In the aftermath of Hillary Clinton’s loss in the US Election, I’ve spent the past few days feeling more upset than I expected. I couldn’t quite put my finger on why exactly an election which doesn’t directly impact me was affecting me so much. I felt almost despondent.
I considered if maybe I have been following too much US news. So I took some time to expand the circle of Canadian journalists and news outlets that I follow on social media. I avoided CNN and other American channels because I couldn’t stomach hearing about President-Elect Tru…. never mind, I can’t even say it yet.
Despite this, I kept returning again and again in my mind to what Hillary must be going through. Her exquisitely eloquent concession speech left me in tears in my office and replayed in my mind throughout the next few days; her strength in offering such a hopeful tone at what must have been the most devastating moment of her professional life remains awe inspiring to me.
But… previous (male) candidates have come within a heartbeat of the highest peak of political achievement only to watch it slip away over the course of a few hours at the end of a 500 day campaign. I have felt twinges of the same empathy for them, but nothing comes close to the depths of what I have felt for Hillary in the past few days.
Then today, when I finally returned to Twitter to start to come to terms with the new reality, it finally hit me. One of the thoughtful female writers I follow posted something that hit me like a ton of bricks:
Flushed with embarrassment.
This was it. Why I was despondent. So many women responded to Rachel’s post with tales about drinking their own bottles of champagne in defiance and in spite of their disappointment, and I sat there thinking about all these women sitting in living rooms across America. Hearts pounding as the results started to come in, imagining Hillary with her hand on the bible, taking the oath of office. Gathering people to celebrate together, speculating about a female White House (“Madam President”), sharing social media posts about feminism and equality and finally, finally, seeing a woman clinch the ultimate C-suite.
We let ourselves be vulnerable on this one, and damn this loss was like a kick to that soft exposed underbelly. Unlike the 2008 campaign, Hillary embraced her gender this time and let herself be vulnerable too. It wasn’t just for her, it was for all women. And we got on board, despite the price that women pay for acknowledging their ambitions in public, for pushing back against the status quo, for daring to wear the (nasty woman) feminist badge. That price wasn’t going to matter because it was time.
And then it wasn’t.
Watching Donald Trump win the Presidency is gut wrenching in so many important ways, but for women – we had embraced the feminist ideal and had failed on the world stage, still hearing the cries of ‘Trump that Bitch’ and ‘Hillary Sucks but not like Monica” ringing in our ears. This was a campaign where being an unprepared, racist, disability-mocking, lying, sexual predator was still better than being a woman.
I didn’t have a bottle of champagne but I can totally relate to Rachel’s words. It felt a little bit like we women slunk back out into the world on Wednesday. We had become too big for our pantsuit britches and were put back into our place by the most aggressive, bullying, offensive of men – and a legion of citizens who affirmed our worst fears. How could we ever really dare to think a woman could win?
And now, how do we ever allow ourselves to indulge in that naked hope again? Yes, there will be future female candidates (sometime, someone), but will any female candidate embrace gender equality quite so openly again? Will we let her put our feminism up on a pedestal for the world to judge and rattle and ridicule and reject again?
Will our female leaders retreat back towards trying to cram themselves into the narrow male stereotype of a leader, shutting their femininity back behind the curtain, gritting their teeth and insisting that they just need to work harder rather than embracing the novel idea that what we need to do is to change our perspectives and start valuing women’s contributions just as much as men’s even though those contributions are sometimes uniquely female?
If you’re a man and you’re reading this – please know that there are women in your life who felt this loss more deeply than you might think logical, even those who are not American.
If you’re a woman reading this, watch this video. It doesn’t make things better but like a swig of defiant champagne, it can’t hurt. I’m not giving up, and neither should you.