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Shirley Leung

For women, a disappointing election season

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.Matt Rourke/Associated Press

If Hillary Clinton were playing the woman’s card the way Donald Trump thinks she is, this presidential election would be very different.

All the candidates would be talking about equal pay, paid family leave, and reproductive rights.

They would be talking about how we can get more women on corporate boards and in corner offices. They would be talking about how we can get men to shoulder more child-care duties. They would be talking about how we can afford preschool for all.

Sure, Clinton has aligned herself to issues deeply affecting women, but not so much that it has driven the national debate. If anything, I wish all the candidates would pull out the woman’s card like they’re out to win over female voters. Note to Ted Cruz: Picking Carly Fiorina as your running mate does not count.

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So far, this election season has been a colossal disappointment for women. The prospect of having Clinton as this country’s first female nominee of a major party was supposed to be a moment to highlight how far we’ve come.

Rather it shows just how far we have yet to go.

So many voters appear to have reservations about electing a female commander in chief that they would rather support a 74-year-old socialist or an unhinged reality TV star.

Even that trope of women not having enough experience for top jobs dogs Clinton. Both Democratic and Republican male rivals have described her as being unfit to be president, even though she is widely considered the most qualified candidate in history, having been first lady, US senator, and secretary of state.

And when Clinton acts tough — shouting like the men do — it’s unbecoming. It’s a sexist putdown coming from both the Bernie Sanders and Trump camps.

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Feminists don’t get a free pass either. The idea that a woman will be included in Clinton’s short list of vice presidential options set off a tizzy on its own. No one has ever complained about an all-male ticket.

The reality is that as much as I’d like the election to be about us, women don’t vote as a bloc. Trump tried to paint us that way when he said this week: “Frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card. And the beautiful thing is women don’t like her.”

Now that’s not entirely true. Clinton is holding her own among female voters. According to an exit polls analysis by the nonpartisan Presidential Gender Watch 2016, Clinton has earned about 61 percent of Democratic women’s votes in nominating contests to date. Trump, however, has won, on average, 37 percent of Republican women’s votes in GOP elections.

But women aren’t in love with Clinton. A USA/Today Suffolk Poll out this week shows that more women — 48 percent — have an unfavorable opinion of Clinton, compared with 42 percent of women with a favorable view.

Trump senses weakness and is intent on fanning the flames of a gender war. It’s almost as if he’s given up on female voters heading into the general election and turned his attention to men, who don’t want to give any ground — whether in the workplace or the White House.

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“It’s red meat to the base,” said Erin O’Brien, who chairs the political science department at the University of Massachusetts Boston and studies gender in politics. “There is a strong strain of misogyny in United States politics. A lot of that misogyny has found a home in Donald Trump.”

Some 68 percent of Trump supporters, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute in partnership with The Atlantic, say society as a whole has become too soft and feminine.

I’m not even sure what that means. But being too masculine has its own issues, too. Exhibit A: The Republican debates when Trump and Marco Rubio tried to prove who’s more of a man.

All candidates should be playing the gender card, but they should be using it in a way that actually benefits women.


Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.