There were four or five of us, sitting in a corner in the student center on a Sunday afternoon trying to finish an assignment. But this didn’t feel like school. It felt a little more like church, if I’d ever been to a church with a female pastor. The laptop sitting between us played a speech from the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. Hillary Clinton said in a powerful, measured voice, taking her time over the words as though they mattered: “Women’s rights are human rights, once and for all.” I got chills.
Growing up in the 90’s as a fundamentalist homeschooled girl, I thought good women wore thick glasses, long hair, and denim jumpers, and were above all quiet and submissive. Bad women had short blonde hair, wore pantsuits, and were definitely shrill. I didn’t hate riot grrrls, and “immodest” women mostly made me ashamed of my own nexus of desire and questions about being in my body. But I was taught to loathe and fear powerful, ambitious women, and Hillary Clinton somehow distilled all of that until she became a figure of almost anti-Christ proportions in my imagination.
So imagine my surprise when it was Clinton herself who first made me feel, in the marrow of my bones, that a woman could have something vitally important to say, and could say it well. And even now, with my better-developed political ideas which have led to a distrust of politicians, especially centrist hawkish ones, there is still part of me that is a tiny bit in awe.
Hillary Clinton has been a powerful figure for my entire life. I remember how much hate she’s received on a national scale for decades. She’s had all of our collective sexism projected on her for so long. Maybe that’s why I feel some kind of way about her nomination. After all that, she still fought through. Yes, she’s an elite politician with money and an entire party structure at her back. Yes, she backed policies in the 90’s which directly harmed black communities and LGBT people. There is plenty of time to discuss all of this. Plenty of time to push her left. Nearly everything I’ve said about her for this entire election cycle has not been particularly positive. I think the presidential choices this year are a frightening indication of how far right the window has moved.
But the emotional and symbolic fact remains, that here is a woman who was once set up as an embodiment of female ambition, power, and outspokenness. And we were supposed to hate her for it. We were supposed to believe she was ugly, and bossy, and shrill. But now that embodiment of female ambition, power, and outspokenness is the presidential nominee for the Democratic party.
I just wanted to say that. Just one moment of acknowledgement, for my child self who thought women should not be politicians, and for my college self who realized that women could be effective and important public figures. Let me have this, for one goddamn second, and then we can keep talking about issues of substance and policy, and I’m there, I’m with you.