It is important to talk about Hillary Clinton. It is important, even for someone who was not a stakeholder in the U.S elections of 2016, the campaign for which went on for much longer than healthy or necessary. I did watch this election, mesmerized, like the rest of the world. I also watched it with a sense of ambivalence towards Ms Hillary Clinton. This ambivalence eventually grew into reluctant admiration and then something resembling affection.
I had no illusions about her. She was an establishment candidate, with more interventionist policies than someone like me, traditionally sceptical of American intervention in the word, would be comfortable with. But it was evident, from the beginning that she was overwhelmingly qualified, with a wealth of policy experience, and had survived, still standing, (weather-beaten but standing) almost 30 years of non-stop public scrutiny.
But this article is not about that. It is really, a reflection on the personal impact Ms Hillary Clinton’s, now unsuccessful, run for the Presidency of the United States of America has meant for me. One may think that it is unusual for an Indian to write this way. What do I have to do with the U.S.A and its elections? What concern is it of mine that the country has elected her rival, who was not her equal in merit, qualifications, grace, dignity, grit, experience, or any reasonable metric on which leaders should be elected?
And yet, this morning, while my WhatsApp buzzed with updates from friends about the election results, I was seething with anger. Her defeat felt oddly personal. Nursing my bile, I wondered at the character lesson her run seemed to have taught me. My first thoughts were that a qualified woman running against an utterly unqualified man, even a man who bragged about sexual assault and talked of banning Muslims from the U.S.A, would still lose.
I did a lot of mental gymnastics. I imagined how Hillary would be received, if she had not committed the unpardonable political miscalculation of being born a woman. I remembered the experiment where identical resumes of candidates named Jennifer and John, were evaluated differently by scientists. Jennifer with the same resume, was perceived as less competent.
I wondered how your her rival would be received if he were a woman. There was no escaping the misogyny. A reversal of gender might have ensured Ms Clinton a landslide victory. But that is rank speculation. Let us focus on stuff that actually happened.
The people of the U.S.A, in their wisdom, have chosen to elect a man who bragged about sexually assaulting women (trigger warning).
As a 20 something woman, I do not know how more people did not find that horrifying. Even without going into the merits of the double-digit sexual assault allegations against him, it is undeniable that his words show an utter and callous disregard for women, and their worth as human beings. (I refer of course to ‘believe me, she would not be my first choice, ‘blood coming out of her wherever‘, ‘miss piggy’, ‘miss housekeeping’, ‘dogs’ ‘pigs’ and the other consistent sexist comments ). The sexism, was accompanied by Xenophobia, Islamophobia, and a tendency to mock persons with disabilities, parents of war heroes and prisoners of war. Perhaps nothing summed things up better than the Huffington Post Editor’s Note that followed every article on Donald Trump. The note said ‘Donald Trump Regularly incites political violence, is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist and birther, who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion- from entering the U.S’. Perhaps the last straw for me, was a tweet by the Indian newspaper Times of India, crediting Mr Trump for “grabbing America by the …”
But when the anger subsided, I decided to write this article, from a less bruised, more affectionate place. I wanted to reflect on Hillary Clinton for a moment. We must all respect the mandate of the people of America, appalling as we find it. But I felt that as a young woman, I must appreciate her, because I am afraid, not enough people will. Young women like me, sometimes, take the battles fought by women like her too much for granted. Today, as a lawyer in India, I go to Courts that are still full of male lawyers. When I see the brightest and the best senior women lawyers of the same Courts, I think with a sense of thrill and awe, at how hard they must have fought over the decades, to make a place for themselves. I reflect with gratitude how they made my life a little easier and blazed trails I could follow. When I hear Hillary Clinton speak, I feel some of the same thrill.
Being fully aware of her flaws, the agonies she has had to go through, and the compromises she made to get where she is, I am grateful for Hillary Clinton. I am grateful for her ambition, and for the fact that she obviously ‘cares too much about winning’. For ambition, has too long been the prerogative of men. I appreciate her for making history, and for daring to step into a campaign where she would be subject to incredible vilification, conspiracy theories, and a sexist double standard. In the course of this campaign I read stories about women who were born before women could vote, proudly voting for Hillary Clinton.
But more than anything else Ms Hillary Clinton, should be appreciated for the moments when, I decide to stand up for myself, when I am ambitious, care too much about winning. In those moments, I used to be afraid of being unlikable. Many people are familiar with the exhausting tightrope walk of being smart in a non-threatening way, being ambitious, but not too ambitious. Those who aren’t aware of it, can watch this flawless Chimamanda-Beyonce collaboration.
These days, I raise my voice when it has to be raised. I push ahead, when I must. I am less afraid of being seen as career oriented. When the shadow of conditioning falls over my psyche, and a voice whispers to me ‘What if they all find you unlikable?’ I smile to myself and say, “So what? Look at Hillary Clinton.”