Photo Credits: Katy Svec, Tanya Underwood-Best, Jennifer Muhm, Amy L. Keyishian, Ginger Pennington, Evalie Jorgensen-Horner, Aimee WK

What We Actually Gained From Hillary's Loss

Women’s rights are being decimated by the GOP and Trump administration. But a new women’s movement has begun and it shows no sign of slowing down.
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I will forever be haunted by what was lost on November 8th. Because from my vantage point, Hillary Clinton will always be the history maker that never was.

I cast my first presidential ballot somewhat unenthusiastically for Clinton in 2008, back when I was a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley. I regarded her as the most qualified to be president, but I didn't feel much of an emotional connection to her. I had benefitted from generations of feminist progress—not to mention, a significant serving of white privilege—and I could not personally relate to the slog of her against-all-odds ascension. The world in which I came of age in did not resoundingly tell me “NO” as a (white, middle-class) girl; I played sports, took advanced classes, and actively pursued a career after graduating from college.

In these past eight years, however, I've grown up. I've seen for myself just how harsh and cruel the world can be toward ambitious women—and nowhere was that more spectacularly apparent than during the 2016 presidential campaign. I remember sitting in front of the TV at my friend’s apartment on Election Night, staring catatonically at MSNBC as the results trickled in and feeling like I was watching a real-life horror movie in slow motion (which, looking back now, feels incredibly ignorant). When the network officially declared Donald Trump the winner of the Electoral College, I went completely numb. The happy tears that I was saving for this moment—replaced instead with immense fear—stayed bottled up, stored away for perhaps another day.

 
 

 

 

At age 20, the nation’s first female Commander-in-Chief felt inevitable. At 29, I know better. The harassment, the disrespect, and the neverending double standards that women face daily, that I watched as Hillary Clinton trudged through her hard-fought campaign—it felt personal. To see an eminently qualified and liberal woman at the doorstep of the presidency for the first time, only for that dream to abruptly end — I’ll never forget that soul-crushing feeling. As writer Melissa McEwan articulated:

“’Get over it’ is a phrase I hear a lot lately—virtually any time I mention Hillary Clinton…I won't get over it because the 2016 election was a referendum on how America values women, and that makes it personal to me. My country chose an explicitly misogynist serial sexual abuser over an explicitly feminist candidate who has spent her career advocating for women and children, and who is the most qualified person ever to seek the office of the presidency. I am not inclined, nor should I be expected, to ‘get over’ that.”

Of course I wasn’t so naïve to think that a woman shattering that highest and hardest glass ceiling would solve every feminist problem overnight—or even in my lifetime. There are also arguments to be made that Clinton’s presidential platform did not go far enough for those who are most marginalized. As @BrookieB_ told Ebony, “I recognize significance and symbolism in [Clinton’s nomination] but it is not a meaningful step for most issues for me… there's a large chance she will enact policies that do harm to poor [women of color] in the US and call it ‘compromise.’” Additionally, Congress is still only 19 percent women—and for women of color, the percentage is even more abysmal. And by all indications, if Clinton had been elected, Republicans were preparing to hold more email investigations and obstruct Supreme Court picks. It is also not outside the realm of possibility that the GOP would have driven our first female president to impeachment faster than you could say “Donald Trump is a Putin puppet.” Yet, this void that so many of us expected Clinton to fill is still a painful reminder of what could have been. 

 
 

But, oddly enough, there is an upside: Clinton’s not being in the White House, and the gruesome events that led up to November 8th, has lit a fire under women to become more proactive and fill the political power vacuums themselves. One of the clearest signs of this is that, since the election, over 13,000 women — an unprecedented number — have signaled that they will run for office. The rage that comes with witnessing an extremely unfit, incompetent, and bigoted man defeat a heavily credentialed woman turns out to be the very thing to inspire droves of women across the country to remove the self-doubt that preemptively took them out of contention. Indeed, one of the biggest hurdles to parity at all levels of government is convincing women to run in the first place. In describing this post-election groundswell, EMILY’s List president Stephanie Schriock told New York Magazine, “We spend a lot of time recruiting. [Now] we’re seeing women calling us.” In fact, female candidates are elected and reelected around the same rates as their male counterparts—and once in office, these women pass more bills and secure more funding for their constituents than their male peers. Additionally, many of the grassroots resistance groups (i.e. “Indivisible” chapters) that have organically emerged from the aftermath of Trump’s rise are female-fronted. Schriock observed, “I see this as a new beginning. I think you’re going to see a new generation of women leaders rise up and change this country.” 

 

 

 
 
 

Personally, I’ve noticed a shift among those around me, seeing a lot more people being forceful in pushing back against acts of bigotry whether it’s expressed overtly or covertly, by people who do so consciously or unconsciously. Whereas before we may have been all too patient and forgiving toward those folks, dedicating countless hours to coaxing them to respect our viewpoints, now we waste no time cutting to the chase. With a bigoted, unqualified, and crass (at best) man in the Oval Office, why bother being polite at all costs? As Madeleine Davies argued in Jezebel:

“Women, though not always ‘good,’ have always been nice. And look where it’s gotten us. Stripped of our rights, degraded, and still under the thumb of men. At no point in history has humanity as a whole been nice, so why should I? There’s no longer a place for pleasantness, not publicly anyway. Now is a time for fury and force—a time for guarding the few things we do have (our perseverance, our bodies, each other) because they’re so at risk and so, so precious.”

 
 

Kara Brown, Davies’s Jezebel colleague, touched on similar points in her piece “Love Is Not the Answer,” writing: “Racism and bigotry are not the result of unfriendliness nor will they be undone by the opposite.” In essence, sweetness in and of itself is not going to meaningfully change policy or dismantle oppressive systems. And perhaps that’s part of why so many women embraced the “Nasty Woman” moniker that Trump bestowed on Clinton. That familiarity with being punished for fierce self-advocacy made it so that “nasty” felt delicious to subversively own. But even leaning into this assertiveness is problematic on a few different levels. For one, writer and activist Feminista Jones remarked on the hypocrisy of privileged women claiming “nasty,” saying: “You know that when certain women have asserted their ‘nastiness,’ you mainstream whiners have long-denied them the agency to do so.” 

 
 

Additionally, women have historically had to precariously balance speaking up for ourselves with staying safe. Proactively taking up more space will always be an uphill battle, as long as our very humanity is still up for debate. And yet, there’s something strangely clarifying about watching the most qualified and elite woman fall short after playing by the rules of the game. It almost gives us tacit permission to be bolder in our own quests toward a more free and equal society. As California 34th congressional candidate Alejandra Campoverdi wrote in Cosmopolitan, “It’s urgent we send a message to these women that they will not be kept out of the political process by the mere fact of being human, of being their wonderfully nuanced, complicated, sometimes contradictory selves.”

 

 

 

And despite her painful loss, Clinton herself shows no signs of slowing down. On Tuesday, after defending journalist April Ryan and Rep. Maxine Waters, Clinton declared, “I will never stop speaking out.” This woman’s utter resilience in the face of decades-long obstacles never ceases to inspire me. And that’s what makes this moment so bittersweet; it will always be absolutely gutting to think about how different our collective trajectories could be with Clinton as Commander-in-Chief. Even if her potential presidency were marred by faux scandals and an eventual ousting, there’s no doubt that the opportunity to build upon Barack Obama’s progress and to be a possibility model for girls around the country would have made it all worth it. 

 

 

But here we are; there’s no turning back the clocks now. We can only keep moving forward every day, something that women have always done since the dawn of time. 

 

 

 

So, on the last day of Women’s History Month in the first year of Trump’s term, I’m thinking of Lauren Hayes’s eloquent words from November: “The knot in my stomach has turned to fire.”


And I’m fueled for the fight.

 
 
 
Sarah Lerner is a freelance writer and social media strategist based in Los Angeles. Lerner also co-hosts the political/feminist podcast "Hellbent," which records twice weekly on Mondays and Thursdays. In her free time, she likes to watch basically anything on Bravo (Andy Cohen can take all her money). You can find her rage-y rants @sarahlerner on Twitter and her slightly more coherent musings on Medium.
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Sarah Lerner