As I’ve mentioned before on this site, I was born the year Bill Clinton was elected. In one of the first political conversations I remember having (I must have been four or five), I asked why his wife wasn’t President instead. My mother explained the electoral process to me. I then asked if she (Hillary) could be President next, please. My mother couldn’t give that to me, of course, but I could see it on her face that she wished she could. Throughout the second Bush presidency, I knew she wished she could adequately explain to me why men of reason were losing ground to a countrified imbecile. When I was sixteen, during my first-ever campaign season, she wished she could explain to me why the eyes of the men in the room slid right past me and searched for other, important men as I tried to engage them in conversations about the state of affairs (the boys my age didn’t face this challenge). A few months earlier, she wished she could console me when, despite my confidence in Barack Obama’s abilities, I was still heartbroken to have lost the woman candidate I have always longed for.
I am only now beginning to realize that she was experiencing the exact same kinds of heartbreak, though quieter and more melancholy the more it built up with age and experience. Nothing makes me feel younger or more lost than trying to find my place in the political landscape, but I find allies amongst my liberal women elders, who respond to my enthusiasm for Hillary Clinton with passion, with a desire to protect my delicate hope, and with some weariness. They have told me their previous years’ predictions. “I told my husband Obama would win because he’s a man.” “The media will attack Hillary because she’s a threat.” “Bernie supporters won’t give you a fair shot—they like him because he’s a man.” A man doesn’t have to be ill-qualified to benefit from male privilege, and a woman doesn’t have to be weak to be hurt by sexism.
I was in an airport with my parents when the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. We were watching the television over the shocked murmurs of the other waiting passengers. I was six at the time, and asked what was happening. I don’t remember exactly what my parents said, but they explained the concept of marital infidelity in some way so as to make my six-year-old mind grasp what was happening. I didn’t understand the details, of course, but I did have an immediate feeling of deep hurt. The only thing I really understood was that something had been done to Hillary Clinton — my other mother — and to my imaginary siblings, Chelsea the girl and Socks the cat. The unfairness never left me: why did this man get the job his wife was so qualified for, and why then did he add injury to insult?
I was a very political child.
But more than that, I was emotional. I valued family, but only true family. I cried with frustration when I learned that Hillary was going to remain Mrs. Clinton. The whole situation was, for me, an essential part of the lesson every girl learns: that you are not equal, that your life will be about trying to keep men from hurting you–physically, emotionally, intellectually, economically–even though they have carte blanche to do it.
A few months ago, at a trivia night, the MC was reading out team names. Team names are always rather elaborate jokes at this event, and the best one gets a prize. One of the team names was “Monica Lewinsky 2016 — she’ll do what Hillary won’t.” It won. I was crying in seconds. The grief, it turned out, had stayed with me. This was my first time meeting my boyfriend’s friends, and I had to step outside to try to calm down (though I didn’t). I think my poor boyfriend was traumatized.
That was all forgotten last night, though. I called him during Hillary’s nomination victory speech. He said to watch the speech and then call him back, because right now his mother was crying. “I never thought I’d see this in my lifetime,” she said. So I watched.
Many of my readers will have been experiencing the same joy I was when Clinton walked out onto the stage and stood, beaming in a rare moment of true enjoyment as her supporters cheered their hopes and dreams. It was something I didn’t expect to see — a woman rising above society’s hatred of us. A split second of freedom.
I was at Obama’s rally under the St. Louis arch, his first really big crowd, the moment he realized he could win. That was an incredible day, but tainted with slight disappointment for me. He was talented and inspirational and Black, an incredible victory for our nation, and I was filled with hope and joy. But he was still a man. He did not reflect me in the way I longed to be reflected. So maybe it’s only because I’m white and otherwise privileged that I felt a certain purity of purpose in the moment when Hillary turned to her supporters and said, “Thanks to you, we’ve reached a milestone. The first time in our nation’s history that a woman will be a major party’s nominee.” This is not a perfect victory. Hillary Clinton is not a perfect person. But she is our next President, and I think she will do us proud.
For me, this is the moment my life starts. A dead end has opened up, and I can see the path ahead. Female ambition has been, at least momentarily, vindicated. Senator Clinton was right to mention the Seneca Falls convention in her victory speech. This may just be the opening of a time when women can take what belongs to us — and hopefully, help others up along with us.