On the morning of Tuesday, November 8, 2016, my husband and I signed all the paperwork to begin our journey of starting a family. I’m 37, and we live in a city only two hours away from a country that’s had travel restrictions in place for months due to the Zika virus. Egg freezing and IVF seemed like the most logical option for us as we thought about our future family. Driving back from the appointment, I marveled about how amazing it was that we even had that choice: thanks to so many people fighting for women’s rights and reproductive freedoms, we could choose when and how to start our family. How incredible it was, I said, that we’d someday be able to tell our kids that we started to build our family on the same day our country would elect its first woman president of the United States.
When I was little, I wanted to be the first woman president. Long before I set out on a path of politics, healthcare and marketing, I believed that I could be anything I wanted to be, because I knew I was smart, talented and capable. In my 15 years as a professional, and my 37 years as a woman, I’ve had doubts that those qualities were enough to lead me to success. And last night, the country I live in confirmed that.
This election cycle has been a circus of absurdity from day one of Donald Trump’s ridiculous, gold-plated presidential candidacy announcement. I’ve watched with morbid fascination as he insulted, demeaned, trivialized and lied his way through situation after situation, all the while gaining supporters and the admiration of those who claim to like the way he “tells it like it is.” The media could barely keep up with him: the minute they focused on one point that seemed certain to lead to his ruin, he was off and running in another, more horrible direction. Every time I thought “this will end him,” he proved me wrong. Throughout it, I grew more and more mystified: how the fuck was he doing this??? All the while, Hillary Clinton, a woman with more experience, talent and knowledge than perhaps any other presidential candidate in this lifetime – who was, I’m sure, thinking the same goddamn thing – kept her cool. And do you know why she had to? Because she’s a woman.
Let’s not mince words: it fucking sucks to be a woman in a man’s world. I say that because that’s my truth. I know what it’s like to be in a professional setting as the only woman in a room full of men, knowing you are just as smart, confident and capable as them – if not more so – and still know inherently that I needed to “know my role.” Be a little more demure. Laugh a little more than necessary at their jokes. Let them man-splain something to me that I already knew better than they did. Because it’s one thing to be smart, talented and capable. But it’s another thing to let on that you know you are.
Quick poll: how many men have had a stranger or co-worker come up to them and, unsolicited, tell you to “smile!” Zero? That’s how many I’d guess. On the contrary, the amount of times this has happened to me in both my professional and personal life is too many to count. It’s as if I exist, to a certain group of strangers, for no other reason than to look nice and make them feel good about themselves. It doesn’t matter why I’m not smiling: maybe I’m thinking about how to work through a crisis situation, maybe it’s just my resting bitch face. No matter. If you’re a certain kind of guy and I’m in your eyeline looking anything other than pleasant, it’s your obligation to tell me to look nicer for you. I’m not your equal. I’m your object.
With this election, this country has commanded women to “smile.” They have said that yes, they know who Donald Trump is. They acknowledge his hatred, his lies, his corruption, his charade of “character,” his homophobia, xenophobia, misogyny and racism. A large part of America is grateful to him for validating these qualities they share, for giving their hatred a voice. But another large part of the population looked at all of this and shrugged all, “Meh. Still better than a woman.”
Why don’t you like Hillary? Emails. Benghazi. “Corruption.” This is bullshit. You don’t like her because of who she is. You call her “dishonest” and “arrogant” when she displays the same qualities that could and would get a man elected. You don’t like the way she looks. She isn’t smiley enough. She doesn’t know her role.
Driving home yesterday, I thought about all those meetings when I was the only woman in a room full of men. I thought about all the times I’d been labeled a bitch when a man could have exhibited the same decisiveness and strength and been applauded for it. I thought about how hard I’ve worked to get where I am and how tough I’ve had to be to get over what people think of me when I knew what I was doing was right, if unpopular. I thought about when I was passed over for a job that was given to a man less qualified than me. I thought about all the times I discovered I was being paid tens of thousands less to do the same job that a male coworker was doing, even though I was working harder. And I imagined with hope our country electing Hillary Rodham Clinton as its president and all of that beginning to change.
Instead, by electing Trump as president, this country told me that my value is less because I am a woman. I can be as smart, confident, talented and capable as you can imagine, but it doesn’t ultimately matter because this is still a boys’ club. I am angry and I am deeply sad. I am heartbroken for Hillary, for our generations of young women and for the future of this country.
My (ever-patient, loving, supportive, super-smart and handsome) husband is an environmental journalist. I’m a healthcare professional living in the state of Texas who wants to start a family. What does this presidency mean for our careers? What does it mean for our lives? How can we bring a child into a world of ruin when we’ve both worked so hard to create positive change within it? Donald Trump has repeatedly come out against everything we are and everything we work to further. And the country I live in looked at all he stood for and said “Yup. Let a man do the man’s job, no matter who that man actually is.” I know that we’re going to have to work ten times harder now to prove ourselves and create any sort of positive change. Maybe that will start tomorrow, because I sure don’t have it in me today.
For now, America, I guess we’ll just grin and bear it.