On Wednesday, November 9 half of our country was stunned by the dreaded and realized result that Donald Trump was now our President-elect.
Every woman who ever stood for something felt the deep sting Secretary Clinton experienced, as she stood and faced us in her concession speech. It was a powerful moment. We know that place. The place where you’ve fought hard for what is right, you’ve named the injustice, the violence; you’ve stood up even as many tried to bring you down, only to be defeated. Then you still stood up again and faced the antediluvian reality that they still aren’t ready for your message, shaky knees, watery eyes and all. We know this place. Trailblazers know this place.
It’s never easy to stand up for something that people are deeply divided about. It’s never easy to be first. You don’t do it because it’s easy, you do it because someone has to go first. You believe in your cause strongly enough that you are willing to be that person who will put themselves out on a limb that may or may not be supported by the tree.
Regardless of what anyone thinks of Secretary Clinton, the sheer amount of sexism she has endured, not only during her campaign, but throughout her entire career is undeniable. This week Malcolm Gladwell stated that quite simply, the reason she has been so penalized is that “She is a woman.”
She didn’t have the traits that women in leadership positions are allowed to have. She is a woman who speaks her mind and does not back down when opposed. She rises to the challenge and stands in her own power and knowing. She is ambitious and, especially in politics, women are not meant to be overly ambitious. She should be hiding her desire for power—women should be modest and apologetic in our moves towards positions of authority, so the narrative goes.
Well the narrative is changing and this moment—this huge moment in history when at last, a woman ran for President of the United States, full-out to the bitter end—moved the pendulum a little bit further towards the democracy we purport to have.
The gender coding of this election and treatment of the candidates is hugely consequential for us. The major media coverage of Clinton’s emails was greater than coverage of all other policy questions in the 2016 election combined. The obsession with her emails was enormous, compared to Trump’s many outright racist moments and his “grab them by the pussy” scandal, which amounted to a blip on the screen. We moved on and we chose a man as president who would brag about sexually assaulting women. Even if he didn’t win the popular vote, he won many votes, millions of people who believed in his rogue outsider status, billionaire though he is. We like big tough guys so much that we can ignore gender and racial equity for the false safety we feel because the bully in the schoolyard says he’ll stick up for us.
So what do we do now? How do we truly liberate ourselves?
1. Burn the rules that keep us from our power.
Trump was actually selected the way George W. Bush was in 2000, because we still participate in a system that uses an electoral representation of the people, rather than the people’s vote to attain a winner. This system has its roots in slavery when black people and women could not vote, yet black people represented 3/5 of a person in order to give the southern states more of an electorate then they would otherwise have, and more representation in Congress. Yes, we are still using a system that was designed so that our legislative institutions could benefit from enslaved people without providing them their own right to representation.
This approach is the antithesis of democracy. Sexism and racism have kept white men overwhelmingly in power since the formation of this country. White, Christian heterosexual men benefit from sexism and racism. They are intricate parts of maintaining the status quo.
Our two-party system is a far-cry from democratic, when the potential to even be a legitimized candidate is so narrow, and focused only on those who have the power to grab the endorsement of one of two major parties. This has got to change or democracy remains an illusion.
2. Step into our own personal power that we may become a nation of empowered individuals.
I believe that as more women and oppressed people own their own power that we will change the world. It begins with knowing who you are and proudly expressing all of your unique self, and then using that personal empowerment to create social justice. An army of empowered people cannot be stopped.
Why did 53% of white women vote for Trump? What appeals to them about someone who would talk about women the way he does?
Many women, especially those with far less political power have internalized the misogyny that fuels gender relations and patriarchal values that keep men in charge. They live it every day without seeing it much of the time, and because many women are so used to men behaving this way, many will brush it off over and over, even forgiving it because it’s too painful to feel the depths of what it actually means. So we go about maintaining the status quo. Many women are doing that at home with domineering partners or at work with sexually harassing bosses.
Every day we are living our lives, raising our children, doing what we need to do, all while armored against the next assault. Some days it’s courageous just to go out into the world. For people of color, this is far worse. So much energy must go into protecting against the constant barrage of racist micro-aggressions and fears of what might happen if they raise their voices and speak truth.
We need our collective power. We need each of us to be strong and in our power if we are to change anything. We have a duty to self-actualize and live out the fullness of what that means.
3. Use our power and privilege for the good of others and of the whole.
Those in power know that if they keep people in fear around their own security, safety and well-being that they can be controlled. Targeting people because of race, gender, class, sexuality, disability, size, and religion is part of the systemic control of the underclass. As long as we refuse to be hoodwinked by the fear-mongering, we’re better able to stand up for others and resist the “divide and conquer” tactics that have been a calculated part of the power structures of this country and which continue to maintain white supremacy and male privilege. We have to want what is right. White people need to speak up against racism and work to change it; men need to speak up about sexism and create a different example of what it means to share power and honor women and people of other genders. It is our duty to use the privileges we have for good.
4. Leave no one behind. That requires listening.
We may not understand each other and we may disagree wholly on many things. However, we won’t really know if we do not listen to what is really happening for people. We all have to get out of our own bubbles and ask hard questions with true curiosity. People feel left behind. Let’s find out why. Let’s work together to create a vision for a country and a world where every person is valued and where there is real representation for the true pluralism of our people. The beauty of our diversity is what makes this country amazing.
5. Resist. Rinse. Repeat.
Keep going. There is no turning back. We know there is work to be done so roll up your sleeves and decide where you will put your energy. Be bold and step out of your own echo chamber and take some risks. Not everyone will agree with you. Stand for something worth standing for, and that doesn’t matter.
Take care of yourself in all you do. Really. Be gracious with yourself and with others. Ask for what you need. Surround yourself with strength. Remind yourself of your power. Maintain your self-care. Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It happens with concerted effort and courage. Shore up what you need and do something courageous each day. We need you.
I believe true liberation can happen. Sometimes we need a potent reminder of what we are fighting for. Let this be a catalyst for continuing our work with power and focus.