Something new is happening in the 2020 presidential election cycle. For the first time ever, running for president is a normal thing that women do.
In the past several election cycles, there’s been a token woman in the running in both major parties. In 2000, Senator Elizabeth Dole ran as a Republican. In 2004, Senator Carol Moseley-Braun ran as a Democrat. Neither was considered a serious candidate with an actual shot at the presidency.
In 2008, Hillary Clinton mounted a serious bid for president but was defeated by Obama in the primaries. That year, John McCain added Sarah Palin to his ticket as his running mate. In 2012, Representative Michele Bachmann ran in the Republican primary.
In 2016, Carly Fiorina ran as a Republican, and Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote as a Democrat, but lost the electoral college.
In each election cycle, women have gotten increasingly closer to the Oval Office. And it appears there’s been an unspoken quota of one woman per party per election cycle.
This time, that’s changed.
On the Democratic side, Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, and Representative Tulsi Gabbard have all officially declared as candidates for president. (So have a number of men, of course.)
My excitement at this stage isn’t over any one specific candidate; it’s simply over the fact that there are five women running. Women are no longer merely tokens. Running for president is now a normal thing that women do. It’s even a normal thing that women of color do, since the field of candidates isn’t limited to white women.
Gender isn’t a qualification for serving as president, of course. I still hope the best candidate wins, regardless of gender.
The problem is that, in the past, gender was a qualification for serving as president. Power, authority, and expertise were seen as traits of men. Women were seen as better suited to making dinner than making foreign policy. If you wanted to be president, you had to be a man.
Our nation was founded with overtly patriarchal norms and laws. Married women couldn’t own property. Women couldn’t vote until well into the 20th century. Until the 1990s, in some states it was still legal for men to rape their wives.
We’ve been working our way toward gender equality since the Seneca Falls convention in 1848. We’re not fully there yet. But a field of candidates that includes five women shows we’re headed in the right direction.