Our Fear Of Female Leadership: The Sweeping Promise Of Change Is No Change At All

Change isn't what Americans wanted; it’s what they’re afraid of.

“Our country wanted change, and Clinton did not represent change,” is something I’ve heard 1 billion times since the election. And my stomach sinks each time. Change is one of those vague and subjective terms, like “great.” What makes America “great” for one person, makes it a nightmare for another.

When people say Clinton didn’t represent change ― whether they’re pro Trump or lamenting Bernie ― they are speaking of a very specific kind of change for a very specific group of people; the change we’re used to seeing for the people we’re used to hearing from.

To millions of women, there has never been a candidate that has stood for more change. Hillary Clinton represented a reality that every single person in this country has never known ― female leadership on the national stage.

Here is something that has not changed: Loud, aggressive promises from loud, aggressive men win elections in this country. Groundless commitments from men is the language of change we recognize.

That was not Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Hillary did not offer large, sweeping promises. Hillary offered achievable, practical steps to action. She knew her answers weren’t exciting, but she knew they were realistic. She spent decades understanding how to make real sustainable change happen, and her biggest flaw was trusting that we actually wanted to hear it.

Clinton’s candidacy was a chance to dismantle the loud, forceful archetype we call a leader and begin to respect qualities that are repeatedly undervalued in our culture but essential to unified, long term progress.

Hillary Clinton represented an opportunity to change our definition of leadership into something profoundly more effective.

Clinton, with her hard work, and emphasis on personal relationships rather than public persona, represented a shift from the masculine traits that have governed our country since its founding. Her candidacy represented a leadership style that achieves power through preparedness not assertiveness. Leadership that takes a practical, iterative approach to progress rather than a bullish, risky one. Leadership that is rooted in truth and collaboration not individual personalities and their ability to convince.

Working women know this all too well. To many of us, no matter how loud the man accepting the nomination screams about what he’ll do next, it is no change at all. Angry men promising to exercise power win elections. They win everything.

When it comes to positions of power, masculine traits are almost always favored. Between 2010 and 2015, only 10 percent of venture dollars funded startups with female founders, even though companies with female CEOs outperformed S&P 500 companies (run predominantly by men) by three to one.

Like Clinton, studies show that women tend to approach jobs only when they are fully qualified, and still, women fall far behind men in promotions and compensation. I have sat in countless hiring meetings where women are judged for being “too prepared” for an interview.

This defeat feels personal, like a million punches to the stomach. It is a rejection of female power. It is a blatant distrust in female leadership. It’s the same shame I feel every time I quiet myself when men speak louder even though I know my words are stronger. It’s the fear I get when I make myself yell because I know I need to, mimicking their shouts, but it comes out higher, like a shriek and I know I’ll be called “angry” or “crazy” later. It’s the pit in my stomach when I present what I’ve spent weeks working on to glazed eyes only for the man across the table to repeat my lines to applause.

The day after the election, like millions of others, I cried. I cried with my mom and my sister on my couch, I cried with the women in my office, I cried with new friends who are now good friends because we realized how much hope, and now fear, we share.

But it was not the only time I cried this election. I cried the night Hillary won the primary. I cried watching her obliterate Trump in every debate, garnering new respect from skeptical men with each honest answer. I cried the morning I woke up to vote as I put on the Hillary t-shirt I had freshly washed. And I cried casting my ballot for the first female candidate of a major political party in American history.

Hillary Clinton represents real, profound change. Unfortunately that change is not what Americans wanted; it’s what we’re afraid of.



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