Why I am Still With Her
Since the election, I have been glued to Facebook, trying to find some support while shaking and crying with anger and grief. A friend of a friend wished there was a defense of Hillary that did not mention the president elect. Easy. This is personal. And I am very much still with her.
In 1992 I was 17 years old. Politics was a matter of survival in my native Croatia — I spent much of that junior year in high school in a bomb shelter. But I remember when the future first lady of the United States defended herself as an independent professional woman: “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession.” I was with her ever since.
I understood the sentiment behind the cookies comment too well. There is a saying where I grew up when a young woman bakes something: “You can get married now.” I got the message as a child — as a woman, you have to bake (and cook and clean, but I digress), you have to get married, and you have to make yourself worthy by being appropriately domestic. I refused to learn and do any of the ‘requirements’.
I remember the 1995 “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights” speech. At 20, I did not understand it though. Like many young women we heard about in this election, I was swept away by the sheer possibilities and joy of college that I did not realize that what Hillary Clinton said was not obvious to everyone.
In 2000, I was a graduate student and took a course in psychology of gender. Today I am ashamed to admit that I thought it was all rather antiquated. We in the United States of America are oh so over this. We have come a long way from open sexism and implicit sexism is on its way out. That is what I believed. I was not angry at the Millenial women who did not see the value of Hillary Clinton becoming the first female president. I was like them not that long ago. I knew they wanted to believe what they were told. That they can be whatever they wanted to be. I am sorry that they will learn pretty quickly that this is not the case.
I was very glad to see Hillary Clinton become Senator. I never doubted she would win. Because America is great and it just has to appreciate this strong and immensely intelligent woman. Unfortunately, I now know I was naïve.
I am in academia and was very fortunate never to experience overt sexism. But well-meaning colleagues advised me against coming across as too strong. And I was told in that semi-joking (and semi-not) tone that I was likeable enough. Personally, being likeable is for people I like, being strong is what I want. Strong like that Senator from New York.
In 2008, I was 100% with her. I was working in a social psychology lab where most people studied prejudice and discrimination. In a casual conversation a female colleague explicitly stated that women getting pregnant is very inconvenient for employers. If they cannot handle the requirements of a demanding job, maybe they should not be in one. This was a self-proclaimed liberal very excited about the candidacy of a Senator from Illinois. I did not reply, just signed up to volunteer to try to elect our first female president. I was burning with urgency.
I was on top of a mountain in Taiwan when I heard that 18,000,000 cracks did not do the job. I did not understand a word of Chinese on TV, but knew that people decided it was not time for a woman. It is corny even to admit it out loud, but as it rained and poured that day, I experienced it as the universe crying with me. It felt personal. For all those times I did not even apply for jobs because I was not sure I had all the listed qualifications. Would not stop a man from applying or getting a job. For not being able to tell a child I was planning to have that women can do anything men can. Because it is a blatant lie.
In 2016, I fought with all my heart, body and soul to elect Hillary Clinton president. I volunteered in three states in person, connected friends with organizers in at least five more states (helps to be from NH with its first in the nation primary that is the training ground for organizers), and gave more money than I intended. I wanted Hillary Clinton to be president more than close to anything ever in my life (I wanted my grandmother to live forever and I want my child to be happy).
But as I watched the primaries, I realized the depths of sexism. I watched in horror as Hillary was told by journalists of Bob Woodward stature that she was too loud and that she should smile more. And what did she do? Like women must, to be taken seriously, she put her makeup, did her hair, got into heels, smiled and got quieter. Her opponent was not asked to be quieter or to smile. And he did not do either. She won the primaries by a substantially larger margins than President Obama did in 2008, but her win was portrayed as a squeak by. A woman has to be more than extra good to be considered equally worthy.
Yet again I thought that she would win. She had an awe inspiring organization on the ground. She was endorsed by every major newspaper. She was endorsed by leaders in every walk of life. But I was not fully naïve and met too many of those on the left who wanted their candidate or nothing. Knocking on doors, I heard too many times — from self-proclaimed progressives — that her opponent might ‘not be so bad’ because he would make things so bad and hurt so many people that after 4 or 8 years someone like their preferred candidate would have to emerge.
On election night, as it was becoming clear what was happening, I broke down crying in a room of more than a hundred people. I broke down for the times I was addressed as Mrs James Pringle (seriously, I don’t even have a name?!). I cried because one woman who would not accept the glass ceiling, no matter how much the bumping into it hurt, got hurt even more. I cried because the woman who helped 8 million children get health care was told that this did not matter. I cried for the woman who fought for first responders when the U.S. was attacked on 9/11. I cried because this woman did not pay lip service to the military, but fought for health care for military families. I cried for a woman able to balance imposing sanctions on Iran and negotiating a cease fire between Israel and Hamas. I cried because a woman who told the world that women’s rights are human rights was loudly told that these rights have limits.
The woman who had plans how to address issues from the personal to global, from addiction and mental health to equal rights for women, making schools safer from bullying to making college more affordable, was told none of it made a difference. Because she is not likeable to those who consider likeability the measure of a woman.
The woman who traveled to 112 countries and is immensely respected in the world was told that this is not enough in most states. The woman who has worked her whole life to help others was told that it does not matter because her slogan was not inspiring enough to them. Hillary was not willing to lie to people about bringing back their jobs that are now done by robots. Even if she needed them. She was courageous enough to stand up to racism and assorted bigotries and was punished for it. Even those trying to defend her inevitably couch their words in, “she certainly made mistakes, but…” or “of course I don’t agree with her on everything, but…” I will decidedly not do that.
I had a fortune of seeing Hillary Clinton in person and meeting her briefly. Why did I support her? Yes, for all the policies. But primarily because as a personality psychologist I know that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior and she worked her whole adult life to help others. Being around her felt like being in the presence of greatness.