I’ve never met Hillary Clinton, but I know her. I am her, just like so many other women of a certain age.
As a teenager, I applied to be a Congressional page and received a condescending rejection from my Congressman: “Washington is not a place for young women,” he told me. Dejected but not down, I applied again when a new Senator was elected. He didn’t share the Congressman’s views and hired me — one of only a handful of young women accepted as pages at the time.
In my first jobs out of college, I suited up in the shoulder padded power suits, almost always the youngest in the room, almost always the only woman. My ideas became good ideas when the men in the room claimed them as their own. When I left a business trip early because my three-month-old son was facing a hospital stay, my boss told me not to bother returning to work.
I found pacifiers and baby toys in the bottom of my briefcase, and I routinely lied to stay home with sick kids. I tied scarves to look like neck ties and walked miles in high heels. I knew not to laugh too much, and no matter the circumstances, crying would not be tolerated. I ran the meetings when it was my turn, then cleared the coffee cups and dishes after everyone left.
Over time, more women found their way into the meetings, and I was no longer the youngest. And while we no longer cleared the dishes, I knew to keep my thoughts private, my vulnerabilities under lock-and-key, and my eyes focused straight ahead.
Years later, I’m still that woman. I get up, suit up, and get to work. I make the money and I care for my family. I still keep my thoughts tucked away and my eyes focused. I cook, I clean, and once in a while I sneak away for dinner with my closest friends where I can laugh loudly and share my deep thoughts, my truths, my vulnerability.
Twice in the last two years, I’ve pushed through the nagging cough that became the hacking cough that became the fever, bronchitis, and eventually pneumonia. I didn’t take a day off. I didn’t postpone client deadlines. I believed I could power through because I had to. That’s what we do. We keep going. We get it done. And we keep the vulnerability, the fear, the aching chest and wheezing breaths to ourselves.
We don’t do that because we want to. We don’t do that because we’re trying to deceive anyone. We do it because we believe we have no other choice.
No one could keep Hillary Clinton away from the 9/11 remembrance in New York City today. She was with them on that sacred ground fifteen years ago and every year since — not just for the sound bites and photo ops, but doing the hard, tedious work to bring closure, financial support, and dignity to survivors and families. Those are her people, and she wasn’t going to let them down — not then, and not now.
This morning, we watched a woman stumble on a sidewalk because she was doing what we’ve been trained to do — to keep going, to be there for our people, to get the job done. In that moment, we saw her at her strongest — the woman who gets it done — and we caught a rare glimpse of her vulnerability.
What we do next — how we talk about it, how we slice and dice and parse the innuendo and dog whistle sexism that already swirls in this campaign — that’s the message we send to our daughters and daughters-in-law and our granddaughters. If you’re a woman, getting sick isn’t an option. It’s a sign of weakness. And that’s simply not acceptable anymore.