It’s been quite some time since I’ve posted anything related to our presidential election or my own politics. I sort of imagine that anyone reading my posts already knows where I stand, and for the most part, I assume that they agree with me in broad strokes. But lately I have seen more than a few people on my page, women mostly, saying that they are still undecided. They don’t like Donald Trump, to be sure, but they’re not too sure they like Hillary much better.
I remember my last political post. It was simply asking Hillary supporters to give Bernie supporters a chance to process the loss of their candidate. I know I needed that time. I worked hard for Bernie Sanders, phone banking, donating, and organizing. I was thrilled for the real revolution he was leading, and was deeply disappointed, and disillusioned, when he ended up losing the primary to Hillary.
See, I was never a Hillary fan. And even while I understood the importance of finally electing a woman president, it wasn’t enough to make me want to vote for her over Bernie. I wanted to vote for the candidate I most believed in, the one who I thought most clearly represented my values and concerns. And that was never Hillary, woman or not. It still isn’t.
But I’ve also never really thought of myself as a feminist, and even in some ways, never really thought of myself as a “woman,” per se, in as much as I never had any desire to identify with women just for being women, I never even considered going on a “women’s only” retreat, and have never been the type to want to “just hang out with the girls.”
I think there are a lot of reasons for my lukewarm allegiance with my gender. Being white and straight, raised upper-middle class in the suburbs of NYC, well-educated, with a pretty typical body type, I enjoyed so many axes of privilege that my status as a woman – a second class citizen in most of the world – didn’t seem to hold me back in any appreciable way. Sure, I cringed when my landlords at The Samarya Center called my business partner and me “girls.” Of course, I was very aware when I was called a “lady,” or for that fact when I was acting un-”lady-like,” but at the end of the day, I felt like as many doors opened for me based on my privilege as did for anyone else.
But this Donald Trump thing has gotten me thinking a lot about myself as a woman and what that really means. I’m almost ashamed to say I had to make it to nearly fifty before I realized the devastating truth of what it is to be a woman in our culture, in our world, even with all of my privilege.
To be clear, it’s not that I’ve never thought about this before – I’ve always been vehemently pro-choice, I’ve always been aware of the threat of rape that all women live with, I am disgusted by the fact that women make less money than men for doing the same jog, I’ve always understood that we live in a sexist society, a sexist world – it’s just that I’m thinking about it in a new way with more depth and honesty than I think I have ever allowed myself.
I am reminded of a time last year when I was walking from Sea-Tac airport to a nearby hotel. As I crossed the street, a huge black pick-up truck pulled up beside me and rolled down the passenger side window. I thought maybe someone was going to ask me for directions, so I paused. Instead, the driver leaned over and made some crude remark to me about a sex act he would like to engage me in. I just looked away, probably gave him the finger, and rushed on to my hotel as he cruised slowly away.
When I got to my hotel, I called my husband and told him about the incident, but it wasn’t the main reason I was calling him, I relayed what happened with the pick-up truck driver only as part of the bigger story of making my way to my hotel. For me, it was almost an afterthought. But he was super concerned, asking me if I had reported it, if I was safe inside. I remember laughing and saying to him, “Sasha, it’s no big deal. Welcome to my world. This is what it’s like to be a woman. All day, every day. Our whole life. We’re used to it.”
I feel like that was a watershed moment for me. It was a spoken realization that this is just our truth. In fact, the first time I remember being “flashed” was while I was walking home from kindergarten with a friend and a car pulled up alongside us to ask us if we “knew what this was” as he fondled himself outside of his pants. I remember running home with my friend, hiding in the bathroom and crying, and telling each other we would never tell anyone what had happened. See, we had already learned that we should be ashamed – that we had done something icky and that we should be the ones to hide.
After that first incident, I recall a lifetime of being exposed to, or cat called, or humiliated for my looks –either being something someone wanted, or something someone was repulsed by. Life, privileged life, went on – I experienced being molested by a neighbor in elementary school, being grabbed by the breast while walking down the hall in middle school, being asked if my “cherry” could be “popped” while studying at a college library when I was in high-school, fondled on a bus in college, fondled on a train in Europe, my butt being grabbed under a short skirt on one of my first trips to Mexico, being flashed more times than I can count, in the states, Europe, Fiji, India, Mexico. Each time it was gross, but most times, especially if the person did not actually touch me, it also just seemed, well, par for the course. That’s just how it is to be a woman. I had not only internalized the shame, I had come to normalize this behavior. In fact, it was just an extension of what I experienced as a woman business owner, or even as a musician. I can’t tell you how many times guys have offered to “teach me how to play the bass,” even after years of fronting multiple bands as the bass player, or who had changed the settings on my amp. I was so used to it, I hardly even reacted to these constant diminishments.
But now I see things differently. With this election, between what many people are calling the lesser of two evils, I see both an opportunity and a possibility. The opportunity is monumental; the possibility is terrifying. Remember, I didn’t – and don’t – like Hillary much. But one of these two candidates is going to be the next president of the United States. I’ll tell you something else. I voted for Ralph Nader, and am angry and insulted when people try to shame me for that vote. I voted my conscience. I voted for the person who I believed was most aligned with my values. I understand the third party vote. And I understand it even better now.
Only one of two people – Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton – will be the next president, no matter who you vote for. Bernie’s not going to be president. Jill Stein is not going to be president. Whoever you write in as a protest vote is not going to be president. No, only either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump is going to be the next leader of our country, and only one of these two people will have the power to ensure a progressive supreme court – which will include a women’s right to have power over her own body – that will affect generations to come.
I understand that there are a lot of moving pieces, a lot of important issues, and a lot to consider in voting. I understand that Hillary is a not an ideal candidate for many progressives. But here’s the thing for me right now. Women make up roughly half the entire world population, and women are systematically degraded, undermined, abused and belittled in just about every country on earth, including ours. It happens to you, it happens to the women you love. Every day.
The divide between the sexes on the far ends of the spectrum will always be at play in politics, in war, in environmental stewardship, it will always be a base line from which all other policies will spring. Difficult and important issues come and go and shift over time, but the fundamental issue of the equality and power of women will be a fight that forms the very foundation of our progress as a species. Yes, we have made strides in that progression, but the power imbalance between men and women is still very much alive.
In our own political arena, we have just two viable choices now. One will break the glass ceiling and offer women the world-over renewed hope for future equality and protection – just by being a woman president of the United States, even if they don’t like her. Her presidency will spark further conversations about what it’s like to be a woman in our culture. She will bring to light, in one way or another, our country’s deep and persistent wound of sexism and misogyny in much the same way Obama’s presidency furthered revealed the unchecked racism Black people and other people of color live with every day. Her presidency will offer an opportunity for men to further consider – to try to really see – what it’s really like to be a woman in our culture. It will awaken us collectively to the depth of sexism and harassment women deal with every day – finally laid bare in front of us, and surely inspire us to do everything we can to stand up and stop the systematic degradation of women, including our right to choose, but at an even more fundamental level, our right to be safe.
Donald Trump will do the exact opposite. He is the epitome of rape culture. He uses his power to diminish, insult and assault women. He not only continues the normalization of power over women and our collective shame just for being women, he celebrates it. And there are men and women all throughout our country who have found their voice for their own ideas about a woman’s place, who have found in him a possible world leader who reassures them that male power over, and objectification of, women is not only normal, it is right. We see women who have so deeply internalized the shame and normalization of their own degradation that they wear tee-shirts encouraging Donald Trump, their dream future president, to handle them however he wishes.
The men in our country who live by rape culture are watching. The misogynists and dictators of all stripes around the world are watching. Electing Donald Trump tells this country, and this world, we think this is ok. We think this is normal. We think this is as it should be, and women just need to lighten up and stay in their place.
My husband asked me as I told him about this piece, “So would you vote for Carly Fiorini if she was running against Trump?” I think I’d vote for Ann Coulter if she were running against Trump. It’s not that I like Hillary. And I cannot stand Ann Coulter, but the danger that Trump poses with regard to the safety and progress of women in this country and beyond is far greater than my dislike of Hillary or even my repulsion of Anne Coulter. And make no mistake – Hillary is not Anne Coulter. Even while she represents so much of what people like me distrust in establishment politics, Hillary is a powerful woman with a relatively progressive agenda. And she’s not running against a run of the mill conservative blow hard. She is running against a dangerous megalomaniac with a penchant for humiliation of anyone he doesn’t like or agree with.
So, just maybe, you are a woman out there who has had a similar experience to mine. You are privileged in different many ways, and you have been conditioned so thoroughly as a part of that privilege, that you have forgotten to give voice to your own day-to-day experiences of degradation and objectification. You have learned to see them as no big deal. Just another comment, just another fearful moment, just another joke. But it’s no joke. We all know that. A vote for anyone other than Hillary at this point is a vote for Trump, and a vote for Trump is a vote for our continued living in a culture of fear, disrespect and yes, sexual assault, sanctioned publicly at the very top. I’m not saying that voting for Hillary will suddenly make all this nastiness go away. But voting for Trump will allow it to thrive. Please, vote your conscience.