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How Clinton and Obama boosted feminism, civil rights

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"Will that treatment be the norm for women who run in the future? Has it become acceptable?" Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, wrote in a column on the group's website this month.

Other activists worry that the success of Obama and Clinton could weaken support for affirmative action and other antidiscrimination measures. If blacks and women can now be president, foes of such programs can now argue, then what more help do they need?

Progress in the struggle for women's and minority rights has often been measured along a demographic yardstick. How many of our own do we have in the statehouse? some ask. How many in the corporate boardroom? But in no small part because of Obama's "postracial" message, many voters no longer see minority candidates as strictly – or even mostly – representing minority interests.

Some black civil rights leaders backed Clinton; an abortion-rights group, NARAL Pro-Choice America, backed Obama.

Moreover, "the crossover support of white and black men for Clinton and male and female whites for Obama shows we are in a transitional period in which more Americans are willing to transcend their own racial and gender identities when they support candidates," says Estelle Freedman, a feminist historian at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. "The legacy for younger Americans, including future voters, in normalizing such candidacies, may be one of the most important legacies."

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