WOMEN

Smart Girls Will Relate To Hillary Clinton's Failed Bid For High School Class President

"He got to be president, but I had to do most of the work."
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Hillary Clinton’s actually been trying to be president since at least the 1960s, according to a new interview with the Democratic presidential nominee.

Back when she was a senior in high school, Clinton ran for class president and lost. She was even told she was “really stupid” for thinking a girl could be president.

Instead of landing the top role, Clinton wound up doing a ton of work behind the scenes for the guy who did win, the Democratic nominee tells 11-year-old Marley Dias in an adorable interview in Elle.com. It’s Clinton’s latest attempt to get us to relate to her as a human, and yeah, it kind of works.

“The boy who won asked me to be the chair of the Organizations Committee,” Clinton tells Dias, who’s known for her book drive #1000BlackGirlBooks. “This meant that he got to be president, but I had to do most of the work.” (Emphasis mine.)

Clinton’s high school experience is a scenario that plays out in schools and offices around the country, where men, considered natural leaders, nab the high-profile roles while women stand behind them doing what some experts call “invisible work.” 

The story also almost eerily echoes a satirical piece by Alexandra Petri in The Washington Post. Written after Clinton nabbed the Democratic nomination for president, Petri’s story imagines the acceptance speech Clinton would really want to give: 

“I’m the girl who did the whole lab project and organized the whole group presentation and then let Chad give the speech,” Clinton says in the imaginary speech.

Portrait of Hillary Rodham Clinton as a high school student at Maine East High School, Park Ridge, Illinois, 1965.
Portrait of Hillary Rodham Clinton as a high school student at Maine East High School, Park Ridge, Illinois, 1965.

Doing the work and getting less credit has kind of been Clinton’s jam for a lot of her life. Readers may recall Clinton lost her bid for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination, but was offered the role of secretary of state instead. That is not a cushy job. Also, remember she was first lady? 

Anyway, none of this should surprise anyone who kind of suffered through being a smart girl in school and was sidelined or made to feel weird and different for daring to be ambitious ― but pushed on!

Clinton tells Dias she enjoyed her work chairing that committee back in high school. “[I]t turned out to be a lot of fun,” she says. “I got to plan all the events I would have pushed for as president. ... In the end, I’ve always found credit isn’t just something you take – it’s something people give you when they see how hard you’re working.”

Of course, credit doesn’t always come that “easy,” as any woman in the work world can tell you. Women often watch as a guy takes credit for their ideas or their work.

And, of course, women often wind up losing top jobs to men, only to find themselves working their ass off at a different job that’s a little less high-profile. We often fool ourselves into thinking this is fine because we’re wielding the real “power.”

At Facebook, the chief executive and founder, Mark Zuckerberg, runs the show, but his chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, is widely considered to be the one that keeps the trains moving on time. 

At a lot of companies, you’ll see women in the role of chief financial officer (at Google that’s Ruth Porat) or perhaps running human resources (Sheri Bronstein at Bank of America). These are top jobs to be sure, but not the tippy top one.

This doesn’t just happen in politics and corporate America. Last year an editor at now-defunct website Gawker described a system where men got plum assignments while women backed them up with skillful editing (and weren’t given the chance to take those great pieces on themselves).

An abundance of research shows that leadership is considered a male trait, and top jobs come to them more easily. Women are viewed as “caretakers” not leaders.

A cursory glance at the male dominated ranks of Fortune 500 CEOs or United States senators shows how that plays out in real life. Women ― and people of color, too ― have to work harder to prove their value and then, maybe, get a shot at the top spot.

You can see this play out now, as Clinton runs for president with an absurdly packed resume against a guy with no political experience whose biggest achievement seems to be a stint on a reality TV show. 

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