Washington DC, United States - It was a shocking outcome for many, an uncomfortably close race.

As results came in, one state after another turning red, the optimism of Hillary Clinton's supporters soon faded and the realisation set in - that Donald J Trump was now president-elect and that the dream of America having its first female president had swiftly dissipated.

The nearly two-year-long election season that led to the surprising announcement early on Wednesday morning has been one of the most volatile, controversial and bitterly contested ever to take place, with many women now left mourning over the loss of a potential landmark in feminism and fearing what a Trump presidency means for them.

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Reactions of grief poured in on social media:

"What's even more demoralising is knowing how hard Hillary's worked and how qualified she is, and yet ... And every woman knows this feeling," said writer and columnist Anne Donahue on Twitter.

In a similar sentiment, feminist writer Jessica Valenti tweeted that this is "what backlash looks like - to women's rights, to racial progress, to a cultural shift that doesn't centre white men."

It is not just the Trump win but the fact that Republicans now control Congress that bodes ill for progressive politics

Sujata Moorti, Feminist Studies Professor at Vermont's Middlebury College

Many women are now left wondering how a Trump presidency will impact policies affecting them.

"It is not just the Trump win but the fact that Republicans now control Congress that bodes ill for progressive politics …reproductive rights, minimum wage … policies against sexual assault, marriage equality … healthcare - all are likely to be overturned," said Sujata Moorti, feminist studies professor at Vermont's Middlebury College.

"As for women's rights, Trump's victory has in effect legitimised misogyny - the sexism, particularly the violent imagery directed at Clinton, racism, ableism, homophobia and transphobia that characterised so many Republican campaigns have now been authorised by voters," she said.

Feminist writer, Amy Richards shared similar concerns. "What [Trump] has indicated by who he has chosen as his closest advisers is that he will hold true on rolling back access to healthcare, access to abortion, access to equal pay, affordable access to higher education - and by that women will suffer greatly," she said.

Gender at the forefront 

The 2016 election cycle was like no other America had seen and one where gender was often at the forefront.

When Donald Trump called on Clinton's femaleness, she hit back, creating national slogans and prompting a feminist call to arms.

In April, Trump accused Clinton of playing the "woman card," pushing Clinton to retaliate: "If fighting for women's healthcare and paid family leave and equal pay is playing the woman card, then deal me in!"

During the final presidential debate, Trump's branding of Clinton as a "nasty woman" became a feminist badge of honour.

The term started trending on Twitter; T-shirts with the label became available; and during a campaign speech in New Hampshire, Senator Elizabeth Warren said: "Get this Donald … on November 8, we nasty women are going to march our nasty feet to cast our nasty votes to get you out of our lives forever." She was met with a rapturous applause.

This was after one of the biggest scandals of the 2016 race: The Washington Post's publication of a 2005 audio recording in which Trump speaks in vulgar and crass terms about women. What he branded as "locker-room talk" Clinton labelled as "horrific."

Yet Trump's sentiments were not enough to prevent his victory. Moreover, according to latest exit polls, 53 percent of white women voters cast their ballot for Donald Trump - a disturbing realisation to many in the women's rights movement. 

"I'm in total shock," said Terry O'Neill, President of the National Organisation for Women. "Quite honestly, I feel that I've failed … the women's movement was clearly not able to breakthrough to women nationally."

READ MORE: Shock and euphoria as Trump wins White House

The dream of a female presidency

Women in America have been fighting for greater political participation since the early 19th century.

The emergence of America's women's rights movement in 1848 was followed by decades of forceful campaigning, resilient advocacy and undeterred protest.

But, it would not be until more than 70 years later in 1920, when the 19th amendment to the US constitution would finally grant women their suffrage.

To all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.

Hillary Clinton

From the early 20th century, women would come to have a greater presence in the United States Congress, and in politics more broadly.

However, until Hillary Clinton, only two women had ever been selected to be part of a major party's presidential campaign team, both as vice presidents - Democrat Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 and Republican Sarah Palin in 2008.

Yet the dream of a female presidency, often seen at the pinnacle of the feminist movement, would not materialise.

For Hillary Clinton, it was a aim that she set out to achieve eight years ago when she ran against President Obama in the democratic primaries.

Though she lost then, Clinton succeeded in 2016 - becoming America's first event female presidential candidate. During her speech at the Democratic National Convention in July, she acknowledged the significance for women.

"Tonight, we've reached a milestone in our nation's march toward a more perfect union: the first time that a major party has nominated a woman for president," she told the crowd.

However, on the cold Wednesday morning in New York, as the dust settled, Clinton's concession speech took an emotional tone.

"This is not the outcome we wanted, or that we hoped for," she said. "This is painful and it will be for a long time."

"To all the women, especially the young women, who put their faith in this campaign and in me, I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion. Now, I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday someone will and hopefully sooner than we might think now."

Becoming visibly emotional, Clinton continued:

"And to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams."

READ MORE: Hillary Clinton and the 'woman card'

Clinton will continue to influence women said feminist writer Amy Richards, although she did not win.

"We have to remember that while the US system has elected Donald Trump to the presidency, the majority of the American public are with Hillary Clinton. She has inspired America and in particular American women and that remains unchanged."

Furthermore, Richards said, the "personal empowerment" that Clinton inspired, "will carry us through. What will happen to American women remains to be seen. Trump has no voting record and many promises to fulfil, so what he actual does is a mystery."

For O'Neill, the future was unclear.

"I don't know the path forward … but we need to find a way together, we need to get serious about solidarity."

Source: Al Jazeera News