Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
November 7, 2016

Election ’16 Was, Is, And Will Continue To Be About Women

For a day of Ohio campaigning, Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to and meets Ohio voters in Akron, Ohio on Monday October 3, 2016. (Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Looking back on the 2016 presidential campaign, few photos struck me as much as this one. As tightly focused and intricate as it is, the picture, taken at a Clinton rally in Akron, Ohio, five weeks before the election, barely circulated.

The image features three women, counting the hand in the middle with the diamond ring. Or more accurately, five women, if you count the doll and Clinton’s face on the book’s back cover. (I can’t help thinking that the picture, featuring or at least suggesting a daughter, a mother and a grandmother, also echoes Clinton’s identity as each.) Not incidentally, I would add, the picture was also made by a woman, the Washington Post’s gifted photojournalist, Melina Mara. Of course, the photo could also be seen to reflect the oft-repeated criticism of Clinton as inordinately posed, even plastic. Far more, however, it’s an aspirational portrait (perhaps 2016’s version of the HOPE message?) of the concerns of women across the life cycle.

With one day to go, we don’t know who will prevail. That uncertainty only emphasizes the indeterminate power of women in our society and political culture. Quoting Candidate Clinton:

“I wish I didn’t have to say this, but indeed, dignity and respect for women and girls is also on the ballot in this election.”

If Hillary Clinton does win, the photo prompts some significant questions. For example:

How will she pivot from a campaign exposing a daunting gender gap, with so many instances of outright misogyny?

How much would Clinton’s gender, and her role as the first woman president, be a cause for celebration and a leadership asset, as opposed to a role just as fraught with cultural mores and biases as it was during the campaign?

And, representing the upper range of the baby boomers, how would Clinton bridge the generational divide? (Emphasizing that dynamic, you’ll notice that the only two faces we actually see are Hillary’s and the young girl’s.)

After an ugly and searing Election ’16, the issue of recognition makes this an essential frame. What makes it critical, too, are women’s rising expectations. What the photograph exudes, just like the one below with the dress-like bunting uniting all four young women in front, is the inevitability of more females, future if not present ones, animating their own expectations all the way to the top.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images. caption: LAKE WORTH, FL - OCTOBER 26: Supporters listen as Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally at Palm Beach State College at Lake Worth on October 26, 2016 in Lake Worth, Florida. With less than two weeks to go until election day, Hillary Clinton and her surrogates continue to campaign in Florida and other battleground states.

Photo: Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images. caption: For a day of Ohio campaigning, Democratic Nominee for President of the United States former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to and meets Ohio voters in Akron, Ohio on Monday October 3, 2016. photo 2: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images. caption: Supporters listen as Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during a campaign rally at Palm Beach State College at Lake Worth on October 26, 2016 in Lake Worth, Florida. With less than two weeks to go until election day, Hillary Clinton and her surrogates continue to campaign in Florida and other battleground states.)

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