I was lucky enough to grow up in a household with two parents who told me I could be anything I wanted to be; even the president of the United States.
As a little girl, I asked my mother why, if women can do anything men can do, has there never been a woman president?
“There will be one day,” she told me firmly. “By the time you’re my age, there will be. Maybe it will even be Hillary Clinton.”
I couldn’t help but notice a wistful look in my mother’s eyes whenever she talked about Hillary Clinton. It was clear she had the utmost respect for the woman, both as a person, and a politician. I remember how, when Hillary would speak, my mother would nudge me and say, “that’s Hillary Clinton. She’s one of the smartest people in the world.”
Perhaps, my mother’s admiration for Clinton came from spending the majority of her own working life in industries that were boys’ clubs. In college, she’d been a math major. One professor accused her of cheating because she got an ‘A’ on a difficult exam, and because she was female, he didn’t believe that was possible. As a twenty-something, she was an insurance executive, back when few women were climbing the corporate ladder. She rose quickly through the ranks, but was constantly underestimated in her abilities and assumed to be the secretary as she sat in on important meetings. Later on, she became a high school athletic director; one of the few women in Connecticut holding such a position.
My mother felt the limitations of the glass ceiling intimately in her own work life. She felt the pressure to be perfect; to be better than the men but for only half the credit. She felt the pain of being treated with disdain, and of having to routinely work with people who hated her just for being an outspoken and driven woman. She was called terrible things behind her back — shrewd, bitch, tyrant, insufferable, fat cow. And those were only the words people said to or around me, her young, impressionable daughter. So I can only imagine what they were saying out of my earshot.
When I hear these same things being said about Hillary Clinton, I can’t help but wince in pained empathy. Witnessing what my mother, and all of the other women around me, have battled every single day of their lives has made me hypersensitive to the reality that women are held to impossible standards; and that even when we meet those standards, we’re punished anyway.
So, it’s no wonder that I too have the utmost respect for Hillary Clinton, despite her downfalls and mistakes, and despite my being a millennial and never having lived in a world where she hasn’t been under constant attack. My mother and father made sure I understood that Hillary was being unfairly targeted, and held to standards that no person could possibly meet, and no man would ever be asked to.
When Hillary ran for president in 2008, my mother and I excitedly cheered her. “It’s happening! I told you she’d make a great president!” my mother exclaimed.
We were gutted when Clinton lost to Obama, but excited that she was named Secretary of State. “She’s the only one with the guts, smarts and empathy to improve relations around the world,” my mother insisted. “And you never know, maybe she’ll run again and win!” I believed her.
I still believe her. And as I write these words, tears stream down my cheeks. I’m sad that my mother died before she was ever able to see Hillary, or any woman in the White House. I’m angry that I grew up in a world with no women ever reaching the highest office of the United States; that I had to question my own worthiness of such a position because I had no one to model myself after. I’m beside myself that little girls all across this country are still growing up in such a world. I’m frustrated that Bernie Sanders says things like, “No one has ever heard me say, ‘Hey guys, let’s stand together, vote for a man.’ I would never do that, never have,” because nobody would EVER have to say such a thing — we’ve been electing men exclusively to this office for 227 years and have hardly had any female choices. I’m disgusted that Hillary Clinton, named the most admired woman in the world a record TWENTY times, is routinely called “uninspiring” and reduced to her female parts. I’m tired of seeing her trashed for the very same attributes we hold up as positives in men — leadership, ambition, dealmaking, political calculation. I’m completely over being told that Hillary has too much baggage, and that we’ll elect a female president when the “right woman comes along.” As though there isn’t ALREADY a woman running who has the necessary experience and drive; as though there is ever going to be a magical time when a woman is able to rise to such a position without being cut down to size in the very same manner Hillary Clinton is every day; as though that glass ceiling isn’t about a million inches thick.
I want to live in a country where little girls will no longer have to ask their parents why, if they can do anything, there has never been a woman in the White House.
I don’t care what your politics are or whether you find Hillary Clinton personally inspiring or likable.
All I know is that growing up in Hillary Clinton’s America has inspired me every day of my damn life. Seeing her out there, rocking her pantsuit, hustling and taking no shit has helped push me to follow my own dreams; road blocks be damned. Watching her fight, and persevere while being attacked from all sides has been life-affirming. The woman is indestructible. It’s incredible to me that after all she’s been through, she still cares enough about this country to continue to fight to improve it. Because, let’s face it, we’ve been really shitty to her. And if all she cared about was money and power, she could easily retire right now and rake in millions of dollars working the speaking circuit and sitting on corporate boards.
I bought this pillow for my home office, to remind me to fight every single day, and to keep me conscious of what my parents told me when I was young: a woman’s place is wherever she damn well wants it to be.