When Democrats say they lost the election because Hillary Clinton was their candidate, what they’re really saying is that they lost because their candidate was a female. I fear that this is the takeaway for young women and girls.
There are a lot of reasons to be sad right now. All the progress that’s been made in the last eight years that will be scrapped in the first hundred days. All the hateful new initiatives that will likely affect us for decades to come.
But I’m saddest for the girls—one in particular whose Wellesley commencement address showed such promise and strength to carry the weight of the world. And all the girls who saw in her a role model. Yes, there was a future when you studied hard and played all the right games—even into your grandmotherhood. Days ago, it felt like nothing could be taken away from us.
The treatment of women worldwide is enigmatic. As far as safety and basic rights go, on the books at least, the United States is one of the best places to be. There are a lot of streets in our country where a woman can walk around after dark by herself—though not recommended—and remain unscathed. But should we be celebrating that accomplishment when our country comes in at the bottom of the list of number of female leaders? This recent UN report shows that, despite stars like Madeline Albright and Ruth Bader Ginsberg, women leaders in the United States haven’t made much of a splash on the world stage.
Electing a woman president would show real respect. Of course, there are all sorts of other measures, like how much a woman is paid for doing the same work as a man, whether there’s child care, and how the chores are split at home. But if you believe a woman can lead, and you, as a man, can vote for her—that’s the ultimate vote of respect. A frightening number of American men are apparently incapable of this. They pay lip service to social norms—they don’t all necessarily behave like they’re in a locker room—but when it’s time to choose a leader, they feel emasculated by the idea of a woman leading them. Even one who’s played all their games and won them, almost all the way to the top.
At this point, no one knows what will happen to women’s rights under the new administration. But the defeat of someone who worked so hard and did all the right things to get herself elected is bound to send mixed messages to young women today.
What do we need to do to break through that glass ceiling? Playing by the rules hasn’t accomplished that. When Democrats say they lost the election because Hillary Clinton was their candidate, what they’re really saying is that they lost because their candidate was a female. I fear that this is the takeaway for young women and girls.
On the morning after what I’ll call the Apocalypse, I had a scarily clear memory of talking to a strong-willed boy when we were in first grade. He and I were on the reading carpet, slightly separated from the rest of the class. I told him I wanted to be the first woman on the moon. But he snapped back at me with such conviction, saying, “There have already been 13 women on the moon,” that I was taken by surprise. I knew that wasn’t true. It was 1974 and I had some fuzzy awareness of a woman scientist’s conversation with Walter Cronkite. But I didn’t have data at my fingertips. This boy had a number, right? Perhaps that meant he knew what he was talking about. Even at 6, I had already picked up the social cues that I shouldn’t fight back without facts. Even made up ones.
I thought about our conversation when Sally Ride became the first American woman in space in 1983. I’m still thinking about it now.
That was so long ago, and yet now, we’re faced with teaching girls all over again that they must be heard. They’re not “nasty women” for speaking their minds and sticking to what they know is right. I’m sad for girls who could be led to believe that’s the case.
Mandy Campbell Moore is a North Carolina ex-pat, living, writing, and mourning in Los Angeles.