Obama and the ‘Women Question’

With Clinton finally out of the race, Obama needs to tackle issues of gender equality in the same way he has talked about the nation's racial divide in Philadelphia, if he wants to win in November.

AFP/Getty Images
AFP/Getty Images

Hillary Clinton’s decision to end her campaign and endorse Barack Obama this weekend means that Obama is now assured of the Democratic nomination for president, and that Clinton’s historic bid to become the first woman to win the White House will end in disappointment. But the “women question” that has dogged Obama at times during the primaries will continue to generate debate and controversy going into the general election, and Obama will eventually have to address it forthrightly.

On a basic level, the question is: What does Obama need to do to win the support of women who support Clinton?

Having defeated a formidable woman, he must now spotlight the concerns of her supporters, not simply to bring Clinton’s older, white women voters into the fold, but to also demonstrate his allegiance to all women, a crucial base constituency of the Democratic Party. To not do so will guarantee a loss in November.

In the closing weeks of the primaries, many believe that Obama continued to get the gender issue wrong. In the month of May alone, several controversies emerged:

Obama referred to a Michigan reporter as ‘sweetie,’ before calling her to apologize.

Some people read it as condescending when he said in one speech that Hillary Clinton had “shattered myths and broken barriers and changed the America in which my daughters and yours will come of age.”

Then NARAL endorsed Obama over Clinton, highlighting the divide between older feminists and a younger generation of “post-feminist” women.

And, of course, there is the small problem for Obama of being viewed as the only obstacle standing in the way of America’s first female president.

Even as a fervent Obama supporter, I identify with some of the frustration and the anger that older, white, liberal women feel at the failure of Hillary Clinton’s campaign.