THE BLOG
05/13/2015 12:47 pm ET Updated May 13, 2016

White House 2016: Is Hillary Clinton More Pro-Woman Than Her Democrat Rivals?

NOW chapters around the country and leagues of women voters are lit up over the possibility of a woman president. And many of them are hankering for Hillary.

She's actually not the first woman to try. Dozens have vied for the White House, mostly suffragists and socialists, but also a mix of long shots from both major parties, and Greens like Rosanne Barr.

Clinton herself attempted in 2008, but she was brutally defeated by underdog Barack Obama, whose legendary campaign proved that in the U.S., a black man can become president. Hillary's acolytes are now sounding a similar note: a woman president, they say, is an idea whose time has finally come.

But does voting one's identity translate to voting one's interest? Among her Democrat rivals, is Hillary the most pro-woman?

Reproductive rights tend to dominate political discourse on "women's issues." Pro-choice advocates won an historic victory with Roe v. Wade, but conservatives have been chipping away at it ever since, limiting access to abortion, and with it, STD and breast-cancer screening that saves millions of women's lives. All of the Democratic candidates for 2016 support a woman's rights to choose. Clinton has been the most out front, but her refrain that abortion be "rare," only serves to stigmatize it, and justify conservative efforts to impose legal restrictions.

Out of 178 countries worldwide, the United States is one of just three that does not provide new mothers with paid leave. Martin O'Malley is "for" paid family leave. Jim Webb tried to get it for federal workers. And Governor Chafee proudly signed it into Rhode Island law just a few years ago. Bernie Sanders argues for a Scandinavia-like model, where family leave is part of a more comprehensive system of robust social safety nets. The Hillary campaign has made it a centerpiece of her platform, but just last year she admitted to CNN, "I don't think, politically, we could get it now."

As Senator, Clinton spearheaded legislation on equal pay, and she's far outshining her 2016 opponents in promoting women to high-profile staff positions. Several of her key senior policy advisors are women, including family policy guru Ann O'Leary, who's putting equal pay up high on the agenda (O'Leary's role was announced on Equal Pay Day, a nice touch). Word on the street is that Team Hillary is penetrating the progressive NGO world by offering typically marginalized groups an early seat at the table.

Sanders supports equal pay, but even more, he's championed minimum wage. Women make up 72 percent of all tipped workers, and account for more than half of those who would benefit from Obama's proposed increase to $10.10. Sanders and O'Malley are both calling for a $15 federal minimum, and may just push Clinton there, especially since Governor Cuomo proposed $15 for workers in her "home" state.

What's damning Hillary on wage equity, however, are her ties to companies like Walmart, the object of a major sex-discrimination lawsuit brought to the Supreme Court by a million and a half female workers. She served on the giant retailer's board for years, and in 2013 received a $25,000 donation from Walmart heiress, Alice Walton.

It doesn't help that she talks the talk (and walks the walk) of "personal responsibility" and "eliminating dependency" when it comes to the poor. She enthusiastically supported her husband's 1996 welfare reform legislation, which effectively reduced the rolls, but skyrocketed number of people living in extreme poverty.

She's even sketchier on foreign policy. We know from Amnesty International that war disproportionately affects women, especially vulnerable to exploitation and sexual violence. Iraq took the lives of over a hundred thousand women in Iraq (likely many more), and along with Afghanistan, nearly 200 American women. Her rivals all opposed the Iraq War, which helps distinguish them from "Hillary the hawk."

To be fair, she did push through a U.N. resolution on sexual assault in war-torn areas, and in an historic speech at the World Conference on Women, connected women's rights with human rights. But calling Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak and his wife "friends of my family," promoting Kissinger-like policy in Latin America (most notably in Honduras), and accepting millions from human rights violators for the Clinton Foundation certainly undermines her finer moments.

Then there's the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the controversial free trade agreement (FTA) that's distancing Obama from progressive Democrats. Like war, trade is a woman's issue. According to the United Nations, FTAs bring jobs, but more so the kind that exploit poor women in the developing world. American women also stand to lose, as the TPP will enable corporations to outsource low-wage majority-female jobs, and some high-wage ones too.

Clinton has been woolly on the TPP, most likely because her husband was a world-class trade liberalizer. O'Malley released an attack video criticizing her for "hedging" on the issue. But it's Sanders who has really led the opposition -- not just now, but back in the '90s against Bill Clinton's NAFTA, which cost American workers over one million jobs and put enormous downward pressure on their wages.

In the end, it looks like the men are outdoing America's premier female candidate on pro-woman policy. O'Malley's terrible record on Baltimore crime may undercut his place. But Sanders has longtime focused on problems of economic inequality that will define this election. And his solutions elevate the common good over competition and self-interest -- a hallmark of feminist praxis.

That's not to say that Patriarchy is reducible to class. It isn't. And it's not to ignore the fact that the U.S. presidency is about as un-feminist an institution as it gets -- no matter who wins it. The point here is that gender alone is simply too blunt a tool for addressing the problems that women face today.

Feminists know this. In the '60s, Audre Lorde battled middle class white feminists to highlight the distinct plight of black and poor women. Maya Angelou confronted the insidious effects of racism and male domination in similarly fierce tones. And Barbara Ehrenrich, an avowed socialist, passed herself off as a Merrymaid to write firsthand about how the well-heeled hire immigrant women to clean their homes because they themselves are "above" housework.

What this means for women, and for 2016, is that simply breaking the glass ceiling is not going to be enough. Putting an elite, powerful woman like Hillary at the top without real female-friendly policies will just perpetuate post-feminist fantasies that "the woman problem" has been solved.

Kind of like how electing a black president supposedly made our society "post-racial."