The US presidential race shook the world, and the outcome of it was stunning in the literal sense: the world was speechless, unable to believe that someone like Donald Trump could actually become President of the United States of America, arguably the most powerful country in the world right now. The fact that his opponent, Hillary Clinton, was a woman lent an added blow. So not only did America elect a charlatan reality-television star to the White House, it also snatched away Clinton’s chance of becoming the first female president of the US. Women all over the world have mourned Clinton’s loss as their own, and it’s not just because they are women. Or maybe saying ‘just because’ is incorrect here, because there is nothing so simple about it.
Scores of people have pointed out Clinton won the popular vote, which is comforting. Many are also quick to point out that a lot of women didn’t vote for Clinton. Which is fine too, because you should vote with your brain and not your nethers, as Susan Sarandon piquantly put it. Still more people, mostly men, point out that Clinton being a woman had nothing to do with it, which is patently wrong. Of course it had something to do with her losing the election. Not everything, but a significant part of what went wrong has a lot to do with her femaleness, starting from the very beginning, when Clinton scoffed openly about not wanting to spend her life at home, making cookies. Immediately female cookie-baking women around the world felt their hackles rise, and Clinton has been seen as a cold, calculating, unethical and altogether Lady Macbeth level puppet master extraordinaire.
I don’t know her personally, obviously. She may well be all those things. But what is excruciatingly obvious is that none of this matters when a male politician is concerned. Hillary Clinton’s husband was at the centre of a sordid affair he had while in office, he teetered on the brink of being impeached—but he wasn’t, and is respected and admired by many even today. President-Elect Trump has been accused many times of rape, he is on record advocating sexual harassment, but lo and behold, he is the president all the same. Hillary Clinton wasn’t domestically inclined? Awful! Disgusting! Unnatural shrew!
Women and men are never seen through the same lens, and patriarchies exist to reinforce this imbalance. Women are not taken seriously, ever. If Clinton were to be warm and friendly and approachable, she would be despised for being soft. She is determined and focused, but for women that makes them shrill, bossy and emasculating. For men, the same qualities are applauded and encouraged, seen as markers of good leadership. How does that make any sense, the rational mind wonders, and the answer is that it doesn’t have to as long as our societies are skewed the way they are.
There are not enough women in any field, particularly the dirty bog of politics, because the gates of entry are policed vehemently. The politics of inclusion are so complex, and so many people dismissive of their importance, that it is crucial to keep hammering at it. When the centre is controlled and defined by men, it is incredibly difficult, almost next to impossible, for women to enter it. The minute someone gets close, like Clinton did, forces will unleash themselves to “correct” the balance, and something like the FBI suddenly remembering certain questions about a candidate will surface, even though the deadline for government agencies to raise these concerns is long past. The boundaries of everything are changed continually to keep women on the periphery of participation, and the best way to disguise the fact is to have a handful of token women on board to show that the game is equal, the pitch is level, it’s just that most women just can’t handle it. And because our misogyny is so deep-rooted and so easily accepted, we automatically assume that the presence of a woman means the sexism has been negated.
Hillary Clinton running for president wasn’t just about ambition. It was about audacity. It’s the same audacity Benazir Bhutto had in coming back home to ultimately perish. It is difficult to quantify, as a woman, what it meant to see Clinton push herself forward and cussedly refuse to back down. It was the bravest thing I’ve seen in a while. Of course, white feminism that excludes women of colour. Of course corruption. Of course shady politics. But also intelligence. Also being prepared and over-prepared. Also keeping one’s nerve while being bullied and harassed by one’s opponent as the world watches (and does precious little to remedy it, or help). Also for even the idea of “Madam President” being so close one could taste it. Sure, history doesn’t remember the ones who came second. Maybe that’s what his-story thinks. But women remember, and many of us won’t forget so easily.