Swisher tried again, posing the question another way: "But will there be a different president, being a woman?" This time, Clinton talked about what female senators had achieved, saying these examples showed how women bring different experiences to bear on policy. She also described dinners that she and other women in the Senate had together, which she said involved plenty of offers to help each other. "It was what you would hope your elected officials would do together."
Her answer may not have included any big announcements, but it was revealing all the same. Clinton didn't explicitly say that a female president would bring the kind of qualities — consensus-driven, compassionate, helpful, nurturing — that we typically associate with female leaders. But she overtly hinted at them, talking about how women on both sides of the aisle worked together, how she's built relationships and how she hoped, if she ran, that she could bring red and blue Washington into a "nice warm purple space."
Much has been made already of how Clinton's remarks outlined what her campaign may have in store. In this, the first of several speeches centered on women's issues, she focused on shifting an economy that "still seems to be operating like it's 1955" to one that works "for everyone." She embraced family issues such as equal pay, child care and paid leave. She's positioning herself as far more comfortable now than in 2008 with her gendered roles, such as nurturing grandmother and historic feminist first.
Yet Clinton's shift isn't just a sign of the country's increasingly welcome approach to feminism or the current zeitgeist around women's issues. It's also a sign she's likely realized that not displaying stereotypical female leadership qualities is just as risky as embracing them.
It's an unfortunate truth, but a real one. While the definition of good leadership has begun to change to one that's more participatory and cooperative, years of research have shown that people tend to associate leadership with qualities that are stereotypically masculine, like being aggressive, dominant and competitive. The challenge for women is that people have traditionally expected leaders to behave this way; yet at the same time, they also expect women to exhibit supposedly feminine characteristics.
This means that when women show "feminine" traits, they're not seen as much as leaders. But when women display "masculine" traits, they're not playing to type — something academics call "role incongruity." The rest of us know this as the double bind.
Clinton's expected candidacy will be the ultimate test of how strong that double bind remains. However adept Clinton ends up being at courting middle-class voters on issues like child care and equal pay (those are family issues, after all, not just women's ones), and however powerful her message of cracking "every last glass ceiling" may be to professional women, voters will also be evaluating how they think she will lead, not just what they think she will do.
If Clinton truly embraces a leadership style during the campaign of collaboration, consensus and warmth yet still loses the election, it could show that risks remain for women to do so. But if she wears it proudly and wins, that could demonstrate how much the traditional definition of leadership has finally changed.