If women are going to progress past misogyny, we have to stop succeeding at any cost.
I’m an ardent Hillary Clinton supporter. I stood in line for hours to hear her speak during the 2016 campaign; my daughter took a selfie with her after the event. I voted for her proudly in 2008 and again in 2016. But my support doesn’t extend to excusing her behavior where sexual harassment is concerned.
The New York Times reported Friday that during Clinton’s 2008 campaign, senior adviser Burns Strider was accused of sexual harassment by another member of her campaign staff. Clinton’s then campaign manager recommended that she fire Strider but she opted against it. Instead, her remained in place as her faith adviser, where he sent her scripture readings every morning.
Their ties continued in her 2016 campaign. During that campaign, he was hired to lead an independent group, Correct the Record, which was started by David Brock, a close ally of the Clinton’s, according to The New York Times. Strider was fired from Correct the Record after only a few months for workplace issues, including allegations of sexual harassment.
Clinton was wrong. Strider should’ve been fired from her 2008 campaign. She should have cut ties with him, and her campaign shouldn’t have continued to affiliate with him in any way — much less as her “faith adviser.” It’s hard to imagine anyone less qualified to act in that capacity than a man who repeatedly harasses women.
But it’s impossible to consider Clinton’s actions outside the context of her candidacy and cultural influences. I grew up watching her get eviscerated by the media on a daily basis for daring to work on policy as First Lady and for choosing pant suits over dresses. Clinton cut her teeth in a culture so steeped in misogyny that anything less than assault was considered the price of competing in a man’s world.
I’m 30 years younger than Clinton, but my own foray into the tech industry in my 20s demanded that I smile, laugh, and be “one of the guys” to be tolerated, much less accepted. I was proud of my ability to hold my own in a male-dominated industry and team, and I bought the myth that strength means accepting whatever misogyny was thrown at me. It never occurred to me that I could tell my male co-workers their sexual comments weren’t funny; frankly, I’m still not sure I could have without repercussions.
I remember how Anita Hill was treated during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings, and I wince when I recall my own unwillingness to take her at her word. “It’s not that bad” was the mantra of women in the ’90s and early 2000s, and we hid in the bathrooms to cry rather than speak out against our mistreatment.
But for Clinton, sexual harassment is more personal. If Strider was wrong, she would have to confront her husband’s misconduct from a different lens. If sexual harassment is intolerable, it could cost her her marriage.
After the recent babe.net takedown of Aziz Ansari, I spoke to many different women about his behavior. Almost universally, their reactions were split along generational lines: older Gen X’ers argued that “Grace” should’ve been assertive and that he was more clueless than creepy, whereas millennials characterized his behavior as sexual misconduct. As someone who inhabits the grey area between the two generations, I wasn’t surprised by the dissonance.
What gets lost in the shouting match between generations is the role each of them play in changing the status quo: Gen X women normalized women in the workplace and fought to have date rape even acknowledged as a crime; millennial women are pushing back against the toxic notion that the only way to compete in the workplace is to act like one of the guys and fighting back against sexual misconduct across the board. Neither of these could exist without the work of the other. Where we go astray is discounting the value of the other’s work and refusing to adapt to changing times.
Clinton has my empathy. I can’t imagine what it was like to be one of the only women in her class at Yale Law. I know that she’s found the strength to keep pushing forward all of these years by pushing aside the softer parts of herself; there’s still no room for vulnerability in a woman in politics.
What I wish we could be frank about is the cost of all of this “strength” on the women who paved the way for our successes. It’s easy to point fingers and engage in call outs, but the reality is these women are victims, too, of the same misogyny. They survived in the only way they knew how, but that survival led them to become perpetrators of misogyny, too.
But that’s not an excuse. In 2018, we know better and we must do better. If Clinton wants to be a role model for today’s women, she has to do the work to get there. She must face the behavior of her advisers, friends and even her husband head on. She needs to listen to the stories of women in the #MeToo movement and accept her place in their victimization. And she must look deep down inside for the softer parts of herself that weren’t safe in 2008 or 2016, but are what young women need to see today.
If women are going to progress past misogyny, we have to stop succeeding at any cost. We have to consider our impact on other women. And that work begins with our pioneers like Clinton.