The Campaign

5 Things Feminists Should Remember from the First Presidential Debate

Tonight’s presidential debate was chock-full of memorable moments, especially for those of us watching it unfold on Twitter. The 90-minute event featured a vastly underprepared Donald Trump attempting – and failing – to outmaneuver Hillary Clinton, bonafide Queen of Debates. But despite a dearth of questions directly addressing “women’s issues,” and most issues of identity and marginalization at-large, it was also packed with feminist goodness, in large part to the credit of – to no surprise in these parts – Hillary herself.

Hillary watching Donald Trump speak, AKA Hillary being all of us

Here’s five key takeaways from this night’s debate that we should all keep in mind as election season marches on.

1. Hillary Brought Women to the Center

Groups like Feminist Majority and UltraViolet lobbied in advance of this debate for a specific focus on women. Issues impacting women specifically have been notably absent from the presidential debates of years past, and despite efforts throughout the primaries for discussion of abortion on debate stages, the topic only came up once during the series of Democratic and Republican debates that took place.

This debate, unfortunately, didn’t stand out from the rest. But Hillary made sure to bring up the issues that shape women’s lives during different discussions throughout the night without pause, in an answer to the very first question of the night:

I want us to invest in you. I want us to invest in your future. That means jobs in infrastructure, in advanced manufacturing, innovation and technology, clean, renewable energy, and small business, because most of the new jobs will come from small business. We also have to make the economy fairer. That starts with raising the national minimum wage and also guarantee, finally, equal pay for women’s work.

I also want to see more companies do profit-sharing. If you help create the profits, you should be able to share in them, not just the executives at the top. And I want us to do more to support people who are struggling to balance family and work. I’ve heard from so many of you about the difficult choices you face and the stresses that you’re under. So let’s have paid family leave, earned sick days. Let’s be sure we have affordable child care and debt-free college.

2. …And Trump Disrespected Her At Every Turn

Throughout the debate, however, Trump seemed much less worried about discussing people’s lives – let alone women’s lives – and opted instead to lob attacks at Hillary that were rooted less in policy and more in her person. He made an underhanded comment about a comment he wouldn’t say but was “extremely rough to Hillary, to her family.” He made fun of her for being prepared. He interrupted her 26 times in the first 25 minutes of the debate alone.

It wasn’t a good look. And it was one women felt was all too familiar.


3. Hillary Stood Up to Double-Standards

Hillary maintained grace under Trump’s fire, however.

She fought back when he attacked her for being prepared. She stood tall when he attempted to belittle her record. She laughed heartily about his distortions of her record, her work, and even some straight-up facts. She refused to be mocked. She refused to field gendered insults that draw on stereotypes. She refused to be played by a gendered double-standard that makes her intelligence a weakness and her preparedness an insult.

CLINTON: I think — I think — I think Donald just criticized me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. And you know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president. And I think that’s a good thing.

4. …And Trump Attempted to Lie About the Ways in Which He Has Perpetuated Them

Hillary also called Trump out on his own sexist behavior, which we’ve documented in our #TrumpUnmasked series. Trump’s offensive commentary on women hasn’t ceased, and it isn’t new. Trump has been insulting and degrading women his entire adult life.

Hillary had no qualms reminding Trump of this history with a specific story. He wanted desperately to deny it, but his own history can’t be erased.

CLINTON: And one of the worst things he said was about a woman in a beauty contest. He loves beauty contests, supporting them and hanging around them. And he called this woman “Miss Piggy.” Then he called her “Miss Housekeeping,” because she was Latina. Donald, she has a name.

TRUMP: Where did you find this? Where did you find this?

CLINTON: Her name is Alicia Machado.

TRUMP: Where did you find this?

CLINTON: And she has become a U.S. citizen, and you can bet…

TRUMP: Oh, really?

CLINTON: … she’s going to vote this November.

TRUMP: OK, good.

She also had no problem fielding his attempt to talk around having said she didn’t “have a presidential look” – an attack rooted in the fact that no woman can look like the last forty-five men who held the office. 

HOLT: Mr. Trump, this year Secretary Clinton became the first woman nominated for president by a major party. Earlier this month, you said she doesn’t have, quote, “a presidential look.” She’s standing here right now. What did you mean by that?

TRUMP: She doesn’t have the look. She doesn’t have the stamina. I said she doesn’t have the stamina. And I don’t believe she does have the stamina. To be president of this country, you need tremendous stamina.

HOLT: The quote was, “I just don’t think she has the presidential look.”

TRUMP: You have — wait a minute. Wait a minute, Lester. You asked me a question. Did you ask me a question?

You have to be able to negotiate our trade deals. You have to be able to negotiate, that’s right, with Japan, with Saudi Arabia. I mean, can you imagine, we’re defending Saudi Arabia? And with all of the money they have, we’re defending them, and they’re not paying? All you have to do is speak to them. Wait. You have so many different things you have to be able to do, and I don’t believe that Hillary has the stamina.

HOLT: Let’s let her respond.

CLINTON: Well, as soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a cease-fire, a release of dissidents, an opening of new opportunities in nations around the world, or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina…

You know, he tried to switch from looks to stamina. But this is a man who has called women pigs, slobs and dogs, and someone who has said pregnancy is an inconvenience to employers, who has said women don’t deserve equal pay unless they do as good a job as men.

5. Hillary Walked the Walk on Intersectionality

When fielding a question related to healing “racial divides,” Hillary blew it out of the water. This is what intersectional leadership sounds like:

CLINTON: Well, you’re right. Race remains a significant challenge in our country. Unfortunately, race still determines too much, often determines where people live, determines what kind of education in their public schools they can get, and, yes, it determines how they’re treated in the criminal justice system. We’ve just seen those two tragic examples in both Tulsa and Charlotte.

And we’ve got to do several things at the same time. We have to restore trust between communities and the police. We have to work to make sure that our police are using the best training, the best techniques, that they’re well prepared to use force only when necessary. Everyone should be respected by the law, and everyone should respect the law.

CLINTON: Right now, that’s not the case in a lot of our neighborhoods. So I have, ever since the first day of my campaign, called for criminal justice reform. I’ve laid out a platform that I think would begin to remedy some of the problems we have in the criminal justice system.

But we also have to recognize, in addition to the challenges that we face with policing, there are so many good, brave police officers who equally want reform. So we have to bring communities together in order to begin working on that as a mutual goal. And we’ve got to get guns out of the hands of people who should not have them.

The gun epidemic is the leading cause of death of young African- American men, more than the next nine causes put together. So we have to do two things, as I said. We have to restore trust. We have to work with the police. We have to make sure they respect the communities and the communities respect them. And we have to tackle the plague of gun violence, which is a big contributor to a lot of the problems that we’re seeing today.

Carmen Rios

Carmen is a writer, revolutionary, and social media guru living the dream in Los Angeles. She coordinates blog content for the She Wins campaign and is also the Digital Editor at Ms., Co-Founder and Managing Editor at Argot Magazine, Feminism Editor and Community Director at Autostraddle, and a Contributor at Everyday Feminism.