Late last month, Donald Trump created a media firestorm when he publicly stated that Hillary Clinton has been successful in the 2016 US presidential campaign only because she’s a woman: “if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don’t think she’d get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she’s got going is the woman’s card.”
We can assume that Trump made his comment to make Clinton seem like a weak candidate. However, where Trump saw criticism, Clinton’s campaign team saw an opportunity. They made sure that she was ready to fire back, and fire back she did: “Well, if fighting for women’s health care and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in.”
In the days and weeks following Trump’s now famous comments, the media has spent a lot of time discussing whether Clinton’s gender matters and whether she would have a fighting chance at becoming president if she wasn’t a woman. There’s even been a lot of attention on the money that Clinton’s campaign and supporters have made from Trump’s remarks. For example, Clinton’s campaign raised $2.4 million in the three days following Trump’s comments, and Zach Wahls, a Clinton supporter, raised over $35,000 by creating a deck of cards about Clinton and other influential women.
One thing that most people aren’t talking about, however, is this: is it “the woman’s card” or “the woman card”? In his comments, Trump refers to Clinton’s advantage as “the woman’s card” (with an apostrophe and “s” on “woman” to indicate possession). In comparison, when Clinton responded to his comments, she referred to “the woman card” (no possessive marker). And this difference doesn’t stop at Trump and Clinton. Even different media outlets are divided: NPR and The Boston Globe refer to “the woman’s card” in their articles whereas TIME and the BBC refer to “the woman card.” So which one’s correct?
Let’s think about what playing “the woman(’s) card” really means. When people play “the woman(’s) card,” it means that they’re appealing to sexist or anti-sexist attitudes to gain some sort of advantage. For example, Trump may believe that Clinton is using “the woman(’s) card” because she’s pledging to fight for gender equality while in office and she’s positioning herself as the first female US president.
If we understand “the woman(’s) card” to be an advantage that comes from focusing on issues related to women, “the woman card” seems like the right term. After all, it suggests that we’re referring to a “card” related to women. It also takes the same format as “the race card,” a similar term that may be more familiar to many of you.
“The woman’s card,” on the other hand, seems to refer to a “card” that belongs to a woman, which isn’t really what “the woman(’s) card” gets at. After all, people don’t have to be women to use the “woman card.” We also don’t hear people talk about “the race’s card.”
In the end, then, Clinton takes the win for using the correct term. This may not be a surprise to many of you given that Trump hasn’t had the best track record as far as grammar and language use go. In his defense, though, idioms are tricky, even for native English speakers. We’ve all had times when we’ve had to look one up to make sure that we’re using it correctly, and maybe next time Trump will too.
Have any lingering thoughts about the difference between “the woman’s card” and “the woman card”? Leave us a note in our comments section below.
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