One for the sisterhood: Hillary Rodham Clinton to stand as a candidate for the US presidency

‘A woman at the top of the ticket changes our perception of leadership – and the narrative about what girls can aspire to be.’

As a 21-year-old, in 1969, one Hillary Rodham told her graduation class at Wellesley College that "the challenge now is to practise politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible."

One of those impossibilities for many women or African Americans in 1969 might well have been the idea that one of their number could be nominated by one of the US's two great parties as its candidate for the presidency. Eight years after Barack Obama broke the racial glass ceiling, Ms Rodham, now Clinton, has done the same.

It is a remarkable achievement, and one that can all too easily be taken for granted, perhaps, by many of a generation of younger women for whom political, social and economic equality is regarded simply as a given, achieved, or largely achieved. For whom feminism is a quaint, unnecessary relic of their mothers’ time.

But you are deluded, sisters. La luta continua. It is true, and remarkable and welcome, that overt sexism is today far less acceptable, in Ireland and – Donald Trump excepted – in the US. And that, as polls show, gender is now a matter of indifference to voters, just as race also appears largely to be.

Unlike the first, breakthrough appointments in recent years of women to head the US Federal Reserve or the State Department, Janet Yellen and Madeleine Albright respectively, Clinton's great achievement has been to have made the nomination on the basis of a popular vote, clear evidence of the profound changes in social atitudes.

Yet, deep structural inequality persists in the political system. Even now, the US Senate is just 20 per cent female. More than 80 per cent of the House of Representatives members are men, as are just over 75 per cent of state legislators and 88 per cent of governors.

That will change, slowly. And Hillary Clinton’s success will contribute. “A woman at the head of the table changes the conversation,” Barbara Lee of the Family Foundation argues. “A woman at the top of the ticket changes our perception of leadership – and the narrative about what girls can aspire to be.” It can begin to make the impossible possible.

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