Why Hillary Clinton’s Gender Matters
I’ve spoken to a couple guys in their 20s recently — one is a Trump supporter, the other a Bernie supporter. Both are uncomfortable with Hillary Clinton as a person. Both complained that, while they knew sexism was a problem, they didn’t understand why she had to talk about her gender so much and make it an issue. I’m about 25 years younger than Hillary, so I don’t know everything she’s been through in her career, but I know enough from my own experience that I understand why she talks about her gender. I understand, without knowing specifics, some of the battles she’s fought. Because I have fought some of the daily battles too. After I talked to both of them, they shifted their position on Clinton, at least with respect to how she talks about gender. While I don’t know if I converted either of them, that wasn’t my intention. My intention was simply to try to get these younger guys to see why gender has shaped her. So, while this post isn’t meant just for that type of guy, this is what I said to them.
I’m a lawyer. I have a well-paying, great career in a male dominated segment of the law. If you look at me, you would say “establishment” because I’m a partner in a law firm, I earn a good salary, I travel, I own a nice condo in a good part of a city, and I have retirement savings. But I weekly, sometimes daily, battle issues arising from my gender. When I was a junior associate, I got used to hearing discussions about my body between male partners take place, right in front of me, nearly daily. What was I wearing to prompt this? Usually something no more exciting than dress pants and a sweater. Or jeans and a button down. If people were drinking, like at a firm party or happy hour, my butt would be grabbed, repeatedly, by married male partners. Sometimes they would find an excuse to kiss me. I can also remember a male partner telling me one time that I was the only woman he was willing to work with because he didn’t trust any other women not to just get pregnant and quit their jobs, but since I was single, he trusted me.
When I changed jobs a few years into my career (and finally no longer had partners grabbing my butt), it actually got worse in some respects. I went out for a happy hour one time with colleagues. One co-worker, an ex-football player and huge, was drunk. He was grabbing my butt, but since I was used to that from the years of normalization of that behavior, I didn’t go home. I just tried to avoid him and look out for the other women. But when I was sitting on a bar stool talking to colleagues, he came up behind me, put his hand down the back of my pants, inside my underwear, to my crotch. He was dragged away by 3 male colleagues and I left. I worked up the nerve to report it the following Monday. He wasn’t fired. He was just told not to do it again and told not to talk to me about it because I didn’t want to talk to him. Despite this, he came and talked to me and closed the door and no one cared that he did that and that I felt threatened. About 2–3 months later, I was put on a case and I had to work late nights. With him. Sometimes just him. But my career was important to me, so I was a professional. One time in a review at that firm, I was told I wore too many colors and too many patterns by a man who wore a lot of colors and patterns. I wasn’t told what should wear. I was just told to be less fashionable.
I go to industry functions, which I need to go to to get my name out there, but no one tells me what to do when an arbitrator or client starts groping me. And forget grabbing a drink with a male contact who might be good for me to meet for networking purposes. Unless I have someone to go with me, it could go the wrong way quite easily. One time at an industry holiday party, a senior male pulled me to the side. I thought he was going to talk to me about work, or even politics or sports, but instead he suggested we go to the bar to grab a drink. And he tells me that I’m the sexiest woman in my industry and, in case I was wondering, he doesn’t need to use viagra. He was about my dad’s age. Because he was also pitching work as an arbitrator, I knew that I could be in the position where he would be deciding one of my cases. So I smiled politely and said something like “that’s great.” And found a reason to excuse myself without making him feel foolish because I couldn’t have a senior man have it out for me because I rejected him. I was wearing a J. Crew Navy Suit and white shirt and sensible heels at the time, by the way. I still remember that because I didn’t understand where “sexiest woman in x industry” would remotely make sense.
Opposing counsel sometimes will tell me that I need to ‘calm down’, when they are being anything but calm. I’ve been told that I shouldn’t swear at work because it might offend others — specifically mentioning men who routinely swear in front of me as some who might be those offended. I am consistently thought to be 5–10 years younger than I am — and that matters because it limits opportunities and trust. In my last review, I was told that I interrupt too often and that sometimes I pause in the middle of a sentence before I finish it and that can be annoying. And when I speak my opinion, sometimes I’m told I’m not a team player if I disagree with others. Maybe men are told the same thing. I doubt it. I know there are opportunities I’ve earned that a man has taken — presenting arguments to courts or panels — but I’m not even considered for the opportunity.
And I have no doubt that Hillary has dealt with worse. She brings up gender because she’s never been allowed to forget her gender. In some respects, I am hopeful when younger women say they don’t understand it because maybe things are changing. Then again, I thought that it wasn’t as big a deal when I was younger because I didn’t know better. I’ve grown wiser. I’ve also grown weary. So, when Hillary talks about being a woman, when she makes it an issue, I see that as just an acknowledgement that she’s being honest about her experiences without talking about that time someone commented on her butt or her chest when she was trying to talk about policy. People say they want her to show them who she is, but when she talks about maybe the number one thing that she can’t escape, when she talks about being a woman, they tell her she’s doing it wrong and she shouldn’t talk about it because it’s not genuine or something. There is no right way to talk about the uphill battle women, even those who look like they have power, face. And how it tears them apart daily. And how some days they wish they could go into the office and not have to talk to any men because they’re tired of being pretty, but not too pretty, strong, but not intimidating to colleagues, approachable, but not a pushover…
You don’t have to like her or agree with her. Or even vote for her. But when you criticize her for how she talks about gender, know that you’re telling me and a lot of women that we need to stay silent once we make a certain income or a certain level of apparent power. That we can’t talk about the fact that our gender impacts our outlook. You’re telling us that there is, actually, a glass ceiling where we can no longer be frustrated that we’re judged more for our figure than for our ideas, even when we’re being paid for our ideas. I’m not asking anyone to feel sorry for me or for Hillary. But if you value equality, try to consider why she might be saying these things from a non-partisan angle and see that she is a human and has been torn apart daily for the fact she was born without a white penis.