The woman sexists fear
Throughout her public life, Hillary Clinton has been a leader women can look up to
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.
Hillary Clinton is a role model for millions of American women.