minority groups.

During the campaign, Trump made numerous comments about limiting access to heath care by defunding Planned Parenthood, something his Vvce President-elect Mike Pence has worked to do during his time as governor of Indiana. Additionally, Trump's push for stricter immigration laws amid his comments condemning Muslim, Black and Latino residents has sparked heavy criticism.  

“I don’t really understand what America stands for anymore,” she said. “I understand the Conservative viewpoint, but this time around I really didn’t understand why someone would be prompted to vote for him just because he has said so many horrible things about so many different types of people. How could we go from possibly electing the first female president to someone who has no experience? I hate to say this but I have a lot of resentment because I don’t understand why this country put him in power.”

Michael Heaney, assistant professor of political science and organizational studies at the University of Michigan, said he believes one of the many factors that contributed to Clinton’s loss could have been her treatment by the media as a woman.

“It’s complicated because of the way she lost,” he said. “One of the things that we would have to say was that misogyny was a major component of her loss. That in and of itself is very discouraging. Trump made a lot of negative comments and Trump supporters made very misogynistic comments towards her. That wasn’t the only reason she lost but it was a significant factor.”

Business and LSA senior Ujwala Murthy, co-founder and director or marketing and public relations of Lean In, said she thought this campaign was not only filled with misogynistic comments, but also saw a portrayal of Clinton in a negative light, in ways Trump was not.

“I think there was a lot of baggage that Clinton carried but her flaws came under stricter scrutiny compared to Trump,” she said. “Fox News focused a lot on her wrinkles and health which wasn’t a focus of any of the male candidates. Women are now running for public office and as a society we need to overcome that.”

Gallagher also said she believes this election showed the diversity among women as a voting bloc in what candidates they supported.

“I think this election cycle in particular really brought the realization that women don’t make up a voting bloc,” she said. “I think oftentimes strategists and campaigns think of women as one bloc of voters that will vote together. Thinking that all women would vote for Clinton because of the statements Trump made against women, that was really a pitfall of the campaign in general.”

In terms of females in the U.S. government, this cycle did see some women elected to Congress. However, despite a consistent rise in the proportion of women the U.S., women didn’t progress in terms of seat allocation for the 115th Congress. In addition, the Republican Congressional leadership for 2017 will only feature one woman — down from three women who held positions in the previous session.

Heaney said globally, the United States ranks relatively low in terms of women serving in executive positions.

“That is for a whole variety of reasons,” he said. “Women are discouraged from entering political careers to begin with and that has to do with all of the reasons as to why women don’t advance as far as men do in a variety of professions. There are family considerations and also being more discouraged by the negative politics than men are. And also the way they are likely to be treated when they run for office.”

For Murthy, the lack of female representation in government and the rhetoric she saw from the GOP side during the campaign season has left her worried about what this means for the future of women’s rights.

“Considering the agendas of a lot of what Trump and Senate Republicans might have in mind, Clinton’s loss really pushed women’s progress back,” she said. “Personally, I think that women will have to fight harder for things such as equal pay. There’s the pro-choice pro-life debate obviously, and for some reason Roe v. Wade is still on the table as something that can be overturned.”

Echoing those concerns, Sanghvi said she hopes Clinton’s loss will inspire women to keep working for the issues they are passionate about.

“I don’t think Clinton’s loss will discourage women,” she said. “I think it will do the exact opposite. I think women will understand that although this this was a setback, I think it will ignite this passion that will drive women to work harder because we essentially have a president that has propagated sexual assault and I think that will ignite a lot of women to stand up for their rights.”