Op-Ed: An open letter to Sec. Hillary Clinton

Wednesday, November 9, 2016 - 6:42pm

Dear Secretary Clinton,

Like so many, I spent last night in shock. Shock combined with episodes of anger, fear and the kind of bitter disappointment that is lodged in the stomach rather than the head. You see, yesterday afternoon was pretty great. I taught a lively class on feminist art to a group of intelligent, engaged and caring young women and one straight, white “bro” who is truly interested in learning about women’s issues. Then I brought my 1-year-old son with me as I cast my ballot for you and spent some time imagining what would happen to that huge glass ceiling at the Javits Center.

Earlier in the day someone had commented that I was smiling uncontrollably. And I was, because I believed that in a few hours I would get to enjoy your victory as my own, our own. Instead, in the darkness, I found myself uttering: “Why?” “How?” “Who?” “Really?”

Now that the sun has come up again, my son has smiled at me and called me “mama” and I’ve been reminded by messages from friends that I am not alone, I feel the need to say thank you. Secretary Clinton, you are a historically exceptional person. We must acknowledge, of course, your decades of accomplishments and the real effect they have had on people’s lives. However, today I think we need to acknowledge that you have patiently, doggedly and indefatigably overcome every obstacle that was placed in the way of a woman becoming president. And there were some absurd ones (what to wear, how not to be more successful than your husband). How did you not give up? Why didn’t you erupt into fits of cursing and tears, at least not in public?

The only possible answer to these questions is that you were doing it for us, that expansive sisterhood of people who believe that gender should not be disqualifying. Please know that we are grateful. You checked every box, did the nearly impossible and made us believe. Thank you.

I should have known it wouldn’t be enough. After all, I lecture on the ways contemporary patriarchy has convinced women (and every other underrepresented group) that it is their fault if they don’t succeed. I watch as remarkable undergraduates realize that they have been taught that they must be perfect in order to deserve love, respect and opportunity. And I see how many of them fill with righteous anger and how some find communities of support and acceptance. Yet, if I am honest with myself, I haven’t truly learned that lesson. I hear that loop of self-doubt and self-blame in my head: “You’re not good enough, not smart enough. You need to work harder, be more prepared, be nicer. It’s your fault.”

But that’s not true. It’s not true for me, it’s not true for my students and I know that more deeply today than I did yesterday because, quite simply, it cannot be true of you. The disparity in qualifications and sustained commitment between you and your opponent is so obvious that to claim a link between those things and the outcome of this election is patently ridiculous. Except, they are related because this country expects women to accomplish incredible things just to be considered viable options while men (straight, white, cis-, rich, non-disabled men) are seen as naturally qualified.

There are other reasons Trump won last night and they deserve careful, clear-eyed study. Today, my eyes are blurred with tears so I will just say: I’m done. I’m done trying to live up to an ever-widening double standard. I’m done pretending that there is some point where good ideas and work magically overcome bias. I’m done politely ignoring male privilege and silently denying parts of myself. I’m done pretending these are individual problems and done trying to find solutions by myself. I’m done because you have done more of that than I could possibly imagine.

Mrs. Clinton, you’ve done enough. I mean that sincerely. While I look forward to your future insights and accomplishments, you deserve a rest. There are others of us who can and will carry the load for a while. And that’s in part because you have made it lighter. You have done the impossible so that I can refuse to jump through those extra hoops. I will say no so others won’t even be asked.

Sincerely,

Tara Ward

Tara Ward is a post-doctoral research fellow and lecturer in the History of Art Department.