I made a point of walking through the front door of the Minneapolis Club a few days ago. Yes, 40 years have passed since women were first welcomed through what was formerly deemed a male-only portal. Still, it felt good — and a little defiant — to trace the footsteps of the strong Minnesota women who pried open that door.
For a lot of women, I suspect, going to the polls Tuesday and casting a ballot for Hillary Clinton will feel that way, too.
The organized struggle to win the vote for American women took nearly 75 years to reach its goal. It’s now 96 years since women became eligible for every elective office in the land. Yet Clinton is the nation’s first major-party presidential nominee. Those long timelines attest to the resistance to female leadership that’s deeply lodged in some quarters of American culture.
So does this: The best-prepared presidential candidate in the modern era, who happens to be a woman, is struggling to hang on to a lead in the polls over a spectacularly unqualified male candidate — even though he’s a self-professed groper.
Antipathy for Hillary is rooted in her reputation for dishonesty, some will say. She didn’t come clean on her use of a private e-mail account as secretary of state — as the FBI helpfully reminded the American public 11 days before the election. True enough. But Clinton’s dissembling pales in comparison to the racially charged whopper fomented for five long years by her opponent — the false claim that President Obama was born outside the U.S.
This year I’ve often recalled a line by the first female mayor of Ottawa, Canada, that circulated during the 1970s-era women’s movement. “Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good,” Charlotte Whitton reportedly said about 50 years ago. “Luckily, this is not difficult.”
But is it enough? Have America’s doors truly opened for women in the past 40 years? Or will this election show that brazen misogyny — of the sort catalogued by a British newspaper’s “Trump sexism tracker” — remains acceptable in the U.S.?
Whitton’s words popped into mind inside the Minneapolis Club, at a gathering touting the Third District congressional candidacy of DFLer Terri Bonoff and hosted by womenwinning. That’s Minnesota’s 11,000-member political action group — bipartisan in origin and intention, if not in fact — that backs prochoice women candidates for offices “from the park board to the presidency.”
Womenwinning is a 34-year-old homegrown success story. This year, it’s offering succor to 112 candidates, a record number, with contributions that will total $465,000 — 40 percent more than it spent in 2012.
Bonoff, too, is a success story. She’s a former businesswoman who through 11 years in the state Senate stood apart from her DFL caucus as a fiscal moderate and education reformer, yet was entrusted by her caucus as its leader on higher education. In that role, she created a promising new approach to reducing college costs by linking employers and students in work-study relationships.
That record is a far cry from the yarn spun about Bonoff by her opponent, U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen. His attack ads are formulaic and misleading, but apparently effective. Most polls have shown Bonoff getting close to Paulsen, but not overtaking him. That’s despite her ads reminding voters that on womenwinning’s central issue — reproductive rights — Paulsen’s views nearly match Trump’s.
“Women, this election is ours to win!” revved womenwinning’s featured speaker, Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois. “We have to act like our lives are at stake, because they are!”
That may be pre-election hyperbole. But this much is true: If Clinton wins, women will have elected her. The same likely goes for two women on Minnesota congressional ballots, Bonoff in the Third District and DFLer Angie Craig in the Second.
The gender gap of modern American politics has turned into a cavern this year, particularly in Minnesota. The Oct. 20-22 Star Tribune Minnesota Poll showed Clinton leading Trump by a jaw-dropping 43 percentage points among women in Hennepin and Ramsey counties, where Clinton’s advantage among men is half as large.
In the rest of the state, Clinton leads among female voters by hefty margins — 20 percentage points in nine suburban counties, 12 percentage points outstate. Trump is ahead among male poll respondents in both regions.
Those numbers have me thinking that in a lot of Minnesota places this weekend, women are turning to the men in their lives and asking how they justify support for a candidate with Trump’s record of mistreating women. How can that record be discounted as “not bad enough” to disqualify him from the highest office in the land?
How will it feel to those women if Trump wins? Like the front door of the Minneapolis Club closing on them again.
Lori Sturdevant is a Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist. She is at email@example.com.