The XX Factor

Hillary Clinton Didn’t Dwell on Gender in Her Historic Speech. She Didn’t Have To.

Hillary Clinton in Brooklyn, New York, on Tuesday night.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

“It may be hard to see, but we are standing under a glass ceiling right now,” Hillary Clinton said at the beginning of her speech in Brooklyn on Tuesday night, her first as the Democratic Party’s presumptive nominee. Clinton then went on to bash Donald Trump, focusing most of her speech on his fearmongering, misogyny, and xenophobia. But she did pause to acknowledge the historic significance of becoming the first woman to earn a major U.S. political party’s presidential nomination.

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Turns out, on the day Clinton’s mother was born, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, securing women—white women, at least—the right to vote. “I wish she could see her daughter become the Democratic Party’s nominee for president of the United States,” Clinton said.

She briefly traced her candidacy back to the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848, widely considered the birth of the U.S. women’s rights movement. Earlier on Tuesday, the Clinton campaign released a video titled “History Made,” featuring slo-mo shots of Clinton heading into a rally like a Super Bowl champion running through a stadium’s players tunnel. The video presents a laudably inclusive scrapbook of American feminist activism and landmark moments in women’s history, drawing on images from the women’s suffrage movement; the swearing-in of Sandra Day O’Connor; sit-ins at the Texas capitol during Wendy Davis’ fight against HB2; and quotes from Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, and Clinton’s own “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” speech from Beijing in 1995. Here, Clinton places the diversity of her movement—a stark foil to Sanders’ reliance on white votes—at the forefront. In the video, there are cheers of “sí se puede,” images of native Hawaiian and Chinese American protests and the voices of transgender women.

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There are also little girls, burgeoning feminists dreaming of becoming president someday, a theme Clinton echoed in a tweet just before her speech.

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Clinton didn’t dwell too long on the groundbreaking accomplishment of her campaign in her speech, though, and that’s OK—news outlets are doing it for her. After the Associated Press reported on Monday night that Clinton had secured enough delegates to earn the Democratic nomination, reporters jumped to check off a box on the country’s bucket list. “Hillary Clinton Shatters America’s 240-Year-Old Glass Ceiling,” wrote the Daily Beast; “Hillary Clinton Shatters Political Glass Ceiling,” concurred NBC. Quoting Clinton’s concession speech from eight years ago, New York magazine declared, “Hillary Clinton Just Shattered the ‘Highest, Hardest Glass Ceiling.’ ”

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She hasn’t, though. The “highest, hardest glass ceiling” isn’t the presumptive nomination. It’s the presidency. There are several interstitial glass ceilings between presidential candidate and president, and not all of them are equally important. What headline will we run if she clinches the whole thing? “Hillary Clinton Shatters Yet Another One of America’s Several 240-Year-Old Glass Ceilings!” Editors would be wise to save some breathless enthusiasm and tear-jerking turns of phrase for when she wins the White House.

Clinton knows better than to presume too much at this point—or at least to appear that she presumes too much—and was careful not to limit her accomplishments to the scope of her gender. “There are still ceilings to break—for women, for men, for all of us,” she said in Tuesday’s speech. “This campaign is about making sure there are no ceilings, no limits on any of us. I’m going to take a moment later tonight and in the days ahead to fully absorb the history we’ve made here, but what I care about most is the history our country has yet to write.”

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But it’s nice, in the midst of all the infighting and mutual mistrust currently festering among the left, to stand back and appreciate the America today’s young children see, children who’ve only known a black president and a woman poised to succeed him. This moment in time augurs a bright future for America and for the Democratic Party, which has for the second time in a row chosen a nominee who is not a white man, living out the ideals it’s championed imperfectly for decades.

Clinton might not have shattered the glass ceiling, but hers is a remarkable achievement, both for the country and for Clinton herself, who has fought decades of misogynist nonsense and targeted attacks to become the presumptive Democratic nominee for president. The overarching theme of the video Clinton debuted on Tuesday is protest: Women marching in the streets for their own rights, demanding respect, visibility, and power. Big changes in the fabric of a nation do not come without grit in the face of unimaginable hostility and unflagging tenacity against the odds. Clinton might not have harped on it in her speech, but she damn well knows it.

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