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Someday: the long fight for a female president

A short film about the women who claimed a place in American politics.

Joss Fong is a founding member of the Vox video team and a producer focused on science and tech. She holds a master's degree in science, health, and environmental reporting from NYU.

In 1788, Thomas Jefferson wrote that American women shouldn’t "wrinkle their foreheads with politics." A century and a half later, when Hillary Clinton was born, that attitude still prevailed.

That year, 1947, the US had zero female senators, zero female governors. The Supreme Court, and the Oval Office of course, had only ever seen men. It was only really in the past 40 years that women learned they could lead and men learned they could be led by women.

That revolution in American culture is still ongoing, but the idea that women are naturally unfit for government is now so alien to younger generations that many feel uncomfortable even considering the gender of a political candidate. The realities, however, lag behind the attitudes. Women make up only about 20 percent of the US House and the US Senate, and about 25 percent of state government.

Before 2008, no woman had come close to being nominated for president on a major party ticket. Before 2016, no woman had come close to winning the presidency. But Hillary Clinton is not the only trailblazer on the long path toward someday breaking America’s 240-year, 58-election streak of male presidents.

Through the '70s, '80s, and '90s, women in politics underwent the rocky process of teaching the country that they could be equally effective and competent leaders as men, a process that occurred in parallel at workplaces around the country. They dismantled stereotypes, named and condemned sexual harassment, and slowly erased the novelty of female decision-makers, at least at the legislative level. Their work is our inheritance.

To see how that process unfolded, watch the video at the top of this post or on our YouTube channel.

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