In The Media

Hillary Clinton's loss is a deflating moment for feminism

by Erin Anderssen (feat. Candice Malcolm)

The Globe and Mail
November 9, 2016

The champagne is still chilling in Chloe Girvan’s fridge. Girvan, a freelance writer in Ottawa, had prepped all the fixings for her election party on Tuesday night: An “I’m With Nasty” wreath greeted guests on the door. Baby carrots were dubbed “Trump fingers.” A lopsided monument of Rice Krispies was standing in for “The Wall.”

It was supposed to be a celebration, one of those where-were-you-when evenings to reminisce about later. But by midnight, Girvan was solemnly offering blue-frosted cupcakes sprinkled with glass candy to her female friends as they sat despondently on the couch, watching CNN report that Pennsylvania was swinging back to Donald Trump, leaving the glass ceiling solidly intact. “There were tears. Someone literally broke out in hives,” she says. “By the end, I was eyeing the hard liquor, and wondering who I should medicate.”

More seriously, she says, reflecting on the day after, “We were all riding on this moment. … Do I feel stressed? I feel sad.”

It went this way across the country: the anticipation of a historic, long-awaited moment, and then the gut-punch of defeat. A highly qualified woman got this close to the White House, and a man who boasted about groping women without their consent, whose campaign was built on racism and fear-mongering, sauntered past and slammed the door in her face. At her concession speech the next day, Hillary Clinton held it together and sounded like a therapist, comforting her weeping crowd.

Even more to wrestle with: According to CNN, 53 per cent of white women voted for Trump.

Of course, the election went beyond gender. Many Americans voted against the status quo, they cast their ballots in anger. But, as Girvan points out, we also told ourselves that consent matters, that times have changed and that bullies don’t win.

This week, it feels like we were fooling ourselves. The bully mocked consent (and tolerance and equality) and won.

On their Twitter account, the Russian feminist punk band Pussy Riot captured the oppressive feeling of the election result. “It’s like being arrested. Dramatic at the beginning. But then you start to figure out how to live and create in prison. You’ll overcome.”

But how? Young women are shrugging off feminism – too angry, they say, too man-hating. Young men voted in droves for Trump.

Yet Candice Malcolm, 33, the Canadian author of Generation Screwed who says that if she were American, she would have “held her nose” and voted for Trump, argues that “people didn’t reject Clinton because she is a woman. They rejected her because she is a Clinton.”

And while it’s a fair argument that Clinton’s femaleness wasn’t her only problem, that sexist brick was flung at her so often, it was as if a wall was indeed being built, this one to keep women in their place. Taking it down, with this particular man in the Oval Office, won’t be easy.

For one thing, we’ll still want to teach girls that being fiercely ambitious — even if it means passing the boys — that being bossy and stern and edgy, can get them far. But they can point to this week in 2016 and say it doesn’t.

Compared with facing the results herself, “it was harder for me to tell my children what had happened,” says Susie Erjavec Parker, a digital marketing specialist in Winnipeg who hosted a party at The Tallest Poppy restaurant. “That is what I fell asleep thinking about last night. That was the hardest part.”

The events of today are so completely deflating, she says, “we can’t even think about the ramifications of what this means for the future.”

But this is the future we have, and the further we travel into it, can we avoid sliding into the cracks this election campaign revealed? (And not just that a man who admits to sexual assault can still become president in 2016.) How are we complicit?

As Andrea Mrozek, program director for the Hamilton-based conservative think tank Cardus, points out, “We live in a crass culture, of which Trump is a part and a symptom, not the cause.” The audio tape that captured his comments about groping women was “blatantly sexist,” she says. But how much better are the rap lyrics of the musicians that shared Clinton’s stage over the campaign?

And while, especially this week, it is a mental-health tonic to imagine Michelle Obama in the Oval Office four years from now, the online chatter about the first lady running is also disheartening. Can a woman in a nation of 300 million not be elected for the top job without being attached first to a man? Such a slim pool certainly shows the need to do a better job inspiring and mentoring women to step out of their professional lives and into politics, an effort that may require even more energy now.

On Tuesday night, Isabelle Metcalfe spent part of her evening doing just that, knocking on doors with a female candidate running in a downtown Ottawa provincial by-election. Then came the crushing news that Trump had won. She wept when Clinton spoke on Wednesday.

Standing on Parliament Hill at the Memorial for the Famous Five, Metcalfe, who is co-chair of the foundation that brought the memorial to the Hill, pointed to the statue of Henrietta Edwards, standing at her bronzed chair, who kept fighting for women’s rights into her 80s. “They kept going,” she said. “We have to move on.”

This was Clinton’s final message too, in her concession speech, while urging her supporters to have faith and take heart. “There are more seasons to come,” she said, looking with steely eyes into the camera, “and there is more work to do.”

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