A few nights ago, as I ordered my takeout Matzo ball soup at a diner on the outskirts of Manhattan, I heard a loud man, with a group of other men, say something that is currently one of the most overused, blanket statements since the presidential debates began: “I just don’t trust her.” As soon as I heard those words, I knew exactly who and what the group was talking about, and I can’t say I was all too surprised. But, when a waitress responded with “I’d take a hundred men over one woman any day,” and then proceeded to carry on about how much she can’t stand women, it made my blood boil.
Here’s the crazy thing: I’ve heard women use the catch-phrase “I just don’t trust her” as much as I’ve heard men use it. No explanation follows.
This campaign has opened up a big can of repression and denial, and has disrupted complacency, among other things. People are being forced to ask themselves some uncomfortable questions: If a man had made the same career mistakes as Hillary, would we be so focused on it? Would there be such a media sandstorm if a man didn’t smile enough during a debate? Why do we scrutinize women so harshly? Why do we care more about what she wears than what she has to say? If we’re honest with ourselves, we’re not going to be happy with the answers.
Women especially won’t like the answers. We’re raised in a society that judges women harshly. It teaches us to find fault in other women—to find fault in ourselves. It teaches us that how we look is more important than what we think. We’ve been fundamentally pitted against one another.
If any woman has reason to not trust other women, I could easily be on that list. There were the mean girls who ostracized me when I transferred to a new town on my second day at their junior high—all because one of their boyfriends, I would later learn, thought I was good-looking. There was the group of girls in my first college dorm that stopped speaking to me. My quiet, attractive blonde roommate later admitted she was behind the coup. When I asked her why, she gave me a remarkably honest answer...”When you walk into a room, everyone stops and looks at you.”
A lesson was learned with every backstab and expulsion. And those mean girls from junior high? One of them would, years later, stop me in the halls of high school and ask me to walk with her to class, because she said she didn’t want to be seen walking alone. She and her friends had made me an outcast, but in that moment, I saw something more complex...so I walked her to class.
Imagine the kind fortitude one must build in such isolation. Obama, Hillary…they’re the epitome of fortitude. There’s no room to make mistakes when you’re the historical underdog. The bar is much too high and all eyes are watching. The underdog works ten times harder. Who better qualified? Who better to trust? Imagine how much fortitude Hillary must possess when even women hold her to an unreasonably higher standard.
We’ve learned to be as critical of other women as we are of our own reflections in the mirror. All too often, we tear each other down—we’re conditioned to do this on so many levels, it’s dizzying. More than once, I’ve lost my livelihood at the hands of another woman, regardless of being the most profitable and well-regarded employee in the field. When a woman in a position of authority rips the rug out from under your feet, it’s easy to lose faith in the bonds of sisterhood.
With everything that’s happened in my own life, shouldn’t I be inherently mistrustful of giving a woman the most powerful position in the United States? So, why do I find myself totally dumbfounded when women berate Hillary? Our history, the media, our entire social structure—it all ingrains us with a dominating sense of mistrusting one another. With these prevailing norms, why should women get behind her?
The better question is why shouldn’t we? In a world that constantly reminds us that how we look is more relevant than what we accomplish, why wouldn’t we all get behind her? Women still are not considered as qualified for the job as men. Not deemed worthy of equal pay. But, apparently, well compensated enough to pay a “pink tax”. We exist in a society that makes us feel intrinsically insecure. It picks us apart for everything, from not smiling enough to having the audacity to exist after the ripe old age of 30. After 40 or so, we’re supposed to fade into the background. So, Hill-yeah! I’m voting for a highly qualified, 69 year-old woman to be the next great leader of our nation.
Back at the diner, the conversation was about to get more interesting. The loud man then said, “I’ll admit it. I like being privileged.” I checked my soup to make sure there was a proportionate noodle to broth ratio. Not the reaction he was hoping for. He followed with, “I just can’t stand how she keeps asking women to vote for her just because she’s a woman.” He shot me an accusing look. Was this guy for real? Oh, what it must be like for him, to not be held to impossibly high standards and work twice as hard for less money; to not have to look pretty, be polite and smile like a frozen-faced Barbie doll. So what if his privileged life tramples on the rights of others?
But I didn’t get into all of that when he stared me down and flat out asked me—”Are you going to vote for Hillary just because she’s a woman?” I kept my answer simple. “Yes, actually I am.” I don’t generally find it productive to debate facts with strange men in diners and my soup was getting cold. The waitress shot me a nasty look. I don’t have much patience for women who hate on other women either. My answer may seem simple, but it comes from a complex place.
It’s time for women to say “enough is enough!” It’s time for a change and I’m way over the long wait. It’s time to have the “uncomfortable” discussions. Time to take an honest look at gender inequality. Time to portray women more realistically. Time to undo the dysphoria we’ve continuously forced on our young girls. It’s time for women to take an honest look at how we treat one another.
“I just don’t trust her” is just not a good enough reason.
*I dedicate this article to the women who lift each other up. I’m lucky to have several of those in my world.