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Hwa Chong Institution Cultural Differentiation Elective (CDE) Research Paper

CDE Term 4 Research Paper


Name: Tang Kai Jie (21) Class: 4B1 Date: 13/08/2011

Question: Hillary Clinton s political career proves that gender equality has been achieved in America. How far is this statement true? I m in, and I m in to win . With those simple words, Hillary Clinton kick started her 2008 presidential campaign as the Democratic Party s frontrunner to secure the party s nomination (Rutgold, 2009). Although Hillary Clinton was ultimately unable to gain the nomination, she still came agonizingly close garnering more than 18 million votes across the country, a historical feat. Clinton s star studded political career, from her appointment as Secretary of State, a feat obtained only by 2 women before her, to her influential years as First Lady has certainly blazed the trail for females in the political sphere. However, does Clinton s success in politics prove conclusively that gender equality has been achieved in America? Viewed through educational, social, economic and political lens, I believe that the vision of gender equality in America is still blurry at best. With respect to political empowerment, it is a proven fact that gender equality has definitely not been achieved in US and therefore, Clinton s sterling political successes cannot be translated to all strata of society. Rather, Clinton s political career represents exceptions to the rule, as attainment of such high power leadership positions remain a rarity among American women. (Simon & Hoy, 2008) According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2010 (Hausmann, Tyson & Zahidi, 2010), political empowerment can be measured by 3 factors: the women to men ratio of parliamentary seats, ministerial positions and the number of years with a female head of state. Overall, the United States ranks 40th on the political empowerment sub index, which is well below the world average. In terms of parliamentary seats, women only occupy 16% of Congress seats but represent 51% of the entire

Hwa Chong Institution Cultural Differentiation Elective (CDE) Research Paper

population in US, (Manning, Shoga & Smelcer, 2011) demonstrating the lack of representation for the rights of women at the highest policy-making federal institution in US. However, the most yawning political empowerment inequality between men and women remains as the 0 years juxtaposed with the number of years with a female head of state, and epitomized by Clinton s almost successful presidential campaign in 2008. When will a woman become president of the United States? It seems, then that the question posed to Eleanor Roosevelt in 1934 will have to remain unsolved at least in the near future. (Gerth & van Natta, 2007) Clearly, while Clinton has had an arguably successful political career, it does not reflect a similar situation with other women s political careers in the US. Furthermore, her failed bid for the presidency in itself further highlights the still-present gulf between the 2 genders when vying for the most prestigious position in the White House. Seen through social lenses, Clinton s political career also does not prove that the gender inequality conundrum has yet to be dispelled in the US, with societal mentalities still very much affected by gender-influenced stereotypes. According to the role congruity theory, (Eagly & Karau, 2007) prejudice exists against women striving for leadership positions due to the stereotypes of women and qualities of leaders being incongruent. A case in point was Clinton s 2008 presidential candidacy, where her gender became an influential issue in the run up to the Democratic nomination. (Herbert 2006; Bohm, Funke & Harth, 2010) After the famous tearing up incident of Hillary Clinton during her New Hampshire campaign trail, Clinton fretted that having labored so long to highlight her strength, to prove to the world that she was tough enough to be commander in chief she worried that she had blown it with one ill-timed display (Heilemann & Halperin, 2010) Hence,

the fact that Clinton herself viewed tearing up as a weakness and not befitting of agentic leadership qualities goes to show just how far archetypal gender stereotypes are deeply ingrained in American society even till today. This is supported by a survey conducted by Pew Research Centre in 2008, which found that 20% of the 2250 adults surveyed thought that men were more honest than women, but only 6% felt that women make better leaders than men. (Pew Research Centre, 2008) The

Hwa Chong Institution Cultural Differentiation Elective (CDE) Research Paper

paradox in public attitudes thus further enhances the view that gender equality has not been achieved in America due to the subtle gender bias that society generally reserves for females. Finally, as seen from economic lenses, Clinton s political career is also not an all-encompassing indicator of gender equality in the US. According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2010 (Hausmann, Tyson & Zahidi, 2010), US ranks 6th globally on the Economic Participation and Opportunity sub index. While this can definitely be seen as a major step forward in terms of equal economic participation for both genders, such a statistic might prove slightly obfuscating. In terms of wage equality for the same job position, the US is ranked 64th, equating to women earning 77 cents for every male dollar, according to statistics from the US Census Bureau. Clinton s keynote speech at the APEC Women and the Economy Summit 2011 also noted the pressing need to level the playing field of women , not just in America but globally as well. (US Department of State, 2011) However, with respect to the financial gender role of women, there has also undeniably been a noticeable shift in attitudes as more women take up the breadwinner role amidst the throes of the 2008 recession. More than one third of women in US households today are the sole breadwinners while 20% of women outearn their husbands. It is worthy to note, however, that even this new avant garde societal trend, remains restricted by gender stereotypes that dictate men to be the provider for the family, and the result is that both genders have difficulties adjusting to the new structure of the nontraditional family. Therefore, while it is clear that economic emancipation of women in the US has progressed to a credible stage, there is definitely still room for improvement; hence it would be premature to conclude that equal economic opportunity exists in America. On the bright side, it would be safe to agree that Clinton s political career implicitly mirrors the high standards of educational attainment opportunity that both genders enjoy in America. In fact, the Global Gender Gap Report 2010 ranks the United States as 1st in terms of education opportunity, with the number of women

Hwa Chong Institution Cultural Differentiation Elective (CDE) Research Paper

outnumbering men in tertiary education. (Hausmann, Tyson & Zahidi, 2010) Clinton herself graduated from Wellesley College, a prestigious all-women s college, majoring in political science before going to Yale Law School. Her political awakening can be traced as far back as high school, when she volunteered to campaign for Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. (Gerth & van Natta, 2007)Thus, it is clear that Clinton s strong education background, which set the foundation for her career in politics, reflects the equal education opportunities that both genders are offered in US. Evaluating the aforementioned 4 factors based on the long term impact on the female gender, it is my postulation that Clinton s political career does not, and cannot prove that gender equality has been achieved in US. Even the perfect record of equal educational opportunities in US can be disputed by the simple fact that while students start out on a level playing field during their schooling years, when they enter the adult world society dictates that women ultimately wind up as the disadvantaged gender. In conclusion, HC s political career does not prove conclusively that gender equality has been achieved in America, and the prejudices and stereotypes that she faced over the course of her political career also serve to highlight the gender disparity in US. However, in terms of educational attainment, from which the groundwork for her political success story is based upon, it is indeed true that gender equality in this aspect has been fulfilled in America. Therefore, I can only agree with such a statement to a small extent. (1198 words)

Hwa Chong Institution Cultural Differentiation Elective (CDE) Research Paper

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Hwa Chong Institution Cultural Differentiation Elective (CDE) Research Paper


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