When I was 15, just starting in the writing program at Interlochen Arts Academy, I used to state confidently that I didn’t like “women writers.” They didn’t speak to me, focused too much on emotion and flowery language. I wanted to write like men because their work always seemed stronger, better, easier to read. Fewer periods and more adventure, I guess.
But it always bothered me that while I spent weeks writing and revising a story I brought to class, boys, the handful that there were in the program, often typed something up on the printing room computers in the hour before class. It was bad writing. Yet we in the workshop were obliged to take it seriously, to comment on how they could make it better and to spend our time reading and thoughtfully considering something that these guys had splashed out without much time or thinking at all. The teachers – the best ones I’ve ever had – never said anything about it in class. And it was frustrating to see that what I worked so hard on was considered equally with something a boy errantly said after class he’d “probably never revise anyway.”
When the AP announced that Donald won right before I went to bed, this was the moment I thought of. Because the nation yesterday was presented with two essays about who the country should be—one thoughtfully considered over years of public service, the other chosen by lining up racist/sexist refrigerator magnets and seeing what might come out. We were told these two candidates should be considered equally even though there was nothing equal about them. And 53% of white women voted to say that they just didn’t like Clinton’s work that much. Rather than flowery and feminine, Clinton was hardworking and professional. Why couldn’t she just have a better personality? Why couldn’t she be emotional but still fit to run the nation’s highest office; professional but not quite so scheming or untrustworthy? Maybe it would have helped if she’d been quieter about her own career and a little more excited about baking cookies.
It wasn’t until I got to college and started trying to write in earnest aka. for a paycheck that I realized—for the first time—there were things that were actually unsafe for me to do just because I was a woman. Go undercover to work on a farm? Sure, you can do it if you want to face the overwhelming odds that you’ll be sexually harassed or worse. Want to travel to every country in the world? Nothing is officially stopping you but it’s awfully difficult if you’re not a man. In fact Wikipedia (I know, I know, it’s not a “real source”) shows that all of the most travelled people of all time are men—with the exception of Queen Elizabeth and Hillary Clinton who come in at number 12 and 13. You literally have to be the Queen or the motherfucking U.S. Secretary of State to be allowed that kind of access to the world.
I used to be one of those women who “just didn’t like other women”–possibly because so many of them didn’t like me. I was shy in person, outspoken in class, and often told that I had a particularly terrifying case of “resting bitch face.” My friends were all more or less like me. We divided ourselves based on the type of girl or women we thought we were–those who aspired to be with men and those who wanted to be them. Because we’re all taught, one way or another, that to be a man is to have all the power–to strike up a conversation in a bar with a new person without wondering if the other person will walk away when he finds out that you’re not interested in him sexually; to meet with a mentor in their office and not wonder if you should keep the door open; to be rich; to be admired for your confidence; to become President regardless of qualifications.
Today, it’s hard to find a hopeful place to end this. In an election that was so sickeningly focused on our opinions of women as sex objects, as workers, and as role models, Hillary’s loss feels like a loss of hope for all women. And women, again white women specifically, were the ones who lost hope first. Maybe they never had it in the first place. I still wonder what it was in my childhood that led me, raised by liberal parents and a feminist mother, to think writers who were men were better than women. Even when there were plenty of women writers I liked at the time, they were exceptions that didn’t disprove the rule: women just weren’t as good. When I was a child, my mom was part of a lawsuit against Home Depot who had promoted men over more qualified women. But if she talked about how women were paid less than men or treated unequally in the workplace, it felt like she was holding on to the past. Surely, in the era of “girl power” this was a relic.
But it’s hard to look at Ivanka Trump, whom her husband has described as “CEO of our household” (not to mention actual fucking CEO of her company), and forget that women are still told their greatest calling is to be wives and mothers. They have to stand by their fathers even when it’s bad for business. Their silence and acquiescence is seen as “class”. Just a few days before the election, Buzzfeed’s Anne Helen Peterson described the group of suburban white women who were quiet Trump supporters as the “Ivanka voter.” They’re the ones who go to the polls. They’re the reason why Trump is now President-Elect. And today I’m torn about whether I feel bad for them or wish I were one of them.
Because, like so many of my friends, I woke up yesterday to a sunny, mid-60 degree day full of hope and excitement. Today, it was still dark when I woke up. Not because it was early but because of gray rainy skies. I read the outpouring of fear and sadness and shock from those I love and I wished that this election didn’t matter so much to me or to them or to every minority or immigrant who doesn’t know whether they will still have a place in this country in four years. Frankly, I’m jealous of those women who don’t hurt and who don’t care enough that a woman has never been President to vote for one; those women who don’t think we need better role models than someone like Ivanka with all her class. Because they still live in the fantasy of an America that is simple and clean and blindingly white. Shattering the glass ceiling last night would have only left a mess they would have had to clean up after, thank-you-very-much.