The University of Minnesota campus made history this past week when voters chose Joelle Stangler and Abeer Syedah as the Minnesota Student Association’s president and vice president. Not only was Stangler able to secure a rare second term, but she and her running mate also comprised the first all-woman ticket to run for and win the MSA presidential elections.
A week prior, Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for president of the United States. Leading the U.S. and leading MSA are two very different undertakings, but we should not overlook the two characteristics that link all three candidates — the fact that they are women and the fact that their candidacy surprised no one. The increased visibility of women in power reveals both society’s willingness to accept them and the barriers that are still in place.
This isn’t Stangler’s or Clinton’s first time around the block. Stangler has run for and successfully won the MSA presidency once before, and this is Clinton’s second bid for the U.S. presidency. Because of this, it’s easy to take the magnitude of these feats for granted. But it’s actually huge — there was never a female MSA president until last year, and Clinton is arguably the only woman to receive widespread support as a U.S. presidential candidate.
What’s also remarkable is the inevitability of Stangler’s, Syedah’s and Clinton’s actions. I hardly blinked my eyes when I heard of their campaigns — Stangler was an incumbent, after all, and talks of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign started circulating almost immediately after she lost the Democratic nomination in 2008.
Especially prevalent in Clinton’s case is a lack of any serious competitors for the Democratic Party nomination. This means that, for both University of Minnesota students and American citizens alike, the idea of women occupying positions of power is becoming more and more normalized.
But the second time around comes with not-so-positive implications as well. The fact that Stangler, Syedah and Clinton are all women deserves recognition.
Every action each of them has undertaken, especially politically, has been undertaken in a man’s world. But this means that too often each woman’s actions are reduced to the result of the gender binary. Think about all the times you might have heard comments like “Hillary lost the nomination because she’s a woman” or, conversely, “Joelle won the election just because she’s a woman.”
But because these women have political history and have been in the public eye for a long time, we’re only now starting to view them as the complex figures they are and as representatives of a gender that deserves a seat at the table. The fact that society demands proof of a powerful woman’s legitimacy in a way it does not demand of men illustrates just how far from gender equality we still are.
The eventual acceptance regarding Clinton and the Stangler/Syedah victory represents enormous strides in gender equality and also in the long road all women are still traveling. We should continue to support or criticize these women, as long as it’s not due to their gender.