As a woman, I know I am not alone in feeling overwhelmed and shaken by this turbulent and unpredictable election season. On the one hand, I have been feeling powerful and hopeful — everyone is talking about women and our decisive influence in this election, and of course we have the glass-ceiling-breaking prospect of our first female president (something I explored in depth in my book of interviews, What Will It Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership & Power). On the other hand, I’ve been disheartened and outraged by some of the issues that have come up during this election season—about racism, sexism, classism, biases toward women leaders, identity politics, power and privilege, sexist media coverage of women leaders, and of course the juggernaut of the verbal objectification of women, sexual harassment and sexual assault in these past few weeks.
All of this rising to the surface made me want to talk to other women, to hear what they are thinking and to gain context around this fertile moment that we are in—one which both acknowledges reaching the historic milestone of our first female presidential nominee of a major political party on the ballot, while also soberly confronting all of the many prevalent problems and obstacles that women (and many other groups) still face in our society, which were exposed during this vitriolic campaign season. However, I do have the sense that even with all the tumult and division that has emerged during this time, perhaps something cathartic, transformative, and ultimately healing can come out of all of these latent issues coming to the surface.
Through my many years as a journalist, author of two books of interviews, and as founder of the women’s website and non-profit organization, Feminist.com, I have cultivated extensive contacts with a diverse cross-section of well-known and influential women. So, as I have done in elections past, I decided to pose a few questions by e-mail to some of these dynamic women for their thoughts and insights. As election day approaches, I offer the thoughts of these women and hope you benefit from their insights as much as I did:
In alphabetical order: Joan Blades, Tiffany Dufu, Donna Edwards, Gloria Feldt, Carol Jenkins, Pat Mitchell, Robin Morgan, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Nancy Pelosi, Ai-jen Poo, Joy Reid, Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Maria Shriver, Pat Schroeder, Gloria Steinem, Barbra Streisand, Debbie Walsh, Jamia Wilson, Marie Wilson and Julie Zeilinger.
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This is such a pivotal election, and there has been so much going on. What’s on your mind as we approach election day?
“The same thought as everyone else: can we please just get this over with? This has been the most exhausting election of my lifetime, particularly as the rhetoric of hate has unleashed a movement of exclusion that, fundamentally, is unAmerican. We are looking at our national consciousness in the mirror and we don’t like what we see, but it is our reflection and we can’t hide from it.” —Tiffany Dufu, Author of Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less, Chief Leadership Officer, Levo
“On November 8 our nation will elect our next president and the Representatives and Senators who will work with the president. I hope the next president will be able to find common language to unify the nation and the words to speak our aspirations. The legislative priorities that will be set by the new president and the laws that will be passed by Congress will impact the daily lives of the American people and the world. I hope that our next president will be able to work with Congress to expand educational opportunity and focus on important issues like climate change, rebuilding our nation’s infrastructure, and strengthening the middle class.” —Donna Edwards, U.S. Representative
“This election season has been so dismaying. An underbelly of racism, sexism, misogyny, xenophobia and just plain pure hate has been revealed in America. This sense of un-ease will not go away soon, if ever. It has made me uncomfortable, frightened for my family. We have been put on notice that the country we came to believe in, and helped to build, may not even exist. A Hillary Clinton win may make us feel a bit better—the ‘good guys’ win, at least. Oh, but those bad guys.” —Carol Jenkins, media analyst, commentator and Emmy-award winning journalist and documentary producer
“Why am I not more excited about the prospect of our first woman president? After all, I’m a Clinton supporter and my entire life’s work has been about advancing women. And isn’t this the pinnacle? Yes it is, absolutely. And if she wins, I’ll savor the moment with a whole heart. But my lengthy political experience tells me a victory won’t be final in any sense but rather the beginning of a new set of challenges on the long road to full gender parity and power sharing in leadership.” —Gloria Feldt, Co-Founder and President of Take The Lead, author of No Excuses
“I think what’s on my mind most about this campaign is watching what the younger generation of women are going to do. I feel like there was a disconnect early on in this campaign that made them feel not a part of it, made them feel disenfranchised from what we all think of as this historic moment. They didn’t see it that way; they didn’t see it as a gender moment, or many didn’t I should say. So whether or not they’ve come fully around that now to embrace this as something that’s important to them, not just because Hillary is a woman, but, hey, let’s celebrate the fact she is and it happened in their lifetime, in our lifetime.
So for me the insights that I’ve gained talking to those young women is I realized how much of our language, how much of the way we talk about issues, is not the way they think. They think they live in a post-gender world, but you and I know they don’t.” —Pat Mitchell, Media executive, producer, curator, first female president of PBS
“Electing a leader who has prioritized equal pay, paid family/medical leave, healthcare, affordable childcare, along with other policies that boost our families and economy— and who also happens to be the first woman, and mom, to be elected president of the United States of America—is a tremendous win for our nation! The level of sexist vitriol aimed Hillary Clinton’s way throughout the election cycle was unprecedented. Now it’s time for us all to come together, to stand with President Hillary Rodham Clinton, and to continue working to build a more perfect union where everyone can thrive. We are truly stronger together.” —Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Executive Director and Co-Founder MomsRising
“The Mask You Live In and my next film look at how we, as a culture, reinforce ‘masculine’ traits such as power, dominance, and aggression, at the expense of empathy, care, and collaboration. This value system has real consequences on all of us. Our schools, media, sports, and larger society often reinforce this value system and teach boys and young men that to ‘be a man’ means physical dominance, sexual prowess, and financial control. This limited definition of masculinity is especially evident in this election cycle with a presidential candidate who touts his hand size, obsesses over his wealth, praises political strongmen, and constantly degrades women as nasty, disgusting, and evil. Whatever your politics, it’s critical that we as parents and as a society challenge limiting gender stereotypes, condemn overtly demeaning language, and value each other’s whole humanity.” —Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Founder and CEO of The Representation Project
“Everything is at stake in this election. Here’s the truth: there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between Donald Trump and the House GOP. From the top to the bottom of the ticket, we have a big opportunity to make progress for America’s hard-working families. We must ensure that President Hillary Clinton has the strong Democratic Congress she needs to succeed.” —Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Leader, first female speaker of the House
“This election has revealed the many ways in which our electorate is struggling and fracturing. So many people in our country feel disenfranchised and unseen. With rising levels of inequality and changing racial demographics, hateful, divisive political rhetoric will also continue to rise. Even without a presidential candidate who embodies hatred and resentment, the constituency that has been mobilized by this rhetoric remains and will continue to shape what’s possible in politics. Regardless of what happens on election day, we must grapple with this reality in authentic and courageous ways, in ways that bring diverse cross-sections of our electorate together—both in vision and in practice—toward solutions that will make a real difference in people’s lives. The shift in the focus of our politics from winning elections toward what will unite us and make life better will teach us important lessons that we need to learn in order to create the kind of healthy, multiracial democracy we ultimately need to create for the 21st Century.” —Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Co-Director of Caring Across Generations, and Co-Founder of Make It Work
“I think the biggest concern that I have is that particularly younger women don’t seem to see the gravity of this election the way I do. And my biggest concern is that Americans will sort of sleepwalk into November 8th, not understanding that this is an election unlike any in our lifetime. And that the stakes are not just whether we have a first woman president but whether we change all of the basic norms of our politics in a way that it would be unrecognizable to the founders of this country. So I worry sometimes that people take it for granted. There has been enough progress that sometimes people feel that we’re already there, and the same way people thought we were post-racial, and then we got Barack Obama and found out, ‘Oh wait we’re not.’ We are going to find out we are not post-gender biased. We are just not.” —Joy Reid, political commentator, host of AM Joy on MSNBC
“As I approach this Election Day, I’m actually very calm. I believe in the American people, and I believe in the power of people coming together. I’m hopeful that people will be calm and that they will be compassionate. I distinctly remember when my dad ran and lost. It was incredibly painful. I hope that we can celebrate who wins and have compassion for the person who tried and didn’t make it.” —Maria Shriver, journalist, author, founder of Shriver Media and The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement
“Well, the first thing is that we have to vote, because obviously [Hillary’s] issues are majority issues and [Trump’s] are not. But also I think we’re not seeing that swiftboating, you know, when John Kerry was a candidate for the presidency as a war hero, the right wing attacked his strength not his weakness, and that’s what they’re doing with Hilary—because all the fact-checking services say that she is the most accurate and the most honest of all the candidates, they are attacking that. And I think if the press said that, people would understand and recognize what’s happening.” —Gloria Steinem, writer, lecturer, political activist, and feminist organizer, Co-founder of Women’s Media Center
“It is time we grew up as a nation. We should stop being afraid of women, and meet them on a level playing field without resorting to name calling and sexist condescension. Hillary Clinton isn’t afraid. It’s about time that a woman with strength, experience and compassion leads our already great nation in this time of global insecurity.” —Barbra Streisand, singer, actress, director, composer, activist
“I have spent 35 years of my life observing, studying and analyzing women’s participation in American politics. Having the chance to see this moment is both inspiring and puzzling. With just one week to go before the 2016 election I am struck that the possibility of electing the first woman president of the United States has been drowned out by all the noise of this campaign. For many women of a ‘certain age’ it was a real question that they would ever have the opportunity to vote for a woman for president on a major party ticket let alone see her elected. For many others, this monumental moment in the history of our democracy is not even registering as historic. Perplexing and frustrating. But next week, if Hillary Clinton is elected, history will have been made. And while women currently hold less than 25% of elected offices at any level, the significance of breaking this highest glass ceiling for women in politics cannot be denied.” —Debbie Walsh, Director of Center for American Women and Politics, Eagleton Institute of Politics, Rutgers University
“I’m supporting the only viable candidate who regards women and girls within the context of their full humanity and potential. I’m voting for Hillary Clinton because she is the most qualified feminist candidate running, not because she is a woman. I’m voting for the only candidate who has an informed plan to expand health care, promote wage equality, tackle student debt, and advance reproductive justice. Hillary Clinton understands that women must be represented and heard at all levels of leadership in order for us to achieve full equality.” —Jamia Wilson, writer, feminist activist
“It’s hard to parse out just a few reflections from what has largely been an infuriating, triggering, and ultimately absurd election, but I can’t help but think about what awaits this nation immediately after election day. I think those who have been mired in feminist and other social justice movements have been well aware that the racist, sexist, generally bigoted ideologies that this election has proven are still clearly widely supported in this nation, but the blatant support of them by so many voters seems like it will force Americans to confront this reality once and for all after the election. The United States is not post-feminism. We are not post-racism. We have a lot of work to do and, if anything, I’m choosing to be optimistic about finally being able to do the work to dismantle this in an environment that is at least open and honest about this reality.” —Julie Zeilinger, Editor of MTV Founders and Founding Editor of the FBomb at the Women’s Media Center
We are celebrating the historic milestone of having our first female presidential nominee of a major political party on the ticket. What would the election of a woman president mean to you?
“My life’s work is advancing women and girls. It’s why I’m on the planet. When I ran The White House Project we knew that a woman president was possible, but it felt far away… distant. For me, a Madame President would be like a mirage made into reality—a very hard fought reality.” —Tiffany Dufu, Author of Drop the Ball: Achieving More by Doing Less, Chief Leadership Officer, Levo
“This is a historic election, and it means that for the first time in 240 years millions of women and girls will see ourselves in leadership in the highest elected office in our nation. As a mom, I’m excited that my son will cast his vote for a woman. I know that with a woman at the head of the table priorities will be different on issues such as childcare and equal pay. It will, indeed, be a new day. —Donna Edwards, U.S. Representative
“I teared up, literally became weak in the knees, when I filled out my ballot. It means my granddaughters will know they can become president and equally important my grandsons will too. It means change is possible if we have the vision to see it, the courage to start working for it, and the persistence to achieve it. It means America has taken one more step toward the full realization of the dream.” —Gloria Feldt, Co-Founder and President of Take The Lead, author of No Excuses
“Hillary Clinton has shown us—again—what it takes to run for the presidency, and has done it brilliantly. Casting a vote for her is casting a vote for the sanity of our girls who still see so much distance between what is possible for them and what is automatically assumed for boys. We cannot let them think there is no hope. This is our hope.” —Carol Jenkins, media analyst, commentator and Emmy-award winning journalist and documentary producer
“It means everything to me. I really began to think I wouldn’t see it in my lifetime. And I’ve worked all my life to elevate women’s voices. And now to see it elevated potentially to the most powerful position in the world—it’s reason to celebrate every day and night. And I believe it’s going to happen, too, by the way. So what I’m more interested in seeing is the difference that a woman as experienced as this candidate can make as the leader.” So for me the insights that I’ve gained talking to those young women is I realized how much of our language, how much of the way we talk about issues, is not the way they think. They think they live in a post-gender world, but you and I know they don’t.” —Pat Mitchell, Media executive, producer, curator, first female president of PBS
“It means the same thing it would have meant to Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—that we’re winning. And, too, it will be taken as an enormous encouragement to woman all over the planet. Also, it’s time we caught up with other countries who’ve elected women heads of state for decades! I can’t wait for the second and third women presidents!” —Robin Morgan, poet, novelist, journalist, author, Co-founder of Women’s Media Center, host of WMC Live with Robin Morgan
“What’s particularly meaningful about Hillary Clinton’s candidacy is the example it’s setting for our kids. As Marian Wright Edelman said, ‘You can’t be what you can’t see’ or ‘if you can see it, you can be it!’ Since my film Miss Representation first premiered at Sundance five years ago, we have sparked a global movement to empower and educate the next generation to challenge limiting gender stereotypes and stay true to themselves. What can be better inspiration for our kids than not only seeing a woman run as a major party nominee for the first time in our nation’s history, but seeing her win?!” —Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Founder and CEO of The Representation Project
“One hundred years after the first woman was elected to Congress, we’re on the verge of shattering the highest, strongest marble ceiling in our country. Electing the first woman president is not about one woman’s achievement, it’s what it means for the hopes and possibilities of all Americans. To have Madam President in the Oval Office will resound in the dreams of every girl—and boy—in every corner of America.” —Nancy Pelosi, House Democratic Leader, first female speaker of the House
“My hope is that breaking the thick glass ceiling at the top of American politics can inspire a whole new wave of women to imagine themselves leading powerfully in politics and in every arena. Much is written and said about the power of the women’s vote. And in many ways this election cycle has been about the role of gender and race in politics— from Alicia Machado to the thousands of women who took action in response to the ‘Trump tapes.’ My hope is that having a woman elected to our highest office will open up the space to move beyond talking about the power of the ‘women’s vote’ and responding to outrageous forms of misogyny, toward leadership and solutions that truly make life better for the least visible women among us.” —Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Co-Director of Caring Across Generations, and Co-Founder of Make It Work
“My husband I have a daughter and two sons. Their entire sort of sentient part of their lives, the president of United States has been black. That means something. So their floor as to where they believe they can go, I think that my daughter had to have that one extra piece. We need to be able to look at the president and see ourselves. So I think it’s important that African-Americans achieved that milestones, and you know what? It’s about the time women did as well.” —Joy Reid, political commentator, host of AM Joy on MSNBC
“I am beyond excited about our first female president! No one has been more qualified and for those who think the country is messed up, give a woman leader a chance! Couldn’t mess it up any more! Also I am sad that so many have been told Hillary is a nasty woman, a criminal and on and on. Totally beyond the pale by someone who can’t match her intellectually so attacks her personally.” —Pat Schroeder, former U.S. Representative and presidential candidate
“I think it would ultimately show to people that there’s no job that a woman can’t do. It’s a great opportunity to exhibit to the world what female leadership looks like. I think for young women to grow up having a female president would be a game changer in every respect, just like it was a game changer for African Americans when President Barack Obama was elected.” —Maria Shriver, journalist, author, founder of Shriver Media and The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement
“Well, it wouldn’t mean anything if it was Sarah Palin. It’s not about being a female, it’s about first representing the interests of women and secondly knowing what it’s is like to walk around in a female body in this country, which is secondary but very helpful. —Gloria Steinem, writer, lecturer, political activist, and feminist organizer, Co-founder of Women’s Media Center
“I’m certain that Hillary’s example and inspiration will inspire more women and girls to run for office from student council to the presidency. Moreover, I’m looking forward to casting my vote for our first woman of color president in my lifetime, and I’m hopeful that both President Obama and Secretary Clinton’s trailblazing will help pave the way for that to happen.” —Jamia Wilson, writer, feminist activist
“Knowing that a woman will likely be elected president in two weeks takes my breath away. Like Hillary, I’ve spent my life working for the betterment of women and girls. The organization I started almost two decades ago, The White House Project, was named precisely that because its goal was to crack the last glass ceiling, the American presidency. And now here we are, and not just with any woman but a progressive, smart, competent one. I will be nervous until the final votes are counted, but once I hear the words ‘President-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton,’ I will cry with joy, relief and hope.” —Marie Wilson, Honorary Founder and President Emerita of Ms. Foundation for Women, Founder and President Emerita of The White House Project
“Throughout the election, the ideology supported by many young feminists has also resonated with me: I am voting, and will always vote, for a candidate based on their policies. I will vote for a candidate whose policies, among other things, support ideals of equality—not just a candidate who is a woman or occupies another marginalized identity. But, at the same time, it’s undeniable that representation matters. I think the election of a woman president would make me proud, but more so than that it makes me incredibly hopeful for younger generations—particularly young women who I know will inevitably be impacted and view the world differently, based on the notion that women can lead.” —Julie Zeilinger, Editor of MTV Founders and Founding Editor of the FBomb at the Women’s Media Center
Is there any other message you would like to get out?
“After this election we are going to have crucial work to do to restore the health of our democracy. Can we re-establish respectful engagement as a norm in politics? How do we transition and heal our relationships both locally and nationally so that effective collaboration is possible? Post-election we must commit to shifting dynamics and healing relationships so that our communities and our government can function effectively.” —Joan Blades, Co-founder of Living Room Conversations, MomsRising and MoveOn
“It isn’t just the candidates on the ballot. So much is at stake in this election—jobs, education, peace and justice. Voting is the first opportunity to participate in the process, but it doesn’t end there. I’ve made my plan to vote because I believe that everyone should have a plan to make a difference. I also have a plan for the day after the election to make sure that my elected officials keep their word. What’s your plan?” —Donna Edwards, U.S. Representative
“This September, more than 1200 women of color and low income women gathered in Washington for a women’s summit as part of a collaboration called We Won’t Wait. We brought the stories and priorities we heard to the summit to inform and energize each other to get out the vote. We’re now hard at work in communities around the country, encouraging women to get to the polls in the final weeks of this election cycle, and continue the work of organizing after Election Day. From caregiving to criminal justice reform, women are organizing in new and powerful ways all over the country.” —Ai-jen Poo, Director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, Co-Director of Caring Across Generations, and Co-Founder of Make It Work
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I agree that the most important thing we can all do is to go out and vote on November 8th —to let our voice be heard and to have our say in this pivotal election where so much is at stake and history may be made. And then even beyond the election, we need to remain informed and engaged, and utilize our immense power as citizens, as part of our democracy, to bridge our divides and work together towards positive change.
Marianne Schnall is a widely published writer and interviewer whose writings and interviews have appeared in a variety of media outlets including O, The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, CNN.com, AOL Build, the Women’s Media Center and The Huffington Post. She is also the co-founder and executive director of the women’s website and non-profit organization Feminist.com, as well as the co-founder of the environmental site EcoMall.com. She is the author of Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice and What Will it Take to Make a Woman President? Conversations About Women, Leadership, and Power. You can visit her website at www.marianneschnall.com.