The woman sex­ists fear

Through­out her public life, Hil­lary Clin­ton has been a leader women can look up to

Baltimore Sun - - COMMENTARY - By Robin Ger­ber Robin Ger­ber is the au­thor of “Lead­er­ship the Eleanor Roo­sevelt Way.” She can be reached at www.rob­inger­ber.com.

Hil­lary Clin­ton smashed her head against the high­est glass ceil­ing. It held thanks to a num­ber of fac­tors, all hav­ing sex­ism at their core. The cul­tural im­per­a­tive to keep women in our place is a toxic weed. Our lead­er­ship has been choked off in ev­ery sec­tor from C-suites and board­rooms to Congress, state leg­is­la­tures, the mil­i­tary and re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions. Hil­lary Clin­ton might have ush­ered in a post-fem­i­nist Amer­ica. In­stead, her loss puts women’s equal­ity in peril. But op­por­tu­ni­ties to ad­vance women’s lead­er­ship, per­verse to be sure, did emerge from this elec­tion.

The ef­fort to dele­git­imize Hil­lary Clin­ton as a leader be­gan long ago. She drew in­tense fire the minute she chal­lenged con­ven­tional roles es­tab­lished for first ladies. In Arkansas, she had the temer­ity to want to use her fam­ily name, rather than her hus­band’s, when Bill be­came gover­nor. In Wash­ing­ton, she took on ma­jor is­sues, like health care, and es­tab­lished a West Wing of­fice, which no first lady had ever done. She was al­ways bril­liant, be­came ex­pe­ri­enced in govern­ment and a tough ad­vo­cate with hands-on ex­pe­ri­ence on is­sues. She was re­lent­less, strong and had ris­ing am­bi­tion.

In short, Hil­lary be­came the poster child for the woman sex­ists fear. She didn’t choose to be a tar­get, but her ac­tions put a bulls-eye on her back, one that be­came all too lit­eral in this elec­tion.

But Hil­lary’s his­tory of so­cial ac­tion, her tena­cious lead­er­ship, de­spite los­ing the pres­i­dency, stands as a bea­con for other women to fol­low. Her hero, Eleanor Roo­sevelt, is quoted in the “Sol­diers Hand­book” as say­ing, “Our ideals are like the stars, we may not reach them but they serve to guide us on our way.” I am sure Hil­lary won’t stop lead­ing to achieve her ideals be­cause she lost the pres­i­dency. Ev­ery woman in Amer­ica needs to fol­low her ex­am­ple, now more than ever.

We can build women’s lead­er­ship on an­other low point of the cam­paign. Trump’s re­marks about grab­bing women by the crotch be­came a teach­able mo­ment. Good men, like my hus­band of 28 years, had no idea that women suf­fer as­saults start­ing from our ear­li­est years. When I told him about my brush with a pe­dophile at 14 he was shocked, and en­light­ened.

Men’s deeper un­der­stand­ing of women’s lives will help bridge the lead­er­ship gap. We must also shine a harsher light on the range of in­dig­ni­ties and bod­ily harm that de­means us as women and lead­ers. Call­ing out sex­ism is how we root it out, and rise up.

The most per­verse help women lead­ers re­ceived from this cam­paign came from the count­less ways that the me­dia, Mr. Trump and his staff nor­mal­ized his sex­ism. Mr. Trump’s team ar­gued that Bill Clin­ton had cheated on his wife and as­saulted women, so no big deal if Mr. Trump did too. Roger Ailes’ sex­ual ha­rass­ment of women em­ploy­ees at Fox News could be ex­cused, ac­cord­ing to Mr. Trump, be­cause Mr. Ailes had helped the women in their ca­reers. And by the end of the cam­paign, Mr. Trump’s count­less de­mean­ing com­ments about women, his threats to the women who ac­cused him of as­sault, faded from the nar­ra­tive.

But Mr. Trump’s be­hav­ior to­ward women is un­likely to change. Which gives us the op­por­tu­nity to protest sex­ism on a na­tional scale. We must refuse ef­forts to nor­mal­ize our ob­jec­ti­fi­ca­tion and lack of le­git­i­macy as lead­ers. Why is this help­ful? Be­cause it will re­quire courage, strength and risk be­yond what we are used to, and these are ex­actly the at­tributes women need to lead in this tough time.

No doubt Hil­lary read this quote from Eleanor Roo­sevelt many times: “We don’t be­come he­roes overnight, just a step at a time, find­ing strength, courage and con­fi­dence ev­ery time we look fear in the face.” Now is the time to take ev­ery chance, no mat­ter how it emerges or how scary it is, to as­sert our lead­er­ship. Women must re­solve to match ev­ery sex­ist at­tack with a tougher, more de­ter­mined at­tack on ev­ery glass ceil­ing.

CLIFF OWEN/AP

Hil­lary Clin­ton is a role model for mil­lions of American women.

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