In Depth

'Vagina vote': should Hillary be elected because she's a woman?

Female voters who value gender over policies have been criticised for 'setting back feminism a hundred years'

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With Hillary Clinton the clear favourite to be the Democratic nominee in the presidential campaign, some commentators are questioning whether her gender is eclipsing her politics.

"I intend to vote with my vagina," writes Kate Harding in Dame Magazine. "There are other reasons why I'm ready for Hillary, but even if there weren't, I would probably still vote for her just because she's a woman."

Harding acknowledges that her viewpoint is contentious, and that women who indicate that gender is a factor in their support for a candidate are often scolded for engaging in identity politics – "as though white men haven't been doing just that with their presidential votes since 1789".

But she says "what's illogical and ill-considered is not my 'vagina vote', but the ludicrous notion that 226 years of male rule have somehow left us in a position where gender is immaterial."

When Hillary Clinton ran in the 2008 presidential primaries, she fought hard to be seen as more than just a female candidate, telling voters that she wasn't "running as a woman."

But this time around, Clinton has put gender at the forefront of her campaign, promising to safeguard women's rights and asking voters: "Don't you someday want to see a woman president of the United States of America?"

Harding's critics argue that voters should be focusing on Clinton's credentials instead of her gender, and that voting for a woman just because she is a woman is devaluing and patronising. Libertarian blogger Brendan O'Neill argues that women who vote for Clinton because of her gender "are setting back feminism a hundred years".

Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby agrees. "Of course a woman could be president," he writes. "But no one should become president because she's a woman." 

He argues that of all the qualifications to seek in a president, few could be more irrelevant to the job than a person's genitalia. "Whether the leader of the free world is equipped with the anatomical parts of a male or of a female is of infinitely less significance than whether that leader is equipped with integrity and sound judgment, with respect for facts and loyalty to the Constitution," says Jacoby.

Gender equality isn't just about having a woman in the White House, but about wanting women to have the same freedoms, choices and opportunities, says journalist Allison Hantchel.  "And that means an equal opportunity to be judged by our actions and our beliefs, not our gender."

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