As a young woman who’s considering a career in politics, it was beyond disheartening to see Hillary Clinton, one of the most qualified and dedicated candidates, lose her shot to become the first female president to a wholly unqualified misogynist. As I watched the results come in on election night, my heart sank to my stomach. The months that I (and so many others) spent defending and supporting Clinton against sexist attacks hadn’t paid off. I felt the way I’d felt weeks earlier when I woke up to find that someone had stolen the Clinton/Kaine sign out of my family’s yard: like there was no chance of overcoming the nastiness, hatred, and sexism of the election. The closer Donald Trump got to 270 electoral votes, the further I felt our country slipping from having a president who would fight for equal rights, affordable health care, and income equality. My first time voting in a presidential election resulted in massive disappointment.
That disappointment didn’t stop when Trump was named the president-elect. The day after the election, my younger sister come home from school and told me that her male classmates had taunted her because of Hillary’s loss. On my campus, I listened to some of my male peers defend Trump’s comments referencing assault on the previously leaked Access Hollywood tapes. “That’s not even that bad. I’ve heard way worse,” they said, normalizing our future president’s horrendous and dangerous statements. When I defended Hillary Clinton and criticized Donald Trump for proposing a ban on Muslims entering the country in my political science class, I was singled out and scolded. My professor walked up to my seat, pointed a finger in my face, and yelled at me to “just stop.” I felt shamed, embarrassed, and furious.
But despite these disappointing reactions to Trump’s victory, I refuse to stop fighting for justice or to give up my own political aspirations. If anything, the events of this week have reminded me of one exceptionally important thing: We desperately need more female leaders in politics.
The U.S. government severely lacks female representatives, and this election didn’t do too much to help. Although women make up over half of the population, we compose a mere 19% of Congress. There will be just 21 women in the Senate and 83 women in the House when the 115th Congress convenes on January 3, 2017 — or a total of 104 women out of 535 overall members in both chambers.
But despite this overarching lack of representation, there is still hope. The number of women of color in the Senate quadrupled in this election, which is particularly significant given that people of color are generally underrepresented in Congress and in many other positions of elected office. Mazie Hirono, Kamala Harris, Catherine Cortez Masto, and Tammy Duckworth were all elected this week, making history.
Instead of mourning the (many) negative outcomes of this election, we should focus on the women who can now make a difference. These women are bright lights in the darkness and are paving the way for more women, especially women of color, in politics.
I know I’m personally comforted by the fact that I was able to be a part of this imperative change. I live in Illinois and I voted for Tammy Duckworth — a strong, brave, Purple Heart–awarded veteran who champions LGBT+ rights, safe and reliable access to abortions, commonsense gun control, and many other imperative social and economic issues. I voted for Tammy because she stands for what I believe in and has the background and experience to be an educated and impactful legislator.
Watching Duckworth win her election was indescribable. I can’t put into words how much I value my ability to vote for an amazing, inspiring woman to represent me. I feel that she doesn’t just share the same general values as me, but also understands my particular concerns as a woman. She knows what it's like to be fearful of the imminent threat of sexual assault and rape culture. She knows how valuable the resources Planned Parenthood offers are. To be fair, a male politician could understand and advocate for these values as well, but there is no one better to fight for women’s rights and equality than women themselves. For this reason and countless others, I have faith that Duckworth will defend my values and rights as my U.S. senator. She gives me hope.
What gives me even more hope is knowing how many powerful, intelligent, and determined young women have been inspired by this election and are now more driven than ever to make a difference. Teen activists like Rowan Blanchard and Yara Shahidi have taken to their social media platforms to inspire their fans to, as Yara said, “ensure that the baton of progress that President Obama has ran forth with is not dropped.” Also, She Should Run, a network of future female leaders, has seen nearly 1,500 women join their She Should Run Incubator (an online program that helps women envision themselves in public leadership and provides guidance on a future run) in just the past week. Clearly, Clinton lit a flame that will not easily be extinguished.
But this hope must be tempered with the realization that there’s still so much work to be done. Clinton’s historic race was one more big crack in the glass ceiling, but we have to fight harder to shatter it completely. The more cracks we add, the more women we elect to leadership positions, the less willing our society will be to accept a leader who condones sexual assault, calls women demeaning and sexist slurs, and claims the many women who have accused him of sexual assault are in fact not attractive enough to be his “first choice.”
We can all do so much to make this happen. First and foremost, we have to support women in our daily lives. Stand by your female friends. Remind them that they’re not only smart, strong, and capable, but that they can be leaders, too.
Second, actually motivate these capable women to run for office. Women are much less frequently encouraged to run than are men and are often afraid of the harassment and attacks they will likely face when running for office, and are therefore hesitant despite undoubtedly being able to win elections. A great way to support this effort is to donate to (or get involved with) organizations like She Should Run and Running Start, which are dedicated to encouraging women and girls to run for elected office and providing them with the resources to do so.
But for now, repeat to every young woman in your life what Hillary Clinton said in her solemn yet moving concession speech on Wednesday morning: “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
We can honor Clinton’s message and change the landscape for female leaders. This is just the beginning.
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