The 2016 election was notable for being the first time a woman ran for the US presidency on a major political party. The campaign and election of Donald Trump, an unending spectacle of misogyny, racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, bullying, and venal nationalistic chest thumping upended this ‘first’. As the Democratic Party candidate, trying to break ‘that highest glass ceiling,’ Hillary Clinton was subjected to endless, horrific and baseless attacks on her character, honesty, commitment to the democratic process, expectedly from the right, and surprisingly from the left. 15 years of systematic character assassination, played a major role in her electoral defeat.
Clinton was not the first woman to have endured vicious racial, class and gender attacks while trying to make a presidential run. In 1972, Shirley Chisholm, the first African American woman elected to Congress, mounted a campaign for the Democratic nomination for the US presidency. In her career as an elected official, first in the Albany state legislature and then as the first African American woman elected to Congress in 1968, she was ignored, mocked, slandered, not only by whites, but also by some African Americans, mainly men, who unfortunately internalized racist misogyny. Even with the brutal, unending misogyny of the 2016 presidential election - “Trump That Bitch,” “Hillary for Prison” - probably no other candidate has been subjected to the type of vicious gendered smear attacks, as was Chisholm. This is part of the price that confident, ambitious political women must pay, especially if and when they are to be firsts. This talk compares and contrasts the Chisholm campaign of 1972, with those of other women who have run for political office up through the 2018 election.