Whether you are “with her,” a Bernie-or-buster, a grumpy Trumpy, or a disappointed idealist who plans to sit this one out because none of the candidates live up to your high standards: if you are a woman, there is something to celebrate in Hillary Clinton’s persistence through the same subtle sexism, gender inequality or outright misogyny that you have had to work against your entire life.
So my heart was full to bursting last night to see the first woman acclaimed as a major party nominee for president. I am proud of Hillary Clinton and all she has achieved in her lifetime: For 40 years, she has dedicated herself to bettering the lives of children and families. Her work ethic is relentless, her kindness and compassion tireless, her personal sacrifice of privacy and time selfless. I even appreciate those compromises she has had to make, the deals and handshakes that have unquestionably been the currency of politics in all of our lifetimes. We may want to be unyielding, to say “my way or the high way,” to insist upon righteous change. It would feel good to just stamp our feet, shake our fists and say “NO!” to money in politics, to the ever broadening equity gap in our country, to the anguished call and response of violence against people of color met with violence against police.
But I am a woman. I understand: that’s not how you get things done.
I suspect that like me, you may have found that being pretty mattered more to your clients than being smart, hard-working, or prepared. Perhaps your male client liked to make superfluous demands on you because it was fun, or funny, or unconsciously pleasurable to see you do his bidding. Perhaps your more sympathetic male colleagues looked away in embarrassment when they saw this dynamic, because they didn’t know what to say or do. Maybe your great idea in a meeting wasn’t heard until a guy repeated it and got the credit, EVEN WHEN HE PREFACED IT WITH SOMETHING LIKE: “I agree with Lauren that we should delay the rollout until 2nd quarter.” Perhaps, like me, you had a boss you respected and admired, and you liked and admired his wife who had always been welcoming to you, and still, he hit on you. Or a male trainee who you gave a negative performance review assaulted you. Perhaps a higher-up in your company made it clear your complaint about sexual harassment wasn’t welcome, even though they “value” you and you’re “a rising star.”
If such instances of sexism happened to little old you or me, imagine the indignities Hillary had to face down. But let’s not stop stirring the pot before the soup is ready:
I think of my sister-in-law, a talented and hard-working Hollywood director, and the time the van driver hired to get her to the set on time told her “sorry, hon, this van is for the director.” Men she works with on set, grips, gaffers and the like, continually second guess her. Maybe you, too, have been told to sit in the back and be quiet.
Perhaps, like Gretchen Carlson and the women of the FOX network, your career success has been predicated on a succession of quid pro quos, the daily toleration of his hand on the small of your back, the comment on your dress, the insinuating banter, or the reductive assumptions about your menstrual cycle, your breast-feeding, your pregnancy, your home life. Not to mention flagrant propositions you did nothing to invite.
Perhaps your boss regularly asks you to “grab lunch” or coffee for him, even though he’s a good guy and he doesn’t mean anything by it. (Still, you can’t help but notice: he doesn’t ask your male colleagues to bring him coffee.) Perhaps you returned from maternity leave to find that somehow, subtly, you fell behind by more than the six weeks or three months you were away. It wasn’t deliberate–that’s not legal–but it was no less real.
You’ve learned that when men boast about their kids’ little league games and swim meets, they are simply being great dads: proud and engaged. Women, however, must tread more carefully: too much talk about the kids, and you’re unable to keep your home and work life separate.
Most likely, you are paid less for doing the same work. Hillary has vowed to change that. (So has Ivanka Trump. Wait, is she running?)
Certainly, you have been ogled, cat-called, or groped. Or you have been called fat, a pig, a dog, a bitch, a witch, a cunt. I believe Mr. Trump and his deputies may have used all of the above to describe certain women.
Certainly, your hard work raising your family (which if you are married, directly benefits your spouse and provides significant economic benefit to him and to society) goes completely uncompensated. And if you are a single mother, well, damn girl. I don’t know how you do it. You deserve a hell of a lot more than a glass of chardonnay or a girls’ night out, in and of themselves, rewards of the privileged. You deserve respect, understanding, and a policy that promotes affordable, quality childcare. Another plank in the Democratic platform.
I am 100% sure you have been patronized, most probably at your local hardware store. You’ve entertained rambling mansplainations about areas in which you yourself are expert, been given overly-detailed driving directions, suffered through unsolicited tech support.
If you dare to dream big dreams, you are “impractical,” “naïve,” adorably delusional.
If you raise your voice in passionate belief, you are “screeching,” “shrieking,” scolding “just like mom.”
If you push your agenda with conviction and persistence, you are “aggressive.”
If you care too much about your appearance you are superficial, vapid, or “trading on your looks”; if you downplay it, you “aren’t trying,” or playing the game, you are missing out on a potential source of currency that can simultaneously help you and hurt you.
If you are a millennial woman and you think the culture is post-feminist and that these dynamics and subtle systemic barriers won’t affect you, think again. That outrage you feel over the way victims of sexual assault are patronized on campus? The Brock Turner wrist-slap verdict? The Owen Labrie predation of younger girls for sexual and ego gratification? The dismissal or diminishment of victim’s complaints at colleges too numerous to name; administrators who look the other way to protect athletes who assault women; lost rape kits; attackers who return to campus, leaving victims struggling to cope with shame and trauma? You think this all magically disappears after college? Sorry to burst your bubble, girls. Sexism is alive and well in America.
Bill Cosby. Roger Ailies. Clarence Thomas. Donald Trump. Bill Clinton. Woody Allen. Powerful men get away with shit. Don’t be fooled by the fact that they love their daughters or respect their sisters. Or have long marriages with loyal wives. (Well, I guess we have to let the Donald off the hook there…)
So when I saw the slideshow of American presidents on last night’s DNC broadcast, I felt more than moved, I felt validated, vindicated, liberated. 43 photographs of white men. 1 photograph, thank God, of a black man. And then, the screen shattering to reveal a woman’s face. Hillary Clinton has for over forty years faced down sexism and judgment. Her most intimate failures have played out in the most public of ways. She has been demonized and criticized for her politics and flawed judgments, to be sure (and fair enough), but also: her laugh, her voice, her pantsuits, her loyalty to an imperfect marriage and a philandering husband, and the fact that she has sometimes compromised her values. She has been “secretive” and self-protective; she seeks power; she makes money; she tells us lies we want to hear and truths we don’t. She is a politician: a woman playing a man’s game. How dare she?
No doubt, it would have been easier to sit at home enjoying the big bucks of Bubba’s post-White House consulting fees. And yet, we hold it against HRC as a particular offense that she went out and demanded her own gigs. Our culture expects and respects such ambition in men but derides it in women.
Whether you love her, cannot stand her, or are simply ambivalent, if you are a woman, you are the direct beneficiary of Hillary’s trail-blazing works. If you are a woman, you know that women in particular can bring to bear not only our keen intelligence, but our profound capacity for love, relationship, and compassion in solving the intractible problems that face our society. The world needs both our moods and our ability to compromise. The contrast between the RNC’s chest-thumping, hyper-masculine rhetoric and last night’s emphasis on the power of love, reconciliation, hope, healing, relationship, and restoration could not be more stark.
I, for one, am grateful to Hillary. Warts and all. And I’m with her.