2017 was the year that women stopped self-silencing: minimizing our opinions, softening the message. From the millions of protesters at the Women’s March in January, to the historic November 2017 elections with its veritable litany of ‘first-ever’ elected female officials, to the ongoing #metoo campaign targeting sexual predators in positions of power, we have engendered change merely by speaking out. Though this politicized movement for gender equality was a reaction to Trump’s election—and unlikely to exist had we elected Clinton—it was triggered during the campaign, by the treatment of our first female presidential candidate.
Hillary Clinton had to be preternaturally calm during the election, to avoid being labelled an ‘angry woman’, or ‘overly emotional’. Her two biggest competitors, Trump and Sanders, were able to leverage populist rage through their own visibly-seething and barely-contained fury at the political system. Unable to access that level of frenzied indignation without being deemed unstable, Clinton was therefore dismissed as part of that very system they were raging against.
Her voice was never fully heard. She’s impenetrable, impossible to know, said the news media. Hillary is so hard to trust, said the voters. The two are related. There was no roadmap for how to elect a female president. She was labelled by her husband, his actions, his behavior. Trump dismissed her candidacy based on her abilities as a wife: “If Hillary Clinton can’t satisfy her husband what makes her think she can satisfy America?” She was our last victim o
f women self-silencing, succumbing to a culturally-imposed standard of feminine behavior.
When Clinton released her memoir in September, her critics were outraged that she should continue to have a public voice. The public outcry was to stop talking already. Stop complaining. Take those long walks in the woods in silence. But, Clinton would no longer keep her opinions to herself. And in 2017, American women are no longer willing to do so, either. In the wake of the election, compilations of Trump’s sexist statements went viral. Though this was not new information, it was information that had not always been taken seriously. Trump, in the minds of many voters (and pollsters), was not a proper threat to Clinton’s foregone presidency.
Post-election, Clinton said women frequently approached her for forgiveness: I didn’t vote, I didn’t think you needed me. Or: I wish I’d volunteered, or been more outspoken. Trump’s victory caused many women to recognize the precariousness of their individual rights and freedoms. Trump’s victory symbolized a reversal of progress for gender equality, taking the country back to a time (not so long ago) when women were perceived as inferior to men by the government, by popular culture, and—most insidiously, though subconsciously—by one another.
Our new president believed that our bodies were not our own. He blamed sexual assault on physical proximity (“what did these geniuses expect when they put men & women together?), threatened to defund Planned Parenthood. Suddenly, our rights were in peril. Our private Facebook groups, our politeness, were putting our lives in danger. Clinton supporters had been silenced in a similar manner as their candidate: exhausted by defen
ding themselves against the claims that they were only supporting Clinton because she was a woman, and seeking refuge amongst like-minded women in Pantsuit Nation.
Clinton referenced “private Facebook sites” in her concession speech: “I want everybody coming out from behind that and make sure your voices are heard going forward.”
And in a year of political and cultural warfare, hear them they did. The triumphant Women’s March in January capitalized on the momentum, kicking off the year with a scream. Women’s rights are human rights. We shall not be marginalized.
The naysayers who believed women would become complacent were proven wrong by our continued perseverance, with historic wins for women in the November elections, which were a triumphant list of “first-ever” victories: the first openly-transgender state legislator, the first two Latinas and the first Asian-American woman elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates, the first African-American female mayor in North Carolina, and so on. EMILY’s List, a resource for Democratic pro-choice women to run for public office, is inundated with requests.
In this moment of chaos and struggle, let’s also celebrate our achievements in the past year. Our voices our heard, and wielded real power. We are the resistance we claimed we’d be when we marched on Washington at the beginning of the year. The Weinstein revelations in October birthed the #metoo movement, opening up a dialogue about the inherently imbalanced sexual power dynamics between men and women. And open up a dialogue it has. “The Unexamined Brutality of the Male Libido” is now being examined in The New York Times, summarized succinctly on the Sunday Review front page: “Men are awful. Let’s talk about it.” Let’s.
And let’s remember never to stop.
Katherine is a weekly columnist for Roar. A freelance writer and editor based in New York City, she writes frequently about culture, political and social issues, literature, and travel. She received her master’s degree from The New School, with honors in nonfiction writing. Follow her work at www.katherineparkermagyar.com.