I stood stoically in the shower on four hours of sleep. NPR echoed over the fan—“Donald J. Trump is the 45th President of the United States of America.” I stared down. The water rolled over my skin as slowly as my thoughts moved and then fell as quickly as my hope. My own body, what it represented, disgusted me. His election sent a clear message: these curves, these breasts, this sense of femininity somehow caged me.
Trump’s election proved that our culture requires women be better-faster-stronger to compete against men, and that it by no means secures their victory. Some women, and many men, will scoff at me for making this claim, say I’m exaggerating, that I’m a crazy liberal, that the world is equal and that being a woman is not what kept Clinton from being elected the first female President of the United States. And perhaps gender was not Clinton’s ultimate barrier, but it set the race’s tone. Just imagine Clinton (or any minority) had run for President with five children from three different men. She would have been outcast as, frankly, an “immoral whore.” I hardly need to go further to demonstrate the double standards applied to men and women. But I will.
Consider Trump supporters’ resounding faith in their candidate to fight for the little guy in contrast to their spirited classification of Clinton as incapable of understanding the challenges of ordinary people. Clinton comes from a working class family. She fought for her education, and used her qualification from Yale Law to further the rights of kids and enter public service. Clinton’s policy record is by no means perfect, and she at least tempted conflict of interest with the Clinton Foundation as Secretary of State. However, her life was never driven by exploitation. Making money by marketing her social capital through speaking fees and book sales is industrious, not sneaky.
On the other hand, Trump comes from an upper-class family. His father handed him millions of dollars to kick-start his business career. And in spite of his leg-up, Trump’s enterprises function through vehement dishonesty. He has repeatedly denied workers their agreed payment. He founded a fraudulent educational institution that trapped thousands of Americans looking for new opportunities into debt. He clogged the judicial system with over 3,500 lawsuits. But nevertheless, Trump is the person, the man, in whom many Americans decided to invest their trust.
It is also indisputable that Clinton possessed policy savvy leagues ahead of her competitor. As one satirical article (that’s since been removed) put it, Clinton spent her life reading boring shit and talking to really smart people so that you don’t have to do it. She took the election seriously, publishing thorough policy proposals that I genuinely believe she was a part of producing. She was intelligible and spoke to her positions clearly. But, rather than delve into the details of Clinton’s proposals, many Americans chose to attach themselves to Trumps rhetoric of frustration and fear. Standing behind Trump required a disregard, or apathy, for his obvious unfamiliarity with the challenges facing our country and, perhaps even more importantly, his inability to produce practical, effective solutions to those challenges—take trade for example.
Moreover, Clinton vigilantly maintained her cool throughout her battle to reach the American people. She pushed through as the media showcased her as a candidate with a “communication problem” while her opponent avoided the same attacks as he hardly completed a sentence and incessantly repeated himself. She remained disciplined, holding her tongue against Trump’s childish attacks and interruptions—because norms permitted his pestering and required her silence. Clinton endured 70 interruptions during the presidential debates. And one the few times she did defend herself, Trump interrupted her once again, labeling her “Nasty. Such a nasty woman.” Again, for defending herself. And his supporters loved it.
Like her or not, it’s hard to deny that Hillary Clinton is one of the most qualified Presidential candidates we have ever seen. She spent her entire adult life accumulating an understanding of the law, policymaking process and diplomacy. She is sharp. Her policy stances are relatively moderate. She worked across the aisle. Hillary Clinton did everything a person could do to ensure their success in vying for the highest office in the country—and it still wasn’t enough.
One of the most qualified candidates in US history lost the election to a buffoon reality TV star who openly displays disrespect for the majority of our population. And I am left wondering, America, what I—what we, as women—can possibly do to be taken seriously. This election devolved into a question of dignity and basic American values. And the outcome, unfortunately, verified that as a woman your experience and intelligence and skills are not enough if you’re not “likable.” We already knew this. But seeing it laid out so clearly, on a national stage, with such an imbalance between candidates’ basic human decency literally jarred me. It made me look at my body as a burden. It makes me question if as a five-foot, one-hundred pound woman, my opinion will ever truly hold weight in the male-dominated arenas into which I’ve stepped.
If you think this is dramatic, consider that a man who forced a healthy woman to work out on television to shame her into losing weight, who paraded the dressing rooms of young women as if he owned them, whose defense against sexual assault charges is the physical appearance of the claimants, who suggests women are handicapped when menstruating—was elected to be the 45th President of the United States, in 2016. Americans chose this man over one of the most qualified candidates we have ever seen because they had been taught to hate her.
Trump himself is not the greatest threat. It is the culture that propelled voters to elect him. It is the fact that our society decided fear trumps solidarity and progress. It is the fact that Trump supporters chant slogans like “Trump that Bitch” and propose celebrating victory by “grabbing all you hoes by the pussy.” Because of this culture, and the people who perpetuate it, I will likely never have the privilege to stop fighting to legitimize my perspective, simply because I was born with the wrong genitals. Just like people born with the wrong skin color or nationality must exhaustingly fight to prove self-worth. To ensure people actually listen to my perspective, I must exert energy to not only understand complex challenges and identify exceptional solutions, but also dedicate my precious time to being liked—when I would much rather be respected. And, for some reason I cannot fathom, 51 per cent of white women with a college degree just voted for a man whose presence will solidify this reality.
Whatever happens for the country in the next four years, this election has already had grave consequences for women (and minorities). Much of America made it clear that they will continue to hold tightly to gender stereotypes. The newly elected candidate sets an example in which women are treated as either sexual objects or unattractive pests. Men running around claiming that because their President “can grab pussies” so can they, threatens not just the progress, and even safety, of your daughters, but also women around the world.
So no, everything will not just be okay if we sing kumbaya with the Trump fraternity over the next four years. We will have to fight. We will fight so that little girls do not build their understanding of themselves under the leadership of a man who dismisses attacks against their bodies as “locker room talk.” We will fight so that women can look into the mirror without wondering if men, and women, like what they see. We will fight so that all minorities feel not only comfortable, but also empowered in their own country.
Standing solemnly in the shower, in shock that America was to be “led” by a man who foils the graceful treatment the sitting President affords his wife and daughters and our nation, I reviled the restraint I perceived when I looked down at my body. But I understand we must resist this restraint. Yes, the election is over, but even though you’re sick of the disagreements, we cannot afford to “move on” and be silent about the tangible ways in which our culture continues to constrain so much of our population based on physical attributes.