The 2016 US Presidential elections have grabbed enough eyeballs already, thanks mostly to Donald Trump’s candidacy, but also to Bernie Sanders’s being a Democrat hopeful and suggesting some off-beat policies which struck a chord with most millenials, and lastly because of the possibility of Hillary Clinton becoming the first female president of the global superpower that is the United States of America. With Sanders knocked out of the race in the primaries, it’s now between former Secretary of State and First Lady, Hillary Clinton, and business mogul Donald Trump as the Democrat and Republican nominees respectively.
Despite Trump’s entire campaign featuring outrageously baseless remarks about all communities, from women to immigrants, and some entirely questionable policy suggestions (building a wall? I mean, come on), it was expected that the first Presidential debate would see productive, and frankly, grown-up, debating on crucial issues such as economic policy, international relations, racial tensions, and the like. While those issues were certainly brought up and became points of discussion, another major observation from the night was that despite the positions of power Hillary Clinton has already held and the position she’s vying for, there are certain experiences which aren’t all that different for her than they are for me, my friends, or any other woman around the world, really.
Trump has never enjoyed favourable opinions from women with what his constant sexist, misogynistic comments (far too many for me to even try to exemplify – try googling ‘Trump misogyny’). His attitude came out in full glory against Hillary Clinton as he interrupted her 51 times during the debate (she interrupted him 17 times), in fact, 22 times in the first 26 minutes, and a considerable number of those interruptions came when the Democrat nominee was on the clock, that is, speaking in the time given dedicatedly to her by the moderator to answer a particular question. Those interruptions ranged from blatant backtracking on stances he’s taken on issues before (global warming, supporting Putin) to just screaming ‘No’, and ‘Wrong’ into the microphone, which was more reminiscent of a petulant toddler than a Presidential hopeful. Clinton was often forced to stop mid-answer and smile as her opponent flouted etiquettes of debating and, really, being a decent human being. What’s more important to note is that she couldn’t have possibly reacted in any other way because of the double standards in terms of expectations the public holds Trump and Hillary, and generally, men and women to. Had Clinton lashed out at Trump even for a completely justified reason, as Trump would have probably done if he had been on the receiving end of his own #manterrupting, it would have possibly been the death of her campaign. Had Clinton called out Trump for being ‘not nice’ for all the comments he made about her, as he called her out for videos her campaign has been posting to show his harmful attitude towards women, she’d have been branded ‘too emotional’ and not tough enough to be a President. As Stephen Colbert of The Late Show summarised it, “… For Hillary to win, she had to be confident but not smug, knowledgeable without being a know-it-all, charming but not affected, commanding but not shrill. Also likeable, warm, authoritative, and not coughing. Meanwhile Donald Trump had to not commit murder – on camera.”
Hillary Clinton’s experience during the debate, and in her entire campaign, is nothing women all over the world don’t experience every day – men trying to explain basic concepts to specialists in their fields (#mansplaining), being interrupted and talked over in classrooms and workspaces, and the pressure to be better and more qualified than their male counterparts for the exact same position or role, almost like compensating for their being a woman and like it’s an implicit disadvantage. It’s something that nearly 100 million people saw during the live telecast of the debate, it was something that Hillary Clinton – a person who’s held various positions of power in her life – went through, and is also something I, a 20 year old Indian woman studying economics, discussed with my 18 year old American study-partner pursuing International Affairs at George Washington University. This experience transcends geography, cultures, age and circumstances, although it varies in degrees.
Clinton had to stand on the stage and keep her cool while talking intelligently about policies she’d support and introduce in her tenure if elected even as a man with no political experience (as opposed to nearly 30 years she’s spent in politics) lost his cool, spoke incoherently, and had the gall to say that he had better judgement than Clinton, a former Secretary of State, in terms of international policy that he had better temperament than her.
I have my fair share of issues with Hillary Clinton and her policies but I admire how she navigated everything thrown at her during the debate – from hypocritical standards to an unworthy, unprepared opponent. I also found myself relating to her when she spoke to Brandon Stanton of Humans of New York . She said, “Women are seen through a different lens… there will be men speaking before me, and they’ll be pounding the message, and screaming about how we need to win the election… But I’ve learned that I can’t be quite so passionate in my presentation. I love to wave my arms, but apparently that’s a little bit scary to people. And I can’t yell too much. It comes across as ‘too loud’ or ‘too shrill’ or ‘too this’ or ‘too that.’”
While the world is waiting to see who wins the Presidential race, it’s also important to realise what a tight, uncomfortable, and unfair spot we put the women of our world in where being ‘too much’ of anything can sound the death knell of their ambitions and where they learn to walk the tightrope between the too little and too much as second nature even before they learn to be comfortable with themselves.
Note: This article was written before the release of the tapes in which Donald Trump talks trivially about sexually harassing women, and hence doesn’t reference the issue which would have otherwise found space here.