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What 2016 means for the future of women in politics




US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton makes a concession speech after being defeated by Republican president-elect Donald Trump in New York on November 9, 2016.
US Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton makes a concession speech after being defeated by Republican president-elect Donald Trump in New York on November 9, 2016.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images

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Election Day this week came as a shock to those who hoped Hillary Clinton would become the first female commander-in-chief. 

In her concession speech Wednesday morning, the former Secretary of State addressed that disappointment:

"I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday, someone will and hopefully sooner than we might think right now."

Further down the ticket, there were more disappointments for women in politics.

According to the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University, the number of female governors in the U.S. dropped from six to five. The number of women in Congress stayed flat, with one gain in the Senate, and one loss in the House.

In California, with some races still too close to be called, women are expected to lose four seats in the state legislature. 

The news wasn't all bad, though. More women of color were elected to Congress this year than ever before. And in Los Angeles, for the first time ever, women will make up a majority on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

So what can 2016 tell us about the future of women in politics?

Kelly Dittmar, a scholar at Rutgers University's Center for American Women and Politics, says one lesson to take away is that gender does still play a role in voters' decisions.

"Donald Trump ran as the most masculine candidate that we've seen in quite a while running for the presidency, and that adhered to the really typical masculine credentials expected of presidential office-holders," Dittmar says. "And it worked out for him."

On the other hand, Dittmar says, Hillary Clinton had to contend with a an opponent "who questioned her stamina, which is tied to feminine vulnerability." She also had to contend with Donald Trump's remark that she "just didn't look presidential. That is, if not overtly, at least implicitly gendered."

Dittmar says the fact that gender was a factor, if not the deciding one, in the presidential election, is one that Americans will have to grapple with.

"We have to figure out ways in which we can accept new images of what it means to be presidential," Dittmar says. "I think Hillary Clinton, along with the women who've run before her, have helped to chip away at those images, but we still have some of those deep-seated expectations that I think played a role."

Rachel Michelin, Executive Director of the bipartisan nonprofit organization California Women Lead, says another challenge for women in politics is that they're currently playing by rules that were written by men.

"We need to do a better job, even here in California, even at the local level, in preparing women for what it really takes to win," Michelin says. "And then hopefully as women do get into these positions of power, they will also look for ways to engage women, so that we can start changing the rules to make it a little bit more even for men and women when they do decide to run."

To hear the full interview with Rachel Michelin and Kelly Dittmar, click the blue player above.