COLUMBUS, Ohio – After 219 years of male presidents, leaders of the National Organization for Women want to see a woman in the White House.
During a panel discussion at Ohio State University, NOW president Kim Gandy said Sen. Hillary Clinton is the most qualified candidate to serve as the country’s commander-in-chief and president. Clinton, a New York Democrat, received NOW’s endorsement last March.
“I don’t just want a woman president – I want this woman president,” Gandy said. “We support her because she is the best qualified candidate, and hooray! She’s a woman.”
The five panelists spent two hours discussing the former First Lady’s record on issues facing women, including sexism in the workplace, reproductive rights and violence against women. Besides two Michigan Daily reporters, only two people came to the forum.
In Ohio, Democratic women are debating which presidential candidate will make the most progress on issues they care about.
Clinton backers say it’s not just their candidate’s gender that makes her good for women – it’s her history of vocal support for abortion rights and her work on decreasing domestic violence.
But Barack Obama supporters say the Illinois senator will be just as strong on those issues.
Ohio State student Caitlyn Seitz, a member of Students for Hillary who helped advertise the forum but was unable to attend, said Clinton’s work has helped to redefine feminism in a positive way.
“Sexism is alive and well in our so-called ‘extremely developed’ first-world country,” Seitz said. “She fights for women in all situations – domestic abuse, rape, violence, discrimination in the workplace.”
Students supporting Obama said they think he would defend women’s rights as well as a woman could.
Simone Stephens, a freshman at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids who canvassed for Obama in Sandusky this weekend, said Obama’s background qualifies him to defend women’s rights.
“This is a man who was raised by a single mother.” Stephens said. “He has a strong wife, and I could never see him passing a bill or anything that would be detrimental either to his wife or his daughters.”
While she said she didn’t consider race or gender when choosing her candidate, Ashley Germann, a junior at Ohio State and a member of Students for Obama, agreed that men could adequately address the concerns of women.
“I think a man who is knowledgeable and educates himself about women’s issues could do just as good of a job defending them,” Germann said. “I’d love to see a woman as president, but right now, I’m voting for who is better to unite the country.”
But that kind of talk of ending controversial political divisions made Gandy skeptical of Obama’s ability to defend women’s rights.
“What does that mean, when we’re going to end the divisiveness?” Gandy said. “Does that mean were going to fold our tents on abortion, give up on gay rights and go home? Those issues aren’t going away, they have to be dealt with.”
Gandy said she trusted Clinton to deal with those issues because she has done so in the past, despite heavy opposition.
Volunteers canvassing for Clinton in Cleveland said that while Clinton’s determined approach to dealing with these issues has caused some to label her as too aggressive, they argue that Clinton has been a victim of a double-edged sword.
“I still think that a man who gets things done is not called a bitch, he’s called assertive, and he’s called professional, and he’s called accomplished,” said Karen Klatzkin, a professor of education at the City University of New York.
Klatzkin, along with several other Clinton volunteers, praised a recent Saturday Night Live monologue, in which comedian Tina Fey asked residents of Ohio and Texas to support Clinton – because Clinton, she said, was a “bitch.”
“Maybe what bothers me the most is that people say that Hillary is a bitch,” Fey said. “Let me say something about that: Yeah, she is. You know what, bitches get stuff done.”
Danielle Cyr, an attorney and fundraiser for the Clinton campaign, said Fey’s monologue would empower women.
“Before, 20 years ago ‘bitch’ was a horrible thing to call a woman,” Cyr said. “It was a way to sort of pull a woman down. I’m glad that Tina Fey has kind of taken it back.”