I had an unexpected moment of gratitude for this campaign cycle, as I was walking my dog in the rain last week. It was one of those moments where I had an actual moment to think. My phone was at home, I was covered in rain gear from head to toe, the dog had to poop (but didn’t really want to), and my job was to wait patiently until the task was complete. Ahhhhhh, thinking time. And that’s when this little surprise bubbled up.
I am thankful for this campaign cycle for giving me an insight into feminism that I never really had until the primary elections. It’s not that I wasn’t a feminist before, I always have been. But, I never identified with “those militant types”. See, I for many years didn’t need to. I have been living with a certain privilege throughout my entire life that I never even noticed, that is until I met my daughter.
Growing up as a blonde white woman who mostly fits into the culturally acceptable size and appearance standards, I had no idea that how I looked had ANYTHING to do with how I was treated by others, or what opportunity it afforded me with regard to gaining employment or being treated with respect by those around me.
But, as I watched my daughter move through the world, I became privy to privilege in a way that kind of knocked the wind out of me for a spell. This girl of mine captivates friends and strangers alike. Her platinum blonde hair, exuberant smile, and open heart endear her to everyone she meets. And, people give her stuff. It happens ALL THE TIME. For example, last fall on a trip to Chicago we snagged an UBER on the way back to the hotel. She and her brother were cracking the driver up with their observations on the Windy City. (I’m certain he was stoned to the gills—but he got us to the hotel in one piece). Hanging from his rear view was a little rubber skeleton, and my daughter complimented it. As we left the car, he pulled it down & gave it to her. This was really no surprise to any of us, her older brother especially, who refers to her saltily as “the luckiest girl in the world”. She is. And, yes, she is incredibly charming and warm. But, strangers don’t know that—they just see her blonde hair & blue eyes, and she’s in. She passes the test.
Turns out, I must have been passing the same kinds of tests inadvertently for years. I started to look back at my own life to see if I could find places where this privilege had moved me forward. I couldn’t find one place where it didn’t. And then, I started to get mad. I got mad for all of the women who didn’t get that pass: for all the women who fought for equality and were still fighting hard in the office, in the boardroom, in the senate, in my own industry (which has culpability beyond most when it comes to maintaining female stereotypes and subordination), and for we mothers who get it from all sides at all times. Because of my privilege I had been blind to the need for vocal feminism. Sure I was harassed by men on the streets of NYC daily for the 12 years I lived there. Sure boys did mean things to me in high school, involving slut shaming and rumor spreading. Sure I was pressured and coerced into sexual situations that I was not ready for, nor wanted to happen, in my younger years. Sure I was beat out for voice-over jobs by men, because of their more authoritative voices. And, yes I noticed that there were many more roles for men (no matter their looks/age) than there are for we gals. But, up until this election cycle started, I didn’t actually understand that misogyny was such an ever present force in our world, how it touches everything. It was shocking to me, first to realize it, and then to know that I had been mostly ignorant of it for my entire 40 years. HOW did I miss it? Privilege, that’s how.
But, now I understand bias in a new light. Here we have the most qualified candidate for president in our lifetime, and she’s being held to a completely different standard than her opponent on every level. She is criticized for her wardrobe, her hair, the sound of her voice, her femininity or lack there of, her strength, and even her experience. Her emails are under mass scrutiny, along with the countless “scandals” that have been at the forefront of the right wing party’s 30 year campaign against her. She has been vetted, investigated, and cleared over and over. Yet her opponent speaks in sentence fragments, brags about sexual assault, has a long history of objectifying and degrading women, has slighted the African American community, Mexican immigrants, people of the Muslim faith, and a Gold Star family, and refuses to release his tax returns. She’s jumped through all the hoops, from law school through her path to the White House, while keeping her head down, and continuing her commitment to the service of American families, moving policy and making change year by year, amidst of all the noise. I’m not saying she’s perfect. There is no such thing as a perfect candidate, but, if she were a man, this race would not be so hotly contested & the choice, while very clear to some, would not be so muddy to others.
Hillary Clinton has taught me how important it is to be a feminist, and to raise both my daughter and my son to be feminists too. Women should be treated equally with men, and be safe to choose the best path for their own lives. Whether it be in the workforce, in the home, in the doctor’s office, as a mother, or as child-free, we should be able to live our lives safe from bias, violence, sexual assault, and pay inequity. I have been awoken and inspired to keep learning about those women who fought for our right to vote, who first went to work & excelled in their fields in spite of the inequities in the workplace, who spoke up about sexual violence and advocated for a sexual revolution.
I did not have to do any of these things. The path was already forged for me. And, I was so blinded by my own privilege, that I didn’t give our fore-mothers, or even the vocal feminists on my own college campus, the credit that they deserved for the hard won battles they fought. Here, I though we were living in a post-feminist world. But, I was dead wrong. So, I have gratitude for this election cycle for revealing a part of me that I didn’t even know that I had or needed. I am a feminist, a proud American woman who has been energized to look with new eyes—hopeful that a woman that has worked for her entire life for the benefit of women and children will shatter the glass ceiling into a million little pieces, so that our daughters and our sons can see that a powerful woman can be a beacon of light and not just a shrill uppity bitch.