Women make up 51% of the population but hold less than 20% of U.S. Congressional seats. It wasn’t until 1920 that white women earned the right to vote. It wasn’t until 1972 that women could get birth control without written consent from their husbands. It wasn’t until 2015 that all military combat roles were open to women. Women still earn less than men. Thus, for women, the political has always been deeply personal. Deny it as much as you want, but sex and gender matter, just like race, ethnicity, nationality, class, sexual orientation, and religion. During a historic presidential campaign with the first female presidential nominee from a major party and the most openly misogynistic and sexist presidential candidate ever, being a woman has once again become a political act.
This election has been weird to say the least. On one hand, it has been gratifying and vindicating to watch Hillary Clinton break through barriers despite unprecedented sexism and misogyny. (If you say her gender doesn’t matter, you’re wrong.) It is truly strange to see someone you can relate to in such a public platform. The fact that “mansplaining” and “manterruption” have become slang words people used to discuss the first presidential debate points to something nearly every woman is familiar with–the feeling of being shouted over, condescended to, and having to simply smile and wait your turn. Rarely is there a national conversation about this feeling, however.
Another common criticism of Hillary Clinton is her seemingly cold, robotic, calculated demeanor. If she doesn’t smile, it’s because she’s hateful. If she does, it’s smug. I realized after reading the reactions to the first debate that I have experienced this exact same double bind in my own life. I don’t know if I can say that I’ve truly related so much to someone in this type of position before. Many women are undoubtedly also experiencing this, and thus, having their feelings validated.
This is why representation matters. If you can’t see someone who looks like you in a role, you can’t imagine yourself doing it. I never thought a woman president would ever be possible until this year. I imagine it’s how many Black Americans felt during similar moments when President Obama ran in 2008 and 2012.
Then there’s the unrelenting storm of misogyny and sexism from Donald Trump. From the moment he announced his intention to run over a year ago, my position has been to ignore him as much as possible and thus deny him legitimacy. The xenophobia, racism, sexism, misogyny, homophobia, and pure hatred from him aside, he lacks the basic knowledge of how our Constitution works. The fact that he can even be considered a viable candidate for our highest office is proof positive of White Straight Male Privilege.
Despite my attempts to ignore him, though, his words hurt me and millions of other Americans. Even when they are not directed at me (a woman), his beliefs on Muslims and Mexicans pain me. They make me ache for my friends and neighbors who must be living in fear from the violent rhetoric of this campaign. His words hurt because America was not founded on the belief of isolating a single group of people and banning them. The times we have done this have been the darkest in our history.
Trump’s comments about women really hit home for me, though. This latest news did not surprise me. The man we have come to know has never spoken about women in terms of anything but their sexual value. He famously speaks about his own daughters as though they are sexual conquests.
Nonetheless, this latest news was the tipping point for me. Reading the transcript of his words literally turned my stomach. I am not a survivor of sexual assault, but I am a staunch advocate for those who are. I spent three years of my undergraduate career working with my college and hometown community fighting against rape culture, the dehumanizing idea that women who are survivors of sexual assault and violence ask for it in anyway shape or form; the idea that women are nothing more than sexual objects made to please men. When someone with as much power and privilege as Donald Trump continually talks about women the way he does–what more proof do you need that rape culture is real, that misogyny is real, that sexism is real?
1 in 4 college women will be raped. I shouldn’t feel lucky that I escaped college without being a statistic. That is sick and wrong. I refuse to let our country’s values be synonymous with the worldview that women are less than human. We make up more than half of this country. It is time for us to stop being viewed as a minority. To casually speak about grabbing a woman’s vagina is an implicit endorsement of sexual assault and violence. 1 in 5 women have been raped. Too many women have experienced this exact action.
In short, this campaign has reminded me daily that I am inferior because of the parts I was born with. One of the most powerful and influential people in the country sees me for nothing less than my sexual capabilities. It adds up. It is tiring and wearing. Again, Trump has spoken about virtually every group of people in a disparaging manner, so I doubt I am alone. But I can only speak to my experience.
I write this not to tell you who to vote for. I, of course, have my opinions on this which are probably not hard to guess. I write this to implore you to continue to engage in a civil discourse and reevaluate the way you talk about yourself and your neighbors. I write this because empathy is deeply important and I fear it is quickly fading from our day-to-day interactions with each other. You don’t have to agree with, condone, or even understand another person to empathize and see them as fully human and treat them with respect.
Americans are more ideologically divided than ever before. I have seen too many people proudly unfriending each other and blocking individuals on Facebook and Twitter over who they are voting for in 30 days. This does not help. If we ever want our country to close this divide, we have to bridge that gap, value others’ viewpoints, and continue the conversation, not only with each other, but with ourselves.
In closing, a reminder of what makes America great:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”