Why Hillary Clinton’s Success is Personal
I grew up in a post-feminist society.
At the age of 12, my sister was in her final year of high school. A good student, she was on track for college and my single immigrant mother could not have been more proud. My sister struggled with the college application process; something that’s difficult on it’s own and more so when you have parents who are separated. I remember her talking with my father about college and I remember him questioning her desire to further her education, I remember him telling her not to bother because she would never amount to anything more than some maid or a housewife.
But I was raised in a post-feminist society.
I remember being stopped by my principal on my way to band class one day back when I was in eight grade. He knew me because he had taught my sister years before and knew my mother since she had always been involved in our education. He wanted to help me out. A spot was available in the AVID class and he wanted me to take it. Apparently it was a good class that could teach me organizational skills that would come in handy in high school and later college. It was well into the school year that this seemed like a bad idea. Also, I’m a pretty organized person. I was the kind of student who would have a notebook for each class, each of them a different color and marked, I didn’t need to be taught how to organize my work. More importantly, I knew I was in what was viewed as the honors class. Everyone in my class was in the top class rankings, I was in the top 10, and the class I was in was where I belonged. I had earned my way there, so I declined to take the spot; I said I was fine where I was. His response: “I’m very disappointed in you.”
But I was educated in a post-feminist society.
I remember starting high school. I was nervous it would be too challenging but was determined to do my best and to eventually make it to a good university. Science is not my forte, so I’ve claimed since at least 6th grade. Freshman year I was in honors biology and I worked hard. At the end of the first semester our teacher posted our grades up in class. A friend and I went to go check and I was so happy and proud to have attained the highest grade in the class. I was #1. My friend had the second highest grade. His response to this realization was “so, you’re fat” before walking away. I felt like crap. I wasn’t the top grade by the end of the year. There was a point during my pre-teen/teenage years when I wanted to be a forensic scientist; I can’t remember giving science my very best since; just remember excusing myself with ‘science is not my forte’. I realize now that maybe science has never been my best subject, but I was capable of being successful in it. I did well in science classes that followed, but I know I could have done better. I let myself fall behind because I let others chip away at me and my confidence; I allowed them to undermine my success and I now understand the reason they did was because they felt threatened by it.
But I grew up in a post-feminist society.
My sophomore year in high school I had a challenging math teacher. His classes were known to be challenging and I was nervous about it but ready to face that challenge. I was ready to give the class my best because I was determined to get that A. This teacher made his mark on me, for a couple of different reasons. First off, he challenged me; he gave me the opportunity to prove to myself that I was capable of doing great. At the same time, he tried to tear me down, and I’m sure he doesn’t even realize it. I’m sure it wasn’t his intention, but he did.
At the end of the school year, the class was paired up for projects on which we would have to give a presentation. I worked hard on my project and I worked hard on that presentation. I wanted perfection, I wanted that A. I gave my presentation and I was flawless.
Our teacher gave comments after presentations, in front of the class. His comment for me was to chill, I was “too rehearsed”, the class chuckled; I chuckled, and I felt like shit. I can’t remember him having comments about the project. I know it went well because my partner and I got the A. My work product was clearly fine, but it was overshadowed by his opinion that I was “too rehearsed” in how I presented that work.
I remember the following year. I stopped by his classroom to meet up with my friends. They were in math club and he oversaw the club. We got into a conversation about college. It was toward the end of my junior year and I had an idea of where I wanted to go. I mentioned I wanted to go to school in Washington, D.C. I was looking at George Washington, Georgetown, and American. I remember him telling me, “Honestly, I don’t think you can do it.” He again made me feel like crap. I don’t remember pressing him as to what he meant. To this day I don’t know what he meant with those words. Did he not think I was smart enough to get into such universities (despite my success the previous year in his challenging class) or did he just think me too cowardice to move so far away from home. What he meant doesn’t really matter though; he shouldn’t have said what he did. He was my teacher, he should’ve been supportive and encouraging, not insulting. Today, I am an alumna of Georgetown University and all I have to say to him is “Hoya Saxa!”
There was another memorable teacher in my high school experience, he was a beloved teacher who taught a couple of different classes: history, sociology, and psychology. I had him both sophomore and senior year. I can’t distinguish between what comments came sophomore year and which came senior year, but I remember them all the same.
I remember my discomfort when he told a story about an old female colleague who dressed inappropriately. I understand that through his story he meant to educate women on dressing modestly. Today I understand this for the slut shaming that it was.
I remember when he told us of a female student who had gone to visit him in class one day after having started college. I remember him saying she was a women’s studies major and then joking that all women’s studies majors are man-hating lesbians. I was uncomfortable with the stereotype at the time he made that joke and I take insult today having earned a Bachelor’s degree in Women’s and Gender Studies.
I remember when he asked the class if we wanted to hear a joke, a question he followed with “women’s rights.” I remember that joke circulating amongst my peers for weeks. I remember my male friends feeling the need to make sure I heard it, because it’s funny to rile up the feminist, and that’s okay, because “it’s just a joke, can’t you take a joke.” I remember finding out it was a joke he made with every class, every year and I knew because a friend the year above us told us he remembered the joke from when he had been in that teacher’s class. To this day I can’t stand when people try and hide their misogyny under the guise of humor.
I remember this same teacher’s running joke about man cards and how they should be taken away for this reason or that reason. He clearly had a certain view of what masculinity was and anyone who didn’t ascribe to it deserved to have their masculinity questioned, to have their man cards revoked.
These are not comments you make to impressionable youth. You don’t make women feel like less by calling their rights a joke, by trying to police how they dress. You don’t create an atmosphere in which boys must become hypersensitive about their masculinity, especially not when the judge of this masculinity presents his own masculinity as one that defines itself by denigrating women, it makes it okay for boys to follow in those footsteps. These comments only encouraged misogyny.
I remember that after completing my freshman year of college I stopped by my high school with some friends and visited some teachers and my counselor. I remember visiting this teacher. I remember us discussing my year in D.C., if I had found Georgetown challenging, and him asking if I would be returning there the following year. I thought the question strange at the time but didn’t pay much attention to it. Why wouldn’t I be returning? Obviously I would, I had 3 more years to go! Today, I wonder if he asked thinking that I had not been able to handle a challenging school like Georgetown, I wonder if he asked expecting that I had failed out.
But I was taught in a post-feminist society.
I am now 22, almost 23. I’ve been working since I was 18 and I’ve worked hard, given my all. I’ve gone through a few evaluations during this time. They’ve all gone well, I’ve always been told by supervisors that my work product is great. One evaluation stands out in my memory though. It was my first evaluation at that particular job. The first thing I was told when we got started was that I needed to smile more, that I needed to display more excitement over my work. Only after those comments were made was I told that my work product was great and to “keep doing what you’re doing”. This was pretty shitty; again my good work was secondary to my presentation, and it’s something I find diminishing. I highly doubt such comments and expectations are made of my male colleagues.
But I live in a post-feminist society, or at least that’s what I’ve been told.
These were the experiences I grew up with, though. These were the boys I grew up with, the men who raised me, educated me, and the men who I’ve encountered since entering the workforce. I know they’re not bad men. I know they are good men, smart, well intentioned and caring, but I recognize that they are flawed. I recognize the internalized misogyny within them because I recognize the misogyny that permeates throughout those defining experiences of my past. I realize that these men were taught how to be subtly sexist in such a way that not even they recognize just how gendered their rhetoric was. I reflect on those experiences and I know that the post-feminist society I grew up in was a lie.
Like me, Hillary Clinton did not grow up in a post-feminist society. She wasn’t fed the lie that she was, though, not the way I was. The sexism she faced was blatant. It was okay for people to tell her that she couldn’t do something because she was a woman. It was normal to think women weren’t intelligent and capable of achieving success.
The sexism I faced was subtle and hard to recognize. In fact, most of it was sexism I didn’t recognize until somewhat recently. I was able to really open my eyes this election cycle.
When Hillary is deemed inauthentic because she’s “too rehearsed”, I am taken back to that day I gave my math presentation. (Let me just say, from personal experience, when a woman seems “too rehearsed” it’s because she’s done her homework, it’s because she knows what the fuck she’s talking about and we should praise that effort, not denigrate it.)
When I hear critiques that she’s too serious and doesn’t smile enough. I’m taken back to that work evaluation that diminished my hard work by making my work secondary to my appearance. Because obviously women are only meant to be seen.
When Bernie Sanders wags his finger and says that Hillary has bad judgment, I’m reminded of the principal who told me he was disappointed in me for not doing what he wanted me to do. Because he thought he knew what was best, and refused to believe that I knew what was best for myself.
When Hillary is critiqued on her appearance; when her body becomes a talking point and her achievements get ignored, I am reminded of the friend who called me fat. I’m reminded of that friend who chose to draw attention to my weight and appearance in order to draw attention away from my achievement. The friend who tried to diminish my success because he was unhappy that I was outperforming him in class.
When I hear Bernie Sanders draw attention to his polling numbers while not acknowledging the raw votes that have come out of actual voting, I am reminded of that same moment. I am reminded of that moment because it is a man who refuses to acknowledge the real achievement and success of a woman, and he does so because he feels threatened by her; so instead he focuses on anything but her achievements.
Instead I watch him bash her character, even when he can’t substantiate his claims.
Hillary Clinton is in the pockets of Wall Street, she is a “corporate Democratic whore” or so that’s what Bernie Sanders and his camp would have us believe. But when Bernie Sanders was asked to come up with a single example of Hillary Clinton being in the pockets of Wall Street, he couldn’t; not a single example. But we still allow him to say such things, we believe him when he tells us that she’s nothing more than a puppet of Wall Street; and we forgive him when he allows his surrogates to call her a “corporate Democratic whore”. And have no doubt that he, or his campaign staff allowed it to happen. It’s naive to think a speech given at an event with the candidate would not be pre-approved by higher ups. But we don’t hold him accountable for those things, we let him get away with it.
We turn a blind eye to his misogyny and by doing so we encourage it. The same way my peers and I turned a blind eye and allowed, in a way, supported the sexism spewed by my history/sociology/psychology teacher in high school. That teacher made me uncomfortable when he made his sexist comments, I was well aware of that discomfort at that time, but I was afraid to speak up. I was afraid he wouldn’t like it and would send me to the office; that my school record would be damaged and hinder my college prospects. I was afraid of any backlash from my peers, because everyone loved this teacher, he was the cool funny one. I was afraid to again be told he’s just kidding, God, you feminists can’t take a joke. I was afraid to call him out on his sexism, then; but I’ve grown up a lot since. I’ve learned a lot. I have learned to recognize sexism, I have come to understand how even the most subtle sexism has come to affect me and I am done being silent, I am done being afraid.
I have come to a point in my life where I am more willing to speak out about the sexism I encounter, willing to educate others about how they can be better people to their fellows. It’s something I’m determined to keep working on. I’m determined to be a better feminist. I’m determined to work toward progress, however small, in our society and how it treats it’s women.
My desire for a more progressive society for women is why I need Hillary Clinton. It’s also why her success is personal, why her success would be my success. I can draw parallels between my life and hers. I have researched her past, I know the many detractors she faced. I know of her efforts in advancing women. I know she worked hard to achieve academic success and I know she strove for success in her work. I know she has had to work harder than her male colleagues all of her life just to be given similar opportunities. I know the incredibly high standards she set for herself and I recognize that she had to, because in our society anything less than perfection is reason to disqualify a woman from seeking power and high standing in any career.
I, too, have worked hard my entire life. I worked hard for my academic success. I worked hard to get into a prestigious school like Georgetown and to graduate from there, all while working a part-time job and while volunteering and interning with organizations to help build up my resume. I continue to work hard in my job and currently struggle with trying to figure out just what career I want to pursue. I know I want to be successful; I’m just not sure what that success looks like right now. It is something that incites fear in me, something that gives me anxiety, and sometimes makes me depressed. I feel I haven’t achieved enough and I feel the need to achieve more; I feel it’s my duty to do so.
I have placed this pressure on myself, I recognize this, but I can’t help it. I can’t help the need to prove to my society that a woman of Mexican heritage who was raised by a single immigrant mother, absolutely is capable of being smart, hard working, and capable of success. I have devoted my life to proving myself to people, especially to my detractors; to my friends, my teachers, my father. It’s why I feel the need to achieve more, and why I feel like a failure every day that goes by that I don’t work for a higher degree or in a job with any real upward mobility. I know I can change these things, I know I have time to do so, but even still, I can’t shake these feelings. I have put this pressure on myself for far too long and I did so because I feel it’s my job and duty to prove myself, not just for me, but for those like me as well.
When I think about how hard she has worked, how much she’s accomplished, all despite having so many people who have tried to tear her down along the way; when I think of all she’s endured, I can’t help but think that Hillary Clinton has done the same to herself.
We share a certain sense of duty, her and I. It’s part of what has allowed me to know her, to understand her struggle and the powerful meaning behind her success. It’s in knowing Hillary Clinton and what opposition she has faced that I know that unless she wins, someone like me will never have a shot, someone like me could never be seen as good enough. Like her, my achievements have been overshadowed by my appearance, by whether or not I smile enough, by my background, and by how others perceive me as a person, whether they know me or not. It’s been a disheartening realization, but it’s been comforting as well. It’s comforting because I have finally come to understand that I am not failing women, I am not failing Latinos, I am not failing the children of single mothers, and I am not failing society; society is failing me.
And still, I have hope. I see the hell Hillary has endured and I am in awe of the strength with which she perseveres. I know why she perseveres, I know that it’s not just for her but for all of us. More importantly, it’s for the women who will come after her.
I hear the many insults hurled against her. I hear the loud voices that say she is unacceptable, that say that she is not the one America wants. But I look at the numbers and know that’s a lie. I keep hearing that her detractors are louder and more enthusiastic, but you see, that’s still not true. It’s her supporters that have the louder voice, it’s just that their voice manifests itself through the power of their vote. The fact that she has more votes behind her than any other candidate is testament of a society that is able to look past the mischaracterizations and lies her opponents have used to try and tear her down. It’s proof of a society that is willing to acknowledge her qualifications, a society that is not only willing, but excited to actually give a girl a chance.
I have hope in our numbers, I am hopeful that there are enough of us who will be able to carry her to victory. I have faith because I know what her success will mean to her, what it will mean to me, and what it will mean to the girls and women across this country and across the globe.