The votes have been cast, counted and distributed, and on the morning of Nov. 9, 2016, America woke up to the sudden reality that Donald Trump, real estate mogul, reality show host and man of “grab ‘em by the pussy” fame is to be our next president. Despite nearly every poll placing Hillary Clinton in the lead prior to the election, Trump pulled out a victory, winning key swing states like Florida and Pennsylvania, turning a blue prediction map red.
Contemplating the past 18 months of an election cycle like no other, icons of each of the candidates’ campaigns come to mind, from Trump debuting his “Make America Great Again” hats, to Michelle Obama’s electrifying speech at the Democratic National Convention, where she reflected on her past eight years in the White House and endorsed Clinton for president, saying “Hillary Clinton has never quit on anything in her life.”
In each of these moments, and every moment of the 2016 election, remains in the American consciousness an awareness of the significance of having the first major party female candidate.
So much of both campaigns carried highly gendered language and imagery. Trump infamously called Clinton “such a nasty woman,” inspiring countless stickers, posters and t-shirts.
Clinton’s own campaign slogan was “I’m with Her,” drawing attention to the new usage of a female pronoun in a presidential campaign. As Trump’s opponent, a candidate with a history of vilifying women based on their looks (re: obsession with insulting Rosie O’Donnell), Clinton’s decision to make her gender a key theme of her campaign was a powerful one.
Trump’s focus on the female appearance, both positive and negative, throughout his career and his campaign loaned Clinton a subversive power in the way she chose to control her image.
Women know what it is like to have their looks dwelled upon by those in power, from high school dress codes forbidding lengthy lists of various kinds of women’s clothing, to pervasive beauty pageants like Miss Universe, which Trump himself owns.
When Clinton walked onto the stage at the first debate, she made a strong statement about her appearance. In an all-red pantsuit, Clinton oozed confidence.
Red, as demonstrated by researchers Russell Hill and Robert Barton at the University of Durham, signals power. Although red itself doesn’t always correlate to success, in their study where they matched relatively equal combat athletes, wearing red ”helps tip the balance between winning and losing.”
Clinton’s decision to wear head-to-toe red on the national stage signaled, simply put, a power move. She did it again in the final debate when she wore an all white pantsuit, reminiscent of suffragettes, whose official color was white. In a culture where women are, more often than not, judged and valued based (at least partially) on their appearances, using her image to make a statement is a bold move, reclaiming attempts from outsiders to control the female image.
Despite having lost the election, Clinton’s power pantsuits will live on in American memory. They represent an America where a woman can be powerful and confident, where a woman is much more than her looks, and where a woman can, someday, be president.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Gage Skidmore’s Flickr account.
Katrina Schmidt is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.