The One Who Got Away

One week after the presidential election, half of our nation is celebrating, but the rest of us are still reeling from the blow, grieving and sobering up to a changed America. The enormity of this change in power – in fundamental values – is still coming in to focus. And there is deep fear about how far-reaching the changes may be. Many of us have been concerned for the safety of our fellow Americans and are just beginning to contemplate what this sucker punch means for women in their daily lives. How will this new presidency affect gender norms in the workplace and the gains we’ve been making toward more family-friendly policies and flexible work arrangements?

Flocking to the polls in our pantsuits, many of us brought our daughters, mothers and grandmothers to witness an enormous step forward- hoping to finally reap a monumental return on the hard fought incremental progress of the suffragettes, women, and civil rights advocates before us. But we were humbled to see it slip out of our hands and learn that we are not there yet. It’s not yet our time. There was a confluence of factors driving this election outcome, all still being analyzed and dissected. But it’s safe to say that if allegiance to traditional gender roles, xenophobia, or sexism played any part of it, we have a great deal of work ahead of us.

Many of us continue to struggle with this outcome; gradually realizing that it is not the loss of an election, but the sanctioning of speech and behavior antithetical to the values many of us strive for, that haunts us. How will Trump’s misogynistic rhetoric translate into policy? It remains to be seen. He put forth a paid family leave proposal during his campaign and had women in key campaign positions. That matters. But what matters more is an ideology of inclusion and respect – the very opposite of what he has put forth. Anyone who has turned on a television in the past year is up to speed on the hateful and derogatory things our president-elect has said about women, not to mention what he has been accused of doing to them.

Sadly, such sexism is nothing new. Such behavior is not revelatory. It is all too common and now painfully clear that half of the country does not consider such speech and actions to be deal breakers for a leader. And it now has a champion in the White House. That does not bode well for gains in workplace flexibility, decreasing discrimination and increasing women in leadership over the next four years. And as such, many of us continue to grieve for the potential of a woman – a working mother- in the highest of all leadership roles – and the trickle down effect she could have set in to motion. Among other things, Hillary was a champion for paid family leave, affordable child care, and gender equality – but these issues did not turn out voters. Too many of us grew complacent thinking we had done enough fighting or quite simply that these issues were not worth fighting for. We weren’t ready. We took her for granted. And now she’s the one who got away.

Hillary’s very public job interview for U.S. President mirrored some of the unfortunate realities many women face everyday in pursuit of leadership roles – like being held to ridiculous standards and repeatedly criticized for their appearance, speaking voice, or lack of humor/personality.  Hillary was judged more on what she was not than on her unprecedented qualifications for the job. Unfortunately, those who saw her as the lesser of two evils now must accept her as the one who got away. What happens when you don’t give a woman the respect she has earned? You lose her – usually by her choice. In this case it was our choice – an unfathomable missed opportunity.

As painful as this reality is, there is a silver lining – an opportunity we must not squander.  Hillary did not let us down. Hillary was a handful of electoral votes away from becoming President of the United States of America. She won the popular vote. She ventured into uncharted territory and bore the brunt of a vicious battle so women coming up behind her won’t have to. Her ascent tore back our mask and has forced us to look in the mirror and face ourselves, our very real fears and flaws as a nation. It’s nice to believe that those fears would have faded away had she been elected, but it’s not true. Now we have the opportunity to face our ugliest selves, find our common humanity, and begin to heal. This is a tall order, but what other choice do we have? Galvanizing a nation of advocates will provide a more solid foundation for progress, especially the advancement of women, minorities and families.

Hillary pushed us as far as we were capable of going in 2016. Our next chapter is to grasp this painful but frank national dialogue and advance the conversation.  Apparently it took electing one of the most divisive candidates in history to give us a wake up call. Now we need to re-weave the fabric of our culture into one of inclusion and equality. Here’s how:

  1. In the absence of leaders who embody these values, we must help build the next generation of leaders by working together to reach over and pull our neighbors and co-workers up by their collars – whether white collar, blue collar or no collar. This is especially important for those of us with privilege. It’s time to relinquish our “do it yourself” by your “bootstraps” work ethos for collective action.
  2. Speak out against unfair policies, treatment and statements against women, families, minorities, or any class of people being unfairly targeted. It can be terrifying, especially for our marginalized citizens, but collective action can embolden and shield us. Become upstanders defending those targeted by vitriol and hate – whether on rural roads, city streets, in classrooms, construction sites, board rooms or break rooms.
  3. Refuse to normalize discriminatory viewpoints and actions. Just because they have been amplified does not mean that we have to accept them. We may even find more allies now that the gloves are off – another silver lining. We can drown out oppressive comments and gestures with overtures of support and acceptance.
  4. Get more women in leadership positions and elected to public office. Make this the norm our young women and men see and expect.

After any failed relationship comes the opportunity to learn and grow – and do better next time. Over the next four years, progress may come in baby steps, but if we march in step they can become leaps and bounds.

Photo credit: antonychammond via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

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