As the day draws to a close on this side of the ocean, generic and the dust begins to settle, approved the chilling reality emerges that Donald Trump, reality TV star, really is President of the United States. Call it complacency or wishful thinking, but I know I was not alone in thinking – even assuming- that Hillary Clinton, Secretary of State (amongst other roles), was a shoo in.
Clinton was never going to have an ‘easy ride’. She doesn’t have the natural charm of Obama, she has a very impressive, but unsensational, political background, she has no real sob story to speak of. (Granted, these things shouldn’t matter, we’re deciding on a president, not an X-factor finalist, but in the circus that American politics has become in the last year, they do.) Despite this, she managed to progress towards a (largely) sure fire victory.
And it was exciting. Whether or not you liked her, as a politician or otherwise, there was something quite significant and thrilling that finally, a woman was in (and set to win) the race. Had she lost to a run-of-the-mill, well regarded Republican with a similar CV but different political values, fine. Fair game. But the fact that Clinton was beaten to the post by a man who has uttered the phrase: “I think that putting a wife to work is a very dangerous thing,”- is the saddest part of this show.
There are a number of troubling realities about Donald that have been front and centre of the presidential race – his racism, his contempt of minorities, his disregard for the environment, his links to white supremacists- but none of these have riled up the world more than his blatant, unapologetic misogyny. At best, he’s like a weird old guy who says he’d ‘date his daughter’. At worst, he’s allegedly committed sexual assault.
The fact that 2016 was the year that this man won the race to the white house spits in the face of the effort and diligence of Clinton to get as far as she did, only to be beaten. The fact that the ‘other option’ to the ‘over-qualified’ female candidate was a man who bought the Ms. Universe pageant so he could make the bikinis smaller is more than laughable, it’s pathetic.The universal sigh that could almost be heard this morning said it all: women can get as far as they possibly can, work their asses off, build an extensive career, and get within tipping distance of the glass ceiling, only to have a older (white) man who has spent his campaign reducing women to objects win with the overwhelming support of other older white men.
But the worst part of this? Americans are absolutely fine with that. Well, most of them. They knew about the ‘pussy grabbing’, about the objectifying, the fat-shaming, the accusations of sexual assault and they voted for him anyway. They are even happy to be known as ‘deplorables’, as if it’s a badge of honour.
The biggest shame in this election is not that Hillary lost, it’s not even that Trump won: it’s that the winner, and his supporters (many of whom are female) validated beyond measure not just the actions and utterances of sexism, but the excuses made to support them.
This election should have been a victory for women and girls everywhere, whether or not Hillary had been victorious. Instead, the ideals and attitudes of one candidate clouded and trumped any shred of hope for an end to inequality and misogyny.
Unless American society undergoes a seismic shift in attitude, the implicit message to girls remains:
Try. Try really hard. Do all the work. Make all the sacrifices. Never complain. Never show emotion. Be the perfect candidate. Get to the top… almost. But don’t get any ideas above your station, and make sure you wear makeup and a nice dress. And, oh, have the dinner ready in the evening, won’t you?
Written by Alice Leahy