In 2016, Hilary Clinton made her second attempt at the United States presidency. Supporters from far and wide anxiously awaited the outcome which many hoped would be one of the biggest historical victories for women everywhere. Her victory speech would have included a tribute to her mother, going back to the time when she was 8 years old, enduring surprisingly difficult conditions during the 1920s. “Listen to me, you will survive. You will have a good family of your own…And as hard as it might be to imagine, your daughter will grow up to be the President of the United States”.
Yet although Hilary was defeated at the polls that year, it was not considered the loss some had feared. A rising tide of activism took root. The feminist cause may have been temporarily derailed, but it was not about to roll over in defeat just yet.
But what does it really mean to be a feminist?
Feminism is one of those ideals that has evolved over the years. What started out as a cry for equality has now grown into the more realistic vision of a representation of the availability of choices. Yes, there continue to be gradations of feminism but the realization that any expectation of true equality is bound to eventually turn on itself is now more obvious.
It’s no longer simply about whether or not our daughters can play football or choose whether or not to stay home or join the working population or whether or not she can join a field that is traditionally out of reach for her gender or even whether or not she has to buckle-under the standards set by society for what qualities are valued in women; specifically those pesky unrealistic perceptions of beauty.
Even today, the ideas around what qualities are most valued in women have not yet evolved to any large extent. In a recent survey conducted by the Pew Research Centre which surveyed 4,573 adults, men were found to be valued for characteristics such as honesty and morality (33%), professional success (23%), ambition and strength (19% each) and hard work (18%) with physical attractiveness at the bottom of the spectrum (11%). Women, however, were valued for physical attractiveness (35%), empathy, nurturing and kindness (30%) while 22% thought intelligence was important.
According to the modern definition though, there is no incorrect way to be a feminist, the focus has shifted to a group ideal which tells us what it should look like, to a set of values that represents the rights of the individual.
One prominent author on the subject, Yuracko also went on to expand this concept. Some choices thought to have been made of our own volition are often fraught with established gender biased norms, coercion or maybe even questionable socialization.
True optimization of choices occurs with a range of options which are decided based on perfect knowledge rather than seemingly obvious or natural inclinations as a matter of adhering to societal expectations. This even relates to the ability to decide to exit abusive relationships on the assumption that women can now opt to make decisions based on her own well-being rather than conceding in order to sustain an ideal of the definition of happiness or even her own self-identity.
Hilary herself has been widely criticized by many feminists for her various life and career choices. As a Harvard graduate and an attorney, she might have been considered the perfect role model for the movement, however, her aspirations were often viewed with extreme criticism and she was often felt to have placed her aspirations on the back-burner to support her husband’s aspirations. She graduated during the 1970’s at the height of the women’s movement and chose to keep her maiden name after marrying Bill in 1975. However, after his loss at the polls in 1980, she volunteered to change her name to show her support to Hilary Rodham Clinton.
The real test though came much later on with the Lewinski scandal and is the reason used by many for not supporting her during the 2016 campaign as she was thought to not have taken the multiple accusations against her husband seriously. Excuses abounded, usually centred around the idea “we are willing to vote for a woman, just not that woman”.
That Hilary chose to stay in the marriage instead of immediately decrying her husband’s actions was thought to have been a betrayal to the cause. After all, as women, we are often faced with those very choices that are thought to be the very reason for our continued subordination. Her response was only to say that “there were times that I was deeply unsure about whether our marriage could or should survive. But on those days, I asked myself the questions that mattered most to me: Do I still love him? And can I still be in this marriage without becoming unrecognizable to myself – twisted by anger, resentment or remoteness? The answers were always yes, so I kept going.”
This issue continues to plague her campaign however, even to this day, as she was faced with an enormous blowback within the #MeToo Movement. Her campaign manager has advised her against mentioning it again and many within that group agree that she was less than ideal for representing the cause. Even the movement’s own founder Tarana Burke, argued that the issue there was one of power and dominance. This is still up for debate though since both parties agreed that the act was purely consensual.
To her credit though, Hilary has however been given credit for her immediate distancing from long-time party financier Harvey Weinstein when the news broke of his indiscretions.
Nevertheless, even amidst the perceptions which might have held her back during the 2016 election, such as her lack of a ‘good rapport’ with the media. Her mistakes were magnified and publicized on a large scale. Yet no woman has been in the media more often than she has; from the cover of Time magazine to the numerous times she won the Gallup poll’s most admired woman – 19 times in 22 years losing only to Mother Theresa twice and Laura Bush once respectively.
She might not have won the 2016 election, but her loss ignited a wave of activism which has been sweeping the nation in the form of marches, an increased number of female political candidates as well as an overall intolerance for several of the oppressive forces that used to persist.
The overarching issue here though is that the fight for equality is one we all have to face; and it should not demand perfection. With any significant societal change, what is often required is a great unifying force and this always requires some measure of tolerance and acceptance. That unification will require that we put aside our personal biases, recognize that the struggle is not unique to any one of us, stop criticizing each other so harshly and press forward toward the common goal that surpasses all of us, that of true equality of options.
Change is what we are after, and as Hilary, herself said, “I believe that women are not victims, we are agents of change, we are drivers of progress, we are makers of peace – all we need is a fighting chance.”