Hillary Clinton’s Nomination Made Me Realize I’m A Bad Feminist
When Hillary Clinton took the stage on Thursday night, my first thought was, “She’s going to lead by herself?” I’ve only ever seen women in leadership positions where they’ve had a man as co-leaders (Senators, for example) or had their power restrained by men (CEOs answering to a Board of Directors). My response made me wonder if I’m the feminist that my Twitter bio claims.
I do believe in equal pay for equal work, paid leave, and a woman’s right to choose. I try to raise awareness about sexual harassment and combat rape culture. So I care about “traditional” feminist issues. Still, seeing Hillary Clinton on that stage, by herself, was jarring. I’m not sure that I believe women, including myself, are equally capable to lead. There’s no reason for this. I don’t think men inherently possess leadership qualities that women don’t. I believe that the way we think about gender, including the binary of men versus women, is socially constructed. So why was it so hard for me to wrap my mind around a woman leading?
Largely, I think it’s because I didn’t grow up seeing it. When I was in kindergarten (in 1995) my teacher showed us pictures of past presidents and asked what they had in common. We commented that some had mustaches, some had glasses, and most of the pictures were in black and white. She had to point out that they were all men because it didn’t occur to us that there was anything unusual about only having men as presidents. No one mentioned race.
In the last 21 years, I hadn’t thought much about how gender shapes my daily experiences or the way people relate to me even as I become engaged in other issues of social justice. I became socially conscious about race in high school when I began attending a majority white preparatory school and was treated as “other”. I also learned what being gay was in high school (in 2004) and the challenges the LGBTQ community faced. Prior to that, I didn’t know that gay people existed. I didn’t grow up in a conservative town or an isolated rural community. I grew up in New Jersey, an hour outside of New York City. Still, somehow, I was oblivious.
I engaged with traditional “women’s issues” in college (starting in 2008) but they never seemed to resonate with my own life. I’d read Betty Friedan in college, but it seemed like a relic of the past. I knew sexual assault and domestic violence are a huge problem, but it seemed like an issue of individual men being violent. I’d seen the Vagina Monologues and know that women are shamed for their bodies and sexual pleasure, but that seemed like an issue of women’s own modesty. I knew about the anti-choice’s movements effort to restrict access to abortion, but that seemed like a group of fringe radicals.
Then, in April of 2016, I saw posts about “Equal Pay Day” and began reading about the gender pay gap. This came just a couple months after reading Rebecca Traister’s cover story in New York Magazine about “the Single American Woman”. Suddenly, I realized that society has implicit expectations and biases based on gender just as we do for race and sexuality. I began to read everything that I could on the topic.
I learned about occupational segregation and how gender expectations push men and women into different professions. I learned how men experience a career boost for being married and parenthood while women experience a penalty for both. I learned about the Bechdel test and women’s representation in media. I read Shonda Rhimes’ book in amazement as she described how being in a relationship with a man was treated as a greater accomplishment than all of her professional successes.
Most starkly, I started getting experiencing all of these phenomena. I noticed when I was the only woman in the room during an externship this spring and how my opinions were dismissed whereas men who said the exact same thing were praised. I noticed how my family began asking about relationships and marriage before asking about my career plans after law school. I realized that men had been providing unsolicited opinions about my appearance for years. I cried watching Priyanka Chopra as an unapologetic, kick-ass Indian-American woman on television. I had this feminist awakening but was still watching with confusion when Hillary Clinton walked on stage Thursday.
I’m not voting for Hillary Clinton because I’m voting against her opponent’s bigotry. I’m voting for Hillary Clinton because, in doing so, I am expressing my belief that women can lead.
I’m voting for her because she supports policies that will make it possible for me to lead like paid leave, affordable childcare and equal pay. Of course, Hillary Clinton is not the perfect candidate, especially on issues that effect women who are marginalized in other ways.
It’s not enough that Hillary Clinton says we need to listen and examine systemic racism that effects me and people I love, but I’m hoping the examination will lead to commissioning a modern-day, standing version of the Kerner Commission that examines institutionalized racism and makes recommendations to the federal government. It’s not enough that Hillary Clintonis the first nominee to discuss the rights of people with disabilities at length in her acceptance speech, but I’m hoping it will lead to an examination of how access and services need to be improved.
I asked my mom what I would have said if this historic moment would have come years ago when I was a child. She said that I would have stated, “Of course a woman should be president- what is the big deal?” I hope that, if I have children, that’s what they will say when I describe living through President Hillary Clinton.