When I was a senior in high school, my debate partner and I decided to run an argument about double standards that women faced in the Public Forum Debate community. The basic premise of our argument was that in order to have productive debate, we needed to address issues that pervaded the community, such as sexism. As two young women, we felt overwhelmed by comments on our clothing rather than our arguments, by being called “bitchy” when we were assertive in debate rounds, and by being told that we were more likely to win if we partnered with men because it was “more balanced.” The responses to our argument were mixed. We had many experiences in which other female debaters would come up to us and share their stories of implicit and blatant sexism, but there were also many times when people would accuse us of trying to “break” debate by speaking out about this problem. In one instance, we sat there as a white man in the back of the room told us that he “was sorry we felt oppressed, but this isn’t the place to talk about it.”
Although this reaction might be surprising to some, it isn’t a particularly new phenomenon. Often, when systematic biases are addressed, people tend to turn away or try to put those accusations in a corner and forget about them. However, this election cycle has been exhilarating because for the first time, concerns about the double standards women face in politics, and in life, are being broadcast on a national stage.
Not everyone is a fan of Hillary Clinton. I’ve heard many women frustrated with the idea forced upon them that since she’s a woman and they’re women too, they must vote for Hillary. This isn’t true, but what is undeniable is that through her candidacy, Hillary Clinton has brought to light problems that women, no matter their party identification, face all the time. Hillary is the epitome of the woman who is simultaneously doing one thing and its opposite, trying to balance the often contradictory demands our society places on women and making the best of it. She wears heels in an attempt to be the perfect amount of female while also being aggressive, but not too aggressive. She’s pretty, but if people say they don’t like her smile she’ll pivot to the “smart and qualified” look—but not too smart and qualified. Hillary Clinton has spent a lifetime negotiating the impossible conditions for success our culture places on women, and she has figured out how to play the game to her benefit: in short, she is a nasty woman.
We need more nasty women—and it’s not just about equality. A study by the Credit Suisse Institute showed that firms that were dominated by men on average took longer to recover from the 2008 financial crisis. In their book “Women and Elective Office: Past, Present, and Future,” Sue Thomas and Clyde Wilcox argue that the democratic value of representation depends on, among other things, having more women in political leadership. If we truly want to be a representative democracy, then it doesn’t make sense to have men making decisions about women’s issues when women could easily represent themselves. Even on a less scientific scale, an increase in strong female role models helps to foster a sense of confidence in younger generations of girls. We already see this with stories of young girls who are excited to be the President of the United States when they grow up. We see tides turning and Hillary is just the beginning.
Her poised demeanor when people make her defend her husband’s policies, or her campaign manager’s actions, or President Obama’s decisions, or her contributors’ activities—as well as her own—are inspirational, because in the face of a double standard that allows her opponent to get away with taking hardly any responsibility for his actions, she cannot be shaken. Clinton and other female leaders like Condoleezza Rice or Michelle Obama are reminders that this is a world where some people can get to the same position by doing half the work as others, but that preparation and personal work ethic can help people to shatter those ceilings. Hillary doesn’t ask for permission to sit at the table or to speak up when she has an idea; she simply speaks and doesn’t let a misogynistic man trip her up. Mrs. Clinton refuses to let the people who think that “boys will be boys” get her down.
In a few days, the election will be done and all the yard signs and political ads will go away. No matter the outcome, it has been an unprecedented opportunity to showcase a woman breaking from the norm. Hillary Clinton has shown to all sorts of people the power and resilience of “nasty women.”
This article was written by Terisha Kolencherry. Click here to see more of Terisha’s work.