One week ago, Hillary Clinton clinched the Democratic nomination after winning delegate-rich California and New Jersey by sizable margins and a conclusive survey of superdelegates by the Associate Press published the night before. And while many considered her primary victory a foregone conclusion for some time, it was nonetheless remarkable, making Secretary Clinton, as widely reported, the first female nominee for President of a major political party.
In the first few minutes of her address to a crowd of thousands in her national Brooklyn headquarters, Clinton reminded listeners both present and watching at home, “Tonight’s victory is not about one person. It belongs to generations of women and men who struggled and sacrificed and made this moment possible,” pointing among others to those who gathered at Seneca Falls in 1848 demanding woman’s right to vote, before later outlining her vision for this upcoming election.
Hillary’s campaign has worked hard to strike such a unique balance: making their message about the future, while also paying due homage to the past in terms of outlining her record of service and the obstacles she has overcome to get where she is today, which make her a stronger candidate and leader. The truth is: one cannot understand Hillary’s candidacy, the historicity of her achievement becoming the first major party female nominee, without looking backwards.
Individuals from varying walks of life and political opinion came together that past Tuesday in congratulating Hillary on what was long inconceivable. Yet there was a notable and significant generational difference. Actress Kristin Davis tweeted what was certainly being experienced by many parents across America:
#HistoryMade Trying 2 explain today's events to my daughter(4yrs),her confused face about why there has never been a woman Pres….priceless
— Kristin Davis (@KristinDavis) June 8, 2016
This exact difference is the very, pinnacle achievement of decades-long work to provide opportunity and challenge perceived capabilities for women. We must celebrate that the remarkable is, seemingly, unremarkable to many children growing up today in 2016. Some claim that Hillary’s nomination is inspiring in its abstract and symbolism, but it is very real. So is the power of role models and normalization of images of female leadership, giving young girls a sense of confidence and belief that is truly transformative, whether the self-esteem required to make healthy decisions in their everyday lives or long-term dreams about future careers. It’s a view Hillary herself has grown into, saying in a feature by New York magazine, “I’ve really kind of matured in my understanding of how symbolism can be efficacious, so I’m more embracing of that,” adding, “But at the end of the day, being the first woman president can only take you so far… I’m still a results-oriented kind of person, because that’s what I think matters to people.”
In an interview with ABC’s David Muir minutes before taking the stage to make her victory speech, Hillary looked out at the cheering crowd from behind, smiling, “Oh my gosh! Look at that!” Reflecting candidly on her own nomination, she told Muir, “It’s almost hard to take in, it really is.”
— Good Morning America (@GMA) June 8, 2016
In her speech, Clinton described how she wished her mother would be with her tonight for support and to witness history. She was far from the only one; many women of Clinton’s generation tweeting or saying how they wish their mothers and other trailblazing women of the past could be present to take part in the night’s celebration.
Those reflecting on Hillary’s nomination and its historic nature in the most unique position, however, are perhaps millennial women, especially in relation to our mothers, their mothers, and women of Hillary’s generation. This is in no small part to how quickly the role of women has changed over the past half century. Many mothers today (or, speaking mine’s personal experience) entered, at our current ages, workplaces on the coattails of new feminist reforms such as the Pregnancy Discrimination Act passed in 1978 and the ruling of Eisenstadt v. Baird in 1972, which made it legal for unmarried people to possess contraception, and into professions that off limits just a decade earlier. Similarly, it wasn’t until 1974 that it was illegal to refuse a woman a credit card on the basis of her gender. A modern workplace, or even a modern life, is inconceivable for women, and men, without those reforms.
Girls today are likely to grow up with a female president, but the gender leadership gap overall remains very real. Millennial women are acutely conscious that women in positions of power may still be a minority, but that we are on the brink of untapped female potential. We are in a unique historic moment, and especially those of us who find ourselves in a position that can connect the experiences of different generations of women must do so.
As we celebrate the eventual day when future generations will find the nomination of a woman for president un-newsworthy, we must make sure those generations, like our own, never, ever forget the work it took. This is because while history has seen our country move in the direction of equality and opportunity for all, such progress is all but guaranteed, and there is much more work to be done in living up to our vision of a true representative democracy and empowering other marginalized groups.
It is only fitting that to become the first female president of the United States, Hillary will have to defeat Donald Trump in November, who – with his sense of entitlement, fatal insecurities, and toxic masculinity – is a near perfect embodiment of many deep-seeded patriarchal ideals she has had to battle against her entire life. Hillary, like many women, has developed a trademark sense of grace and strength out of decades of deep determination but also necessity. It will carry her to the White House, and it will carry onto generations of Americans.