You may have noticed a lot of women are pretty distressed by the US election result, whether or not they live in the States.
For many of you guys out there who seek to engage with them by commenting on how Bernie Sanders would have won, or that this is simply indicative of how many disenfranchised people there are in middle America who want change and we need to heed them and it’s not all racist and sexist people who voted for Trump, let me give you an insight into how many of us women are feeling right now. This is why your well-intentioned comments are falling flat.
All of us women, every single one of us, has a litany of memories we keep tucked away in our brain of moments where we had to deal with misogyny and keep going. Some of us have more than others, but every woman has them – from being frightened of walking home alone after dark to being catcalled to much worse.
This is me sharing more than I ever have. For my own part, my list looks something like this:
The street performer who grabbed me by the breast in public while I was a teenager and no one did anything.
The boys at school who had no qualms making fun of my looks (red hair, freckled) at a time when I was already painfully self-conscious.
The university boyfriend who repeatedly called me “disgusting” because I wasn’t a virgin, leaving me severely lacking in self-esteem and confidence.
The barrister who asked me to run for coffee when I was para-legalling during law school, while my male equivalent got to sit in court and watch, and who then laughed indulgently at my ambition to become a lawyer.
The law firm partner who, in a positive performance review, expressed surprise that I had been able to handle everything he threw at me but then said, in front of HR, that he worried I was “too nice to be a litigator”, something he would never have said about a guy.
The firm where my junior on a case was believed when he accepted credit for my work and I couldn’t make my voice be heard over his.
The partner who came on to me aggressively and then froze me out of his practice group when I rejected him, to the severe detriment of my career. Who subsequently did the same to someone else with the result that she had to leave the firm and, ultimately, the state. And who is still practicing at the same firm.
The guy who didn’t listen when I said “no, no, no, no, no” and the women who didn’t believe my story afterwards and just said sometimes there’s good sex and sometimes there’s bad sex and you just have to deal with it.
The workplace where a permanent job offer turned into the abrupt end of my contract period with the news of my pregnancy.
To the white men reading this, I know you can compile your own list of bad stuff that has happened to you in your lives. But unless you are part of the LGBTIQ community or are otherwise part of a minority, the stuff that happened to you was not in the context of a system where this is endemic, where the power structure supports the people who act against you and the indignities you suffered are condoned and accepted and ubiquitous, and have been for years.
Where your voice, if you raise it, is considered impetuous or shrill or hysterical, rather than valid and solemn and serious.
You may also be thinking that I have just had bad luck, but you’re wrong. Compared to most women I know, I am fortunate.
A few days ago, America had the opportunity to elect its first female president. Whether we had initially stood behind Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders, most liberal women got extremely excited recently because for the first time it looked like that power structure I was talking about before was going to cop a substantial hit.
A woman leading the free world, especially one who has spent her life devoted to women’s rights and families, would change things. It empowered all of us to even consider what this would mean for us.
The days before the election I was walking with my head held high, ready to move into an era where the most substantial world leader understood – on the deepest level – what it would mean for a woman to be paid less for the same work or to feel physically afraid of a man, or to have to give up a baby due to horrific health circumstances. It wasn’t to be.
And if Hillary’s opponent had run a solid campaign on ethical and moral grounds, and he won, we would have been ok. Sure, it would have been disappointing, but not soul-destroyingly so. Instead, though, her opponent was the embodiment of our cumulative worst experiences.
When Trump lurked behind Hillary in the second debate, it reminded so many of us of instances where men have used their physical power to intimidate us. When he interrupted her repeatedly, it reminded us of how hard we often have to fight on a daily basis to have our voices heard in the workplace. When he said he liked to grab women and move on them without their consent, it brought back to us every memory we have of being forcibly subjected to a man’s touch.
When people supported him, it felt like they were also supporting all of the men who treated us with disrespect, or treated us as objects, or considered us inferior. This is what women on your newsfeeds mean when they say they are being “triggered”. They are dealing with the resurgence of a lot of stuff from their past. With those two choices, America chose Trump.
To us, it’s not about whether Sanders could have won. Not anymore. That’s not the race we just witnessed. We know there are a lot of disenfranchised people across the States who desperately wanted – and who deserve – change. But for us, this result is a confirmation that in spite of all of us individually moving forwards and fighting on in the face of repeated insidious sexism, the bulk of America has not changed. It is a slap in the face.
It means that instead of handing over to our daughters a world where we can point to a female president of the United States and say “See! You can do anything!” we are handing over a world where sexual assault is rewarded with power. Instead of being able to teach our sons how to treat women by showing them that someone like Donald Trump lost by a landslide, we somehow have to explain away the fact that a person who calls women pigs can still make it to the very top with huge support.
If you voted for Trump and you do not believe the racist, sexist things he said, you still knowingly voted for a man who does believe those things. You voted to change the system in Washington but to retain the power structures that enable and reward sexism and racism. And that is heart-breaking to us.