Accepting I was a feminist took me a while — probably longer than it should have. Feminists had told me time and again that if I believed men and women should be equal, which I did, then I was a feminist. But separating the truth of the movement from its stereotypes — the false image of hating men, the angry tweets and the bra I didn’t have to burn — did not happen overnight. Today, I wear the title proudly and I admit that I still have a lot to learn. And I have a feeling that there are about to be a lot more of me. Barring any substantial change, a Clinton-Trump general election is coming, and with it, the single best night for recruitment that feminism has had in modern history. Ignore the campaigning and Twitter skirmishes that will inevitably dominate news cycles and national discussion. Skip to October, to a debate stage in some university auditorium in Middle America. That is where it will start.

From Gerald Ford denying a Soviet presence in Eastern Europe, to Ronald Reagan’s famous “There you go again,” up to Al Gore’s sighs and Mitt Romney’s “binders full of women,” presidential debates have been the highest and most public forum for political discourse — a forum in which no woman has ever had the opportunity to speak. Millions watch, and if the Trump effect on the GOP primary debates are any indication, 2016 will be no exception. More people than ever will tune in to hear what comes out of his mouth next. Young and old, liberal and conservative, Black and white will not be able to resist watching the political equivalent of the Fight of the Century. But unlike Ali and Frazier, this will not be a fair fight.

Though he has benefited from the fact that he has consistently been the center of attention at every debate in some form or another, Trump’s debating skills over the course of the primary season have pleased few other than his supporters. He attacks wildly and without caution, as he did with Ted Cruz: “I know you’re embarrassed. I know you’re embarrassed … I’m relaxed. You’re the basket case.” If anyone boos, he chalks it up to a biased audience. He has blatantly lied, insulted moderators and made explicit reference to the size of his manhood, all on national television. And a lot of it has worked thus far.

His antics in these contests have been what makes him endearing to the portion of the Republican base that hates the establishment and the media, supporters who love to hear someone speak their mind and lambast the evil that is political correctness. If there is one thing Trump knows, it is how to market himself. But this cannot continue in a general election. The strategy that has catapulted him to the top of a fragmented GOP field will not work with independents, moderates, swing state voters and the vast majority of Americans who disapprove of Trump. Keep in mind the fact that, with the notable exception of Megyn Kelly, no one has held him accountable for his sexist remarks. Since their confrontation in the first debate, Trump has avoided this “third-rate reporter” at all costs, refusing to participate in debates where she, and her questions on behalf of women, were present. In a contest based around looking “presidential,” knowledgeable and relatable yet strong, Trump’s infantile behavior will pale in comparison to Hillary’s calm and collected presentation. My golden retriever would look presidential next to the GOP front-runner, but I digress.

Feminists could not have written a more symbolic showdown. On one side, a man who has degraded women, reduced them to their appearances and last week said that exercising their constitutional right to have an abortion should result in “some form of punishment.” On the other, a composed and capable woman with one of the most impressive resumés in the history of presidential candidates. Someone who has, throughout her career, promoted reproductive rights, equal pay and family paid leave.

Whether Hillary Clinton is the ideal icon for feminism in the 21st century or not is still up for debate. Regardless, she will be the champion of every American woman when she inevitably takes on Trump and his rhetoric. In living rooms and at dinner tables across the country, conversations will be sparked by the simple truth that sexism is alive and well. It will have a name, a face and an unconvincing head of hair.

Discrimination based on race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity are more easily identifiable. Just watch the news. Sexism, on the other hand, hides. It exists in the socially acceptable forms of slut shaming, in the unequal expectations about marriage and children, in the double standards about displaying emotion in public, and in countless other nooks and crannies of our national culture.

When I imagine what a Trump/Clinton debate might look like, I see a place where sexism cannot hide. Under the bright lights and scrutiny of millions of Americans, as he tries to score points with his base of predominantly angry white men, Trump’s shocking disrespect for more than half of the voting public will not be funny or entertaining. It will be disturbing — a wakeup call to those who have chuckled at “meninism” on social media and, like I did as a first-semester freshman, refused to use the F word. So no matter which party wins the House or the Senate or the White House, I will make one prediction about the 2016 election cycle with confidence: Feminism will win.

Brett Graham can be reached at

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