My heart goes out and my hat is off to Hillary Rodham Clinton, whose immense intelligence, courage and experience were not enough to overcome the general ugliness and particular misogyny that now openly characterize these United States.
We Americans live in a country that saw fit to grant the most ignorant black men — former slaves — the franchise 50 years before the most educated white women fought their way to the ballot box. Nearly a century later, we live in a country where women earn 80 cents for doing the same work that earns men a dollar, a country that has refused to secure equal rights for women in its Constitution, a country where women may soon be stripped of their legal right to end pregnancy.
We live in a country where black lives matter, where a great social movement has been built on outrage over unarmed black men being killed by police officers who are sworn to protect us all. Meanwhile, more than a third of women murdered in this country die at the hands of male intimate partners; one in five American women will be raped in her lifetime.
Do female lives matter?
We have just elected a man who personifies misogyny, whose sexual objectification of women is a matter of public record. A man who seemingly could not do anything awful enough to lose this election as long as his opponent was a woman. Any woman, really, though I don’t doubt that a ditzy or deferential female — a Sarah Palin or Phyllis Schlafly — might have fared better at the polls than the unapologetically powerful Clinton.
No one knows better than she the price of being uppity. Hillary Rodham was vilified when Bill Clinton was governor of Arkansas: She didn’t take her husband’s name; her hair wasn’t right, nor her dress. After he was ousted at the end of a single term, this smart, successful lawyer sacrificed her public identity to bolster his, adding his surname and cultivating a more conventionally feminine appearance. Bill Clinton was re-elected.
The same thing happened in the White House, where Hillary Clinton’s attempts to reform health care were met not just by opposition, but vitriol. When she went on the road to promote her plan, she was spat upon, cursed. Again, she had stepped out of the prescribed female role, taking on a serious policy issue — the province of men — rather than behaving like an acceptable First Lady, busying herself with the White House china or school-lunch programs. And again, mindful of her husband’s popularity, she retreated and remade herself into something smaller and less offensive to the American people, so that he could be re-elected.
This time, Clinton — whose life of public service is a tribute to the principles on which this nation was founded — dared to be herself. And, for that, again became a lightning rod for viciousness, and not just from the Right: virulence was everywhere apparent in Bernie Sanders’ supporters. I felt it at our precinct caucus: They didn’t simply prefer his largely similar policies, they hated her. It was personal. And it was not just men, whose power and privilege were arguably threatened by the prospect of a female president, but many women.
I don’t pretend to understand this, but as a lesbian who came of age in the 1980s, I know how living in an atmosphere of discrimination and potential violence twists one’s psyche. You start to believe that you belong in the place those with more power have allotted you: straight for gay, men for women. You align yourself with your oppressor; you think you will be safe there.
In the end, Hillary Rodham Clinton refused to get in line, to again make herself small. She quit trying to compensate for the single liability that has constrained her tremendous possibility: her femaleness. She believed that, in an era in which Americans would elect a black man — or at least a highly palatable half-black man, a person of exceptional intelligence, vision and leadership — they might finally accept a woman of similar merit and greater experience. Certainly, they would do so when the only other option was a sexist, racist demagogue whose amorality is evident, a man who, by any rational measure, should never have been in the running.
She was wrong. Because in this country, a bad man is still preferable to the best woman.
It’s a hard day to be female in the United States, to see affirmed so emphatically every suspicion you had about the reality of your place and possibility in the country you call home. To see so painfully rebuked a woman whose life has been a testament to the best of the American spirit and whose fate, repeatedly, has been a testament to the worst.
And yet her concession speech was pure class, in keeping with her character. “I still believe in America,” she said, “and I always will.”
I wish I could say the same. But I can’t. Not today. I can say only that my heart goes out and my hat is off to Hillary Rodham Clinton: for her intelligence, her compassion, and her courage. For her perseverance on behalf of a country that — to our undying shame — remains unworthy of her.