On the phone with my brother last night, I asked him to buy me a copy of Hillary Clinton’s new memoir, What Happened, as an early birthday present. A few minutes into the conversation, he mentioned some leaked excerpts, and conveyed surprise at how angry Hillary seemed at Bernie Sanders. I’m hoping that his surprise was due to the fact that as a candidate, Hillary Clinton was seen to be very emotionally level – sometimes calculating and measured to her critics, and not because he couldn’t understand why she could possibly be angry. Because my first thought was, “Of course she’s angry!”
Truthfully, I’m still angry about the outcome of the election. I’m tired of listening to people explain every wrong move Hillary made during her campaign, as if it rationalizes the outcome. I fume silently whenever people argue that Bernie Sanders was the better candidate – or better yet – that he would have won (by a landslide) had he been the Democratic nominee. I too, am I’m angry at Bernie Sanders, for assaulting Hillary’s character rather than her policies. I’m angry at all the liberals who hated Hillary so much that voting against her was more important than voting against Donald Trump. I’m angry at Donald Trump for even running. And I’m angry at myself for not being able to do anything about it. I have so much anger that if I think too long about it, I can feel my pulse rise and my breathing get shallow. I feel sadness too, but mostly anger. Fuck this. This is wrong. This is unfair. None of it makes sense. Let me be angry.
I can’t tell you why I need to read this book, or what I expect to get out of it. Insight? Catharsis? A sense of closure? Perhaps I’m still grasping for understanding, tired of reading hundreds of speculative reports and news autopsies of her campaign, wondering what really happened.
The 2016 election was more personal to me than any other past political event. Growing up, Hillary Clinton was my childhood First Lady, and then my NY State Senator. I grew up watching her in the spotlight, and following her achievements. She was unapologetically smart and tough as steel, a real role model. And then, in 2016 I let myself become so hopeful that she could shatter the highest glass ceiling. I believed in her so ardently, that the results of the election were nothing short of soul-crushing. The loss felt personal. I think, in some ways I needed her to win, to convince myself that this nation was a progressive place. That when it came time for me to reach for my own goals, that I would have a fair chance. That I would be limited only by my abilities and my ambition, not my gender.
I recently had a long discussion with a close friend and fellow millennial woman about a New York Magazine article (link here) about the mid-life crisis of ambition 30-something women. I excerpt it here:
“But millennial women made the mistake of dutifully believing what they were taught. They presumed their power: everything they read or watched, everyone suggested to them that the path ahead was clear. They got more degrees, they entered law in greater numbers, they knew they could support themselves and had no gendered expectations around eventual family.
What does it mean to grow up listening to “Roar” when female achievement has flatlined? … There is still no occupation in which a woman who works full time earns a lot more than a man, and few in which women have parity. Women have less savings than men, and are less likely to qualify for a mortgage. … When a woman delays children and partnership into her 30s to earn money and establish independence and then sees how her paths are blocked, it is perhaps no wonder that something like anguish is the result.”
The article discusses how women (typically in their 30s) reach an impasse in their career – despite being educated, ambitious, and hard working – and upon self reflection find themselves at a loss.
“It’s as if the women have cleared spaces in their lives for meteoric careers, and then those careers have been less gratifying, or harder won, or more shrunken than they’d imagined.”
During our conversation, my friend and I lamented not knowing what we wanted. Both of us are in temporary situations – myself finishing a PhD, and she in an unfulfilling government job that she eventually plans to leave. Both of us have many possible paths that lie before us, yet neither of us can clearly envision ourselves confidently following any one of these paths. Marriage is not obvious, kids even less so. We have been raised to be strong and independent, buying into this narrative that professional success is not only desirable, but attainable with hard work. But now we are not so sure. Reality feels much more stark, and the glass ceiling exists. The reminders of it are everywhere. My friend pointed out that it has been less than a century since women in this country were granted the right to vote. And last November, we learned that this country is not yet ready to accept a female President.
Is professional success worth fighting for if I have to fight twice as hard as my male colleagues? Or is happiness to be found in making a reliable living and a strong family? Do I want to leave my legacy in my work or the genes I pass on? How do I know which is the correct choice? And how do I reconcile this choice with the wishes and expectation of my parents, my peers, my gender, and my entire generation? I don’t expect to find the answers to my questions in a midnight phone call or Hillary’s book, but perhaps it is sometimes enough take momentary comfort and strength in sharing in the struggles of fellow women, and in choosing together to persevere in an uncertain future. We swallow our disappointment and anger and go on, however uncertainly, because we must.