In December 2013 I graduated with a degree in Political Science, of course I didn’t get to walk in my black gown until May 2014, but I was glad to be done and it wasn’t because I had completed a BA with a 3.97 GPA and been awarded summa cum laude. It was because in the last two semesters I had barely spoken a word in class and developed acute anxiety whenever it came to orally expressing my political opinions. Despite being at the top of my class, I was regularly ridiculed and ordered to shut up by male students in all of my classes. This was not at all the fault of the predominantly male faculty, rather my professors always acknowledged the fact that I completed my readings and contributed to the class discussion with well-informed and academically supported opinions, but they still could do little to curb the male students from consistently interrupting me and yelling over me. My boyfriend, also majoring in Political Science and taking most courses with me in those final two years of college, could also do little to stop others. He helped by reading to the class the opinions I’d send him through text messages when I was too afraid to speak up but fed up with the ridiculous arguments others made that were directly disproven by the assigned readings. Of course, later on in our relationship he also expressed a deep dislike of my willingness to participate in political and economic debates with our friends. He said that I was obnoxious and rude, even though I knew that I went out of my way not to be. I never interrupted, never raised my voice, never cursed (unlike him and his male friends) and I noticed that neither did other women. Yes, I was passionate, but I also made sure to be respectful and well-informed. No man ever offered me the same courtesy. It got to the point where I refused to speak whenever the topic turned to politics, which it often did because we were all social sciences majors and involved in student associations or political parties. My boyfriend then complained that I was antisocial and awkward. Yet, I had noticed that whenever I expressed an opinion it was immediately dismissed by him and the other men present, but if a man expressed the exact same opinion (sometimes verbatim) they would listen and agree. It took my five years to realize it, but the truth is that in the 21st century men still do not want to hear women’s opinions on politics. This is why Hillary Clinton becoming the first woman to be the nominee for a major party in the United States matters.
In the last couple of days there have been two headline news: the Associated Press’s announcement that Clinton had clinched the democratic nomination and Brock Turner’s father asking the California judge, who found him guilty of rape, to not condemn his son for his whole life just because of “20 minutes of action”. We still live in a world where women, and others, are treated like second-class citizens, where a great number of white men (or men of any race or ethnicity) perceive themselves as above or better than women. Whether the sexism is subtle or explicit, it is still there. My boyfriend of four years refused to acknowledge that he was sexist, and yet he always told me to be quiet when I spoke up and expected me to clean up after him even though I worked more hours than him and took twice as many courses every semester. He considered his opinions and arguments as more valid, even if I held up a dozen studies proving him wrong and even if he failed the exams while I passed. It matters that a woman may soon become the first female president of one of the most powerful countries in the world because women are still systematically targeted during wars for rape, mutilation, and enslavement. It matters because, while I do honestly believe that Bernie Sanders is was a great candidate with truly awesome policy proposals, only a woman knows what it feels like to be afraid every time she walks out her door. Afraid because, today, society still blames us when we are assaulted and raped. Afraid because men still get off easy when they use us for “20 minutes of action”. Afraid because it doesn’t matter how old we are and how much we’ve accomplished; we are still seen as objects by men on the street. We are still told to smile after being felt up like a cow at the market because “it’s a complement”. And it’s not just women, it is also minorities and transgender and gays who every day fight to be respected as equals. Hillary’s victory is just as historic as President Obama’s eight years ago and yet it feels like no one is talking about it.
Bernie supporters have a right to feel frustrated and let down, as anyone losing a competition would, but Hillary supporters feel just as frustrated by a candidate who initially said that we should only count pledged delegates and as soon as it was clear he would not catch up began courting superdelegates (1). On top of it, we have to deal with constant personal attacks and insults for supporting our candidate while mirroring Hillary’s refusal to respond in kind. A lot of Bernie supporters come off as what they are; young millennials voting for the first time who treat politics like a personal vendetta instead of a space to respectfully exchange opinions and ideas. They criticize Hillary for being a politician, as if Bernie wasn’t; just because he hasn’t changed in fifty years doesn’t mean he hasn’t had to fight, lie, and manipulate to become a Senator and get his proposals on the floor. They dig up all the dirt they can find on Hillary, which is easy to do because she has been in the public eye for most of her life, and hurl it at her and her supporters while lauding their own candidate as a purist saint whose always held to his ideal (much like a righteous fanatic). This is particularly frustrating because it means that in the modern age “authenticity” requires not ever growing or learning or changing, but remaining forever static and holding fierce to the opinions you had decades ago. And if this is so, then can we really fault Republicans and Christians for refusing to acknowledge the equal rights of LGBTQ citizens, for treating people of a different racial or ethnic background as inferior, and for believing that inherited wealth means superiority? If we are no longer allowed to evolve, then what hope do we have of convincing others that their bigotry is wrong?
On the other hand, how true is it that Hillary is widely disliked when she has won a larger number of votes (3 million) and does better in open primaries than caucuses? Just because her supporters don’t crowd rallies, it doesn’t mean they don’t outnumber Bernie’s (as her victory proves). Hillary’s supporters are older and know who they are voting for, so don’t feel the same hype as younger voters to go to rallies. They also prefer to receive their information through means other than crowded stadiums and pre-prepared speeches. Of course, the real problem is that young voters are notoriously fickle and I say this as a 26-year-old who struggles to muster up the enthusiasm to take a day off work (bills, bills, bills) or wake up early on a weekend to stand in line for hours. Young voters got behind Obama in 2008 and then forgot about him in 2012, they also forgot that senators and representatives have more power than the president and are essential for getting his/her policies turned into law. On a lot of levels, I feel that young voters are informed on the issues but not on the political system under which they live, and this includes the existence of the electoral college and the limits to the president’s power. Yes, the president can shape the country’s policy and his main job is to execute existing laws, but he cannot impose new laws or change the ones currently in existence. Laws go through Congress (you know, the legislative branch) and Congress is made up of the Senate and the House and each votes on every single law proposed by their members and/or the president. So we go out and we vote for the candidate that gets us all riled and excited with their progressive stance on education, the environment, and income equality, but we rarely show up for the senate and house elections that occur at regular intervals. Additionally, when our candidate doesn’t win we forget about politics altogether or we bitterly go to vote for another party’s candidate as a way to punish the unwanted victor instead of thinking pragmatically and long-term about what is best for America. At this point it is Trump or Hillary. Does it suck that we live in a limited two-party system that does not allow for a diversity of political stances to be equally expressed and represented in Washington? Yes, it does. It sucks only a Republican or a Democrat will win this fall and that independents and small parties might as well not exist except for those few times they cost Democrats a victory (Bush v Gore 2000 anyone?). But it’s what we have and maybe if we focused on the elections of senators and representatives we would have more of an impact than going out only once every four or eight years when a certain candidate says what we want to hear and gets us all riled up.
I also feel, as a young woman who specialized in studying the intersection of culture and politics, that it makes sense that Hillary appears to have such a rough track record because it is a thousand times harder for a woman to become a politician than a man. No one wants us in Washington, we know that from the moment we sit down in a Political Science course and find ourselves silenced by male students yelling over us. We know that from boyfriends and male friends who refuse to acknowledge our opinions as equally informed and valid as their own. Citing from an NPR article published Monday night after AP announced that Clinton had reached the number of delegates required to clinch the nomination: “As Gillespie sees it, whoever is at the top of a presidential ticket is “a metric by which we can talk about how America has diversified, how it has become more inclusive, that you’re now letting people who don’t fit the traditional white, male model assume positions of leadership in the country”.” (2) Hillary’s victory means that women are one step closer to being seen as equal to men, not just constitutionally, but culturally and socially. It means that after having the first African American president just decades after the civil rights act was passed, we will soon have the first female president. And guess what, she worked for it. And maybe we would not do the things she did to get where she is, but she played the game to win and as we all now know, pacifism is not a viable option in a country at war (GoT reference there). And we are at war, America is fighting for its very soul: are we divisive and full of hate or are inclusive and compassionate?