This summer, a young woman was brutally raped and killed in a neighborhood very close to mine. The tragedy was covered by all the local news stations, and a reward totaling in the hundreds of thousands was eventually raised in hopes of finding her attacker. White ribbons hung around trees, and signs seeking information could be found in the window of every business.
One day, while driving through this neighborhood, my 12-year-old daughter launched into a feminist tirade that both caught me off guard and bowled me over with pride.
“A woman should be able to go out for a run in her neighborhood without being afraid that someone is going to attack her,” she said. “Women should be able to wear what they want, do what they want, and men should respect that.”
I told her that she was right – But. Often in order for women to gain respect, they have to hide their femininity and their sexuality. When I was first starting my career as a newspaper reporter, I explained, I was a young blonde in a world dominated by older, powerful men. I tried my best to downplay my womanliness. I cut my hair short. I never wore skirts. It was the 1990s and if Hillary was queen of the pantsuit, I was her lady in waiting.
I adapted myself to my male surroundings in order to feel I had some scintilla of power. I wanted to be taken seriously, after all. I wanted to be seen as smart and decisive, not cute and meek.
So every time I left a meeting with a table full of men, and heard a loud laugh as soon as they thought I could no longer hear – I brushed it off. Whenever a handshake went too long, a hello came with a very unnecessary cheek kiss, I ignored it. When, after I got married, men I worked with made jokes about how long I would last before I got pregnant and started baking cookies, I let it go.
“You shouldn’t have had to do that,” my daughter told me. “You should have been respected for the work you did, not the way you looked while doing it.”
How is it, at age 43, this came to me as a revelation?
As I watched Hillary Clinton debate Donald Trump, I felt my defenses sharpen. The news of the previous 24 hours – pussygate, if you will – were more revelatory than surprising. As he spoke, I recognized that belittling tone of the voice. I understood how bullying is meant to silence women. I saw how body language can be used to intimidate. My spine stiffened and my skin crawled.
“No,” is all I could think. “Do not let him get to you.”
And every time Hillary Clinton smiled through her opponent’s trumped up accusations, shook her head at his hyperbole, took on a cold death stare instead of letting her tongue lash, I understood it. I’ve felt it and I’ve lived it.
I’ve worn the pantsuits. I’ve butched up my appearance. I’ve made dumb jokes in order to not intimidate men with the fact I was smarter than they were.
No more. It’s about time we stood up to bullies, to sexual lowlifes, to men who think title and money gives them carte blanche access to a woman’s body and spirit.
I’ve spent most of my adult life as a working journalist, and so never before have I voiced an opinion in a presidential race. I’m doing it now. It’s that important. And my daughter would tell me – You have a voice. Use it.