ERIN GILLEN. The Symbolism of a Trump Victory


Much has been said about how Trump was elected and what a Trump presidency will realistically mean for America and the world; my interest is in the symbolism of his election, and the failed campaign of the first female nominee for President.

I hadn’t realised how much it meant to me that the United States was on the precipice of electing its first female President until Hillary Clinton lost. On reflection, I had felt a real sense of possibility in her election campaign, and the loss of that possibility was heart breaking.

Women had been waiting a long time for this moment – many stories came out during the election campaign of women born in the US before women’s suffrage casting their ballots for Hillary, girls being inspired by the Presidential candidate, and Susan B. Anthony’s grave being covered with ‘I voted’ stickers.

Australian women were also swept up in the campaign, not only because this was the first major campaign by a female nominee for the United States, but also because we missed this moment when Julia Gillard became Prime Minister in 2010. Because of the way that Gillard came to power, we didn’t have the time to stop and celebrate the momentous occasion that it was for Australian women.

I watched many of Clinton’s election speeches where she spoke passionately about smashing the glass ceiling and rallied her supporters around the idea of their first female President. The Clinton campaign embraced the symbolism of her position as the first female nominee for President, and many happily welcomed their message.

Feminist analysis of Clinton’s policies reveals that she would have been far from the perfect President; there is much to be said about how her policies have left poor women, women of colour, and women in many parts of the world beyond the US, behind.

However, the choice this election was stark – the first female President, who espoused the importance of a woman’s right to choose, supporting women in their caring responsibilities and closing the gender pay gap, or Trump.

What does it say to us, in an age where we talk about our progress towards gender equality and the value of women in leadership, that the people of the United States have elected someone so blatantly misogynistic? Here is a man who has been publicly exposed for sexually assaulting women and holding deeply dangerous views with respect to the treatment of women, and yet has been elected to be President of the United States.

The President-elect is also blatantly racist, homophobic and abelist; these are views that he has actively promoted through rhetoric and policy proposals.

The power of Trump’s election to people in our communities who hold similar views cannot be under-estimated. The views that Trump holds are also held by Australians, and it is time that we confronted this reality and worked to change it.

On the night of the US election, young men at the Sydney University’s Manning Bar were thrown out for chanting “grab her by the pussy” and “lock her up”. These men are supposed to be some of the business leaders, politicians and community role models of the future, and yet they were exhibiting behaviour in support of Trump’s misogynistic rhetoric.

Progressive movements for social and cultural change have traditionally fared best in times of conservatism and attack. Trump’s election has revealed the extent of ugly and dangerous views in our communities that many had attempted to ignore – views which I hope will now be confronted and fought by those who believe in equality and inclusion.


Erin Gillen lives in Canberra and works as a Senior Policy Officer on a broad range of policy issues including social and migration policy. She has a particular interest in policy and practice affecting women. Erin is a member of the Equality Rights Alliance’s Young Women’s Advisory Group. You can follow Erin on twitter: @erincgillen



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