I don’t know what to make of the US Presidential election. Was it class, inequality, race, existential angst, information bubbles, a gigantic white tantrum, or all of the above? I have been reading many and various analyses of a result that (if they are honest) blindsided almost everyone. It certainly blindsided me. To me, Trump beating Clinton felt like a punch in the guts. I can never remember an election result, not even in my own country, not even when Tony Abbott was elected (our very own mini-Trump), affecting me quite so personally. I felt sick and found it hard to eat for days.
Had Trump beaten another man in a suit, no matter how much I liked the man in the suit and his policies, I doubt it would have affected me so personally.
Like many women who were excited about a woman finally becoming President, I am struggling to come to terms with my hopes being dashed. I am also genuinely frightened by most of Trump’s policies, his character and world view. His disrespect for anyone who is not like him – women, people of colour, Mexicans, Latinas, LGBTQI people, the disabled, Muslims, even, perhaps, the Jews – is not just arrogant and rude, it is chilling. We’ve seen this before in powerful leaders and it never leads anywhere good. I fear his policies on building walls, both actual and via tariffs, and his gangster and demagogic personality. I dread delays on tackling climate change, the loss of control over their own bodies he threatens for women, and that such a belligerent, emotionally immature man should be Commander in Chief of the world’s most powerful military. His isolationist attitude to NATO and foreign alliances deeply worries me. The US has been isolationist twice before – just before WW1 and just before WW2. Every time I think about that, I feel sick.
All of those, I think, are perfectly rational reasons for fearing a Trump presidency. Various pundits are arguing that he won’t follow through on any of these things and that we should all just calm down. Well, maybe, but it seems to me that the only real grounds I have to judge this man are via what he has said. And until that changes, I won’t be calming down.
However, if I am going to be totally, brutally honest about the source of my existential dread, it isn’t just the above – bad enough though all that is. It is that the scales have – not fallen, no, they’ve been brutally torn – from my eyes. I had fooled myself that women had come further than we actually have. I thought the world was ready for a female President. I have had to face the fact that not only are millions not ready, but that they wish to emphasise their utter rejection of such a possibility by electing a man who is almost cartoonishly macho and misogynist. He is the brutal, bullying male writ large. The “silverback gorilla”, as Nigel Farage described him gleefully after watching Trump pace around behind Clinton menacingly in the second debate, using all his male physicality to intimidate both her and us. I thought that alone was enough to disqualify him from the presidency. It seems for many watching – both male and female – it was just what they wanted to see.
If my social media feed is any guide (and I am no longer sure it is), many reading this will be thinking “bullshit, it’s not sexism, another woman would have been acceptable, it is this woman who was not.” And, yes, I have heard all the rationalisations. She had baggage, she was the “establishment” candidate (hilarious that after 44 men in suits apparently another man in a suit was the “unconventional” candidate), she was corrupt, a liar, a crook, a murderer, a war-monger, in the pocket of Wall Street. But, sorry, I don’t buy it. Partly, I don’t buy it because some of those insults are familiar from the period of Julia Gillard’s Prime Ministership but mostly I don’t buy it because of, well, facts. Clinton is the most investigated candidate in history and she has come out of each inquiry with no charges to answer. If she is the criminal so many claim, she is a genius. I suspect the truth is more mundane – she is innocent. She has also been judged the second most truthful candidate of recent times by Politifact while the New York Times ran a closely printed double page spread of Trump’s lies. I thought most people would see through the patently absurd notion that she was the liar. I was wrong, they either couldn’t or didn’t care. One lie is enough to condemn a woman utterly, endless lies can be brushed off by a man.
I have watched Hillary Rodham (ironic that she changed her name to placate Arkansas voters who wanted a more compliant Governor’s wife, while now many complain they don’t want another President Clinton – damned if you do, damned if you don’t) since she burst onto the scene when her husband ran for the Presidency. I saw how her outspoken feminism viscerally upset conservatives. What I loved, they hated. I watched as they set about demonising and undermining her reputation. They did it methodically, consistently and – it seems – brilliantly, for decades. I thought most people saw through it, as I did. Indeed, saw it for what it was, an ancient method of disempowering women who challenge the status quo. I was wrong. Millions of men and women did not and do not.
HRC was not helped by the fact that her husband couldn’t keep his dick in his pants, just as she was to be tripped up again when her advisor’s husband was being investigated for sexual shenanigans. I couldn’t believe that women who had done nothing wrong could be held responsible for their husband’s failings but, again, I was wrong. They were, they are.
She was judged “unlikable” because she is – understandably, given the above – cautious and lacking in spontaneity. However, I also know there is copious research showing that the more highly skilled and accomplished a woman is the more unlikable she is considered – another no-win situation. (Literally in HRC’s case.) Given how patently unlikable (to put it mildly) her opponent was, I thought this a minor issue. Again, I was wrong.
Germaine Greer said that most women underestimate how much some men (and some women) hate them and she is right. I certainly did. But that begs the question. Why does the idea of a woman in power seem so wrong to so many?
Every human foetus starts out female. It isn’t until the Y chromosome switches on in the first few weeks that the foetus becomes male. That is why men have residual nipples. That’s why maleness is generally less secure than femaleness. Masculinity does seem to have to be proved in a way that femaleness does not – often by dominating females. Some have suggested that to be male is to be not-female, even anti-female. Perhaps that’s why it is so insulting to call a boy or a man a “big girl”, an “old woman”, a “mother-fucker” or a “cissy”.
Whether this theory holds water or not, I cannot escape the impression that American voters have just elected the most anti-female President they could possibly find.
Message understood. Men and women who care about equal opportunity for all regardless of race, gender, faith, sexual orientation, disability or ethnicity now know exactly what they are up against.
First published on The Big Smoke.