Watching last night’s Democratic National Convention speeches was historic, because for the first time in my lifetime a woman was nominated by a major party in a national election. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or a Republican. If you’re a woman, the path that was paved for you, starting with all those suffragettes who fought for the right to vote a hundred years ago, has become a little smoother and less steep this week. I find that inspiring. I remember hearing Madeleine Albright speak at a dinner in Wellesley a few years ago, when Hillary was Secretary of State, recounting that her little grandson, who was used to seeing women in that job, asked if men could ever be Secretary of State! I remember taking my children to vote with me in the 2008 national election when they were 5 and 3 and barely old enough to understand. I told them about my grandmothers being born in 1907 and 1910 into a world in which women had no say, and that when they were just 12 and 9, women finally had a vote. I told my kids that they had a privilege and responsibility to vote, because for women, it wasn’t always the case that they had a voice.
In this important election year, a lot of people are so bothered by the two choices, that they say they may just stay home and not vote. A lot of these people are women. I wonder what their ancestors would have said, after having battled all those years to gain the right to vote. They would frankly be appalled. I was at a dinner party recently with a man who confessed that he couldn’t bring himself to vote for a woman who was so imperfect, even though he had no problem voting for a problematic man. I was stunned, wondering how to respond. But thankfully he caught himself by saying, “I guess I just expect women to be better, but now that I think about it, that’s pretty sexist, isn’t it?” I smiled and said, “Yes, it is.” A hundred years ago, women were put on a pedestal and called “Angels of the House” and their job was to be the moral arbiter for the family. But that did not mean that they had any power beyond the home. Apparently, those beliefs are still with us today.
I wonder how many women are not in history books because they had to be angels in the house, wanting to please everyone and look good? How many modern women, even with full careers, spend way too much time focusing on being more thin and more perfect? I seem to be surrounded by women like that, who may be lovely people, but they funnel their upset with the world and with the status quo into an upset with things they can control: their bodies, their houses, their kids. Now that we have a woman this close to the presidency, I wouldn’t be surprised if magazine articles started to exhort women this fall to start baking more cookies and working on those abs, because god forbid we should all start wanting to run for president. I’ll never forget reading Susan Faludi’s book, Backlash, in the early 90’s about society’s backlash against women’s career strides. The news media were reporting on a new “trend” of women leaving their careers to bake cookies, and even though the trend didn’t exist, the reports definitely laid on the pressure to conform to it.
What I learned from Hillary, who is very flawed and has made mistakes, is that she never gives up, she doesn’t take the slams from others personally, and when she gets hit, she gets up again. She has a larger purpose, which extends way beyond the fact that people think she looks too old and her pant suits are odd, and according to Trump is only a 1 on a 1-10 “looks” scale that he applies to all women to diminish and shut them up. But she doesn’t stop. She just keeps speaking up. And whatever you think of her politics, you have to admire the fact that she was not shamed, unlike a lot of women, into silence. That’s why I’m with her.
As you find your world stage, particularly if you are a woman, remember that you can focus on pleasing everyone (which is a bottomless pit), or you can be yourself and speak up. The world needs to hear what you have to say. So let’s stop focusing on how thin we are and whether we are liked by everyone, and instead ask what talents we’re bringing forth to truly change the world. Whether we end up in a history book or not, let’s remember that our kids and our grandkids are watching us this year now more than ever.