Something happened to me on June 7th, 2016. As I watched Hillary give her victory speech (for being the presumptive Presidential nominee of the Democratic Party), tears came to my eyes. I was shaken to the core. Rationally, I could not compute my reaction. But emotionally, I understood it.
As you may well know, I have had a conflicted relationship with Hillary Clinton. Like millions of Americans, I haven’t liked Hillary as a person very much even though I have never doubted her intellectual accomplishments.
But on that Tuesday night, all my doubts melted away. The enormity of the moment overwhelmed me. A woman was on the verge of becoming the leader of the free world. Things were never going to be the same again.
Actually, it was not Hillary who moved me but Rachel Maddow. Maddow, theMSNBC anchor, has a way of telling a story that lifts politics out of the morass of the dull and the dreary and elevates it to the romantic. On the eve of Obama’s visit to Cuba, for example, Maddow started her program with the story of a 1960 dinner at the house of Ben Bradley, the editor of the Washington Post, and ended up with the revelation of a secret peace mission to Cuba that a man named William Attwood would have undertaken had Kennedy lived.
On the eve of Hillary’s victory, Maddow started her show with the campaign of Barry Goldwater and ended up with the stories of two women who had dared to run for President in the ‘60s, Margaret Chase Smith and Shirley Chisholm. Like many immigrants, I knew nothing of either woman, and as the story progressed, I was struck by the ‘50s sensibility with which even the most ardent female supporters of the two women had treated them, asking them which male candidates they would support.
Hillary campaigns in prose, but Maddow translates her substance into poetry. So watching the show, I couldn’t help parse my own reactions to Hillary. I wondered if, deep down, I disliked Hillary because she reminded me so much of my own inner contradictions. Like Hillary, I too have cherished the men in my life more than I should have; like Hillary, I have sacrificed my own personal advancement in favor of my family’s welfare. Like Hillary, I have been the butt of put-downs because I have been a strong woman who has not tolerated the “mansplaining” and other treatments I am subjected to. Like Hillary, I have felt entitled to power and prestige and respect but haven’t always gotten it.
It is ironic that in the year that a woman is finally a nominee, the Republicans are rallying around a candidate who is a sexist female-hater, a man who reduces women to body parts.
When Howard Stern asked him to identify three women whose bodies he found hot, Trump named his own daughter Ivanka. When the radio jockey inquired if he would still love his wife Melania if she were disfigured in an accident, Trump replied that he would, if her breasts were still intact.
Are you feeling sick already?
This election is thus an ultimate referendum on gender and sexual attitudes in America. And it is in this area that Trump will attack Hillary the most. He cannot tolerate the notion that a middle-aged, somewhat plain woman will be standing on the dais debating him; he will wade into the gutter while his working class white male supporters will egg him on.
The battle of the sexes has already begun; prominent women like Elizabeth Warren are calling out Trump’s chauvinism.
But at the heart of the schism is something very sinister, namely that women have little sexual power in today’s society. Time and time again, I come across men who have gone from adolescent horny dogs to dirty old men without ever transitioning into sensitive family men; men who, even at my age, objectify me; men who don’t want to know about my writings or my intellect or my strength. In a way, feminism has made it worse for women because men can now sexually exploit women without facing any social or moral strictures. No wonder then that young women today are coerced into sending nude pictures to men who simply intend to use them for sex and rape.
But what if the women simply said “no?” What if, en masse, they refused to be intimate without an emotional connection? What if they demanded more grace, respect and dignity from men, even at the risk of being alone?
I know President Hillary Clinton will have other things to worry about. Still, I think an honest dialog on gender, along the lines of Obama’s speech on race, delivered during his 2008 campaign, will inspire women worldwide. Perhaps with the help of prominent women like Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, and Kamala Harris, President Hillary Clinton could begin an initiative to teach young women—and men—about the correct balance of sexual power in our lives and our society.
Sarita Sarvate (www.saritasarvate.com) has published commentaries for New America Media, KQED FM, San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune, and many nationwide publications.