LONDON — If there ever were a fitting year for a Dickensian adage, it would be 2016, for it truly is “the best of times, it is the worst of times.”
This is a year when more women than ever possess college degrees from four-year institutions, but we still can’t close the gender pay gap in the workplace. It’s the year that the world’s richest female tech executive skimmed the $6 billion mark, but it’s also when the number of women billionaires fell from 197 to 190. In 2016, American women took home the most medals from the summer Olympic games in Rio (61 to men’s 55), yet zero women made the Nobel prize list.
In some ways, 2016 could be seen as the year of the woman, when the U.S. welcomed its first female nominee for president from a major political party. She just happens to be running against an opponent who couldn’t be more diametrically opposed in terms of experience and treatment of females.
That’s perhaps the saga of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump that stands most indicative of Dickens’ Tale Of Two Cities, because the impending election of the world’s first female American president is coinciding with the most hideous masculine assertions of any campaign in the country’s history.
Putting aside whether one candidate is more capable or “presidential” than the other (NonDoc doesn’t allow 10,000-word commentaries), stark observations can be made by narrowing in on the contextual and societal implications this battle royale has on gender equality and feminism.
An analogy for women everywhere
Clinton began the first presidential debate with an exasperated, “I have a feeling by the end of this evening I’m going to be blamed for everything that’s ever happened.” It was an “oh girl, I know what you mean” moment for women everywhere. Her words were compelling beyond the specter of Trump. They were frustration with a much bigger, nuanced sexism that has become so deeply interwoven in the thread of society that we hardly question it.
The Clinton/Trump paradox is a microcosmic example of the still-inherent inequality of women in the developed Western world, a place where this isn’t supposed to happen. This isn’t just a match of wits between two equal candidates, it’s a thinly veiled analogy for women everywhere who have come to the game ready to play against a man who has only half turned up for the show.
Trump is every man everywhere who earns more without asking for it and has less to prove in the workplace than we do. When he visibly hulked and stalked Clinton around the debate stage, he was every man on every street corner, bus or train who threatens a woman’s personal space with his physical presence. His comments on her husband are every man who has ever judged a woman for her supporting role in a man’s life. He is every man who has ever called a woman crazy or emotional as a lazy excuse for not confronting his own flaws nor acknowledging the depth of our psyche and strength of our intelligence.
While in her characteristic pantsuit, Hillary is every woman who has been judged by her looks, for the outfit she chooses to wear as a sign of her capabilities or intentions in the workplace, in the home, in every public sphere. She is every woman being interrupted or never really listened to, her opinions dismissed or diminished as illogical, overly emotional or unworthy of full attention. She is every woman everywhere wanting to scream, “I told you so!” She represents each and every girl whose self-sufficiency, ambition and educational attainments are erroneously viewed as hawkish, cold or “bitchy” (and don’t even get me started on the prevalent use of the word “bitch”) when the same characteristics in a man would be characterized as ambitious, powerful and smart.
Imagine for a moment if the veritable shoe were on the other foot. If Hillary were the candidate with five children from three different partners. If she unraveled little more than a long stream of consciousness rant when pressed about a plan for Syria. If she drummed up every skeleton she could while still possessing a history of discussing oral sex and thinly veiled incest on radio shows. If Clinton bragged about her sexual exploits, insulted entire nationalities and ethnic groups and then threatened to throw any of her enemies in jail, she would barely pass the court of public opinion let alone score a place on the ballot. Call her opponent a “nasty man” on a broadcast debate and she’d immediately be branded a witch, a harlot or, dare I say, a deplorable.
But oh, those emails!
While every woman may know what it feels like to live in a world of constant double standards, objectification and diminishment, Trump’s sexually deviant revelations of the last lingering death cries of this campaign strike an even lower blow when we all thought the bar couldn’t get any lower.
What is perhaps most concerning is not the inability to recognize and redress sexual assault, but his sheer braggadocio of this predatory behavior. Boasting about grabbing someone “by the pussy” ought to be a breaking point for our society and the culmination of a long, terrible summer and autumn that began with the Stanford rape case and crescendoed with Poland. It is simply not OK. Judging by the outpouring of outrage amongst the women (and men) I know, this has cracked us all open to our soft centers.
‘A small step forward’
It is certainly the worst of times, but it could usher in the best … or at least better. What Trump has done to attack and alienate females may have potential to backfire and poke holes into the culture of Western misogyny. His statements have already prompted a host of political party members, celebrities and thought leaders to speak up and condemn such behavior. We may be a long time coming in getting to the point where we can adequately acknowledge the correct treatment of women outside of their role as a wife, sister, mother or girlfriend, but at least it is a small step forward.
What Trump’s comments have served to do is open up a dialogue, whereas before such chauvinism was swept under the rug. It has created a platform for many women to open up about their unjust treatment. We may be closer to creating a healthier, safer environment for women to be empowered in speaking up about the things that are done and said to them.
The first step in treating any problem is acknowledging that there is one, and if Trump, the very embodiment of a backlash against feminism, has prompted everyone to take a step back and think, “Wait a minute … ,” then his presence on the campaign trail may have a purpose.
It’s time for a radical change in the way we approach women in our society and, in a way, Trump has ripped down the curtain to reveal the terrifying inner mechanisms of an unjust system so that we can confront them for what they are. We are mad, we are frustrated and we are waking up.
It’s on us all to speak up for inherent injustices and prejudices. To listen more and discredit less. To readdress biases and to join together in prompting change.
In the end, 2016 may just go down in history as the year of the woman, if only for how we choose to treat these worst of times. We must rise from the debris into a brand new era: the best of times.