13, 14 and 15 Versus 19?

No doubt much of the resentment of Hillary Clinton's initial campaign strategy of inevitability was sparked by a combination of a) the natural desire of voters not to be taken for granted; and b) the equally natural resentment that an air of entitlement provokes. And to the extent that Senator Clinton said and did things that suggested that she as an individual had a right to be the Democratic Party's nominee, these reactions are not only understandable, but justified. However, I believe that at least part of what Senator Clinton expresses is not exactly personal. She believes that it is her turn to be President because it is about time for a woman to be President. Or at least that's how her strongest supporters---including a great many blue collar women and older women---understand the pitch.

The fact that Clinton (and thus women) may be denied her (and their) turn by an African-American man complicates this narrative in a way that is interestingly familiar. The relation between the struggles for equal rights for African Americans and for women has long been one of cooperation and competition. Nineteenth Century feminists were active in the abolition movement in the and were thus bitterly disappointed when the Fourteenth Amendment, for the first time introduced and legitimated sex discrimination in the Constitution, even as it secured the civil rights of African Americans (although, of course, it would be a century before those rights would exist in any real form). Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment provides that a State that denies any of its "male inhabitants" over the age of 21 the right to vote in federal elections has its representation in Congress and the Electoral College proportionately reduced---a kind of inversion of the 3/5 Clause of the original Constitution.

Section 2 became a dead letter only two years later, with the adoption of the Fifteenth Amendment, but of course, that provision, in forbidding race discrimination but not sex discrimination in voting, simply underscored the sense of betrayal that women who had fought for the rights of African Americans felt. (To be more precise, I have in mind here the sense of betrayal felt by white women. African-American women were---and to a large extent remain---betwixt and between their racial and gender identities, although Sojourner Truth's 1851 "Ain't I a Woman" speech nicely shows that these identities need not be antithetical.) It took another half century for women to get the vote.

Likewise, in the Twentieth Century, when asked what the position of women in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) should be, Stokely Carmichael reportedly said "prone." Which is not to say that there wasn't substantial overlap between the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and the Women's Rights Movement of the 1970s, or that there has been anything like a one-for-one tradeoff in rights for the two groups (remembering again, that roughly half of African Americans are women). In general and in these two particular cases, equality movements tend to catalyze one another. Thus, if an African-American man gets to the White House before a woman (of any race), that will only make it easier for a woman to become President in the future.

Posted by Mike Dorf