‘The fight was worth it.’
It’s fair to say that being the first of any adventure or achievement does have added pressure. You want to be the first to open the door to others, and you hope you’re not the last.
This is a necessary conversation to be having. I wrote a whole chapter in my upcoming book about being a woman in politics because I wanted people, particularly young women and men, to have some sense of what it is like to break through barriers. I tried to put in context what my life was like before I ever stood on the stage in Philadelphia to accept the nomination of the Democratic Party. My husband had a powerful story to tell about his upbringing and his background, and Barack Obama had a unique and powerful story to tell. Few people would find my story quite so compelling or dazzling because I came of age as a young woman in the middle of the country in the middle of the last century. But I think my story, like the stories of so many women of my time, is as inspiring as any other—and it really is the story of a revolution. I came of age at a time when things were starting to change dramatically for women. It’s an important piece of our history that needs to be retold and understood so that the young men and women coming behind us understand that the movement toward women’s equality is just as urgent and vital as ever.
Sexism has not disappeared from our society, let alone our politics. There are numerous real-world examples in business, in politics, in other fields of women not being treated equally. If you have a wife in the workplace, or a daughter, or a sister, or a mother, you have a stake in speaking out and standing up for women being treated respectfully and equally. Sexism still exerts a pull on our lives and our choices. It is a very subtle but clear continuing challenge that has to be acknowledged, and confronted. Because we do our work on the public stage, women in politics all have stories to tell. We are often demeaned or belittled or insulted for pursuing our interests and our careers. So we have to be doing all we can to open the aperture of understanding and acceptance. My gender is my gender. My voice is my voice. I love to quote the first woman in a presidential Cabinet—Frances Perkins, who served under FDR—who said, “The accusation that I am a woman is incontrovertible.” So embrace that, and be proud of it.
The fact that I was a woman advocating for women’s rights and for equality and for health care made my passion for these issues even greater. My hope for young women coming up is to develop that confidence and that commitment about what you want to make of your own life, and to support other women as they pursue their own ambitions and dreams.
There is a great opportunity in politics and public service to be rewarded by the impact that you can make. Being in the room makes the government more representative of the people. I found that to be the case in the Oval Office and the Senate chamber, and as the Secretary of State in some foreign capital, as an advocate for issues that matter to me.
It is better than it used to be. The institutional, structural obstacles have largely been eliminated, although I fear that the current Administration may try to reinstate some of those. At the moment, what we are up against is more attitudinal than institutional, and therefore everyone can play a role. But I think it also must happen in classrooms, starting at a young age. We know that oftentimes girls are not as encouraged, or aren’t confident enough to raise their hands and speak out. We know that girls as young as 6 believe that boys are smarter. We know that as young girls become young women, pressures increase about how they look and how they dress and how they behave. All of that can be very disorienting and lay the groundwork for the kind of cultural mistreatment of women that is all too acceptable.
We have to guard against backsliding, especially with this Administration—turning the clock back on women’s roles in everything from business and politics to the military. But we also have to just recognize that we still have work to do to change attitudes. And we need more role models. You can’t, as the saying goes, imagine doing something that you can’t even see. How do you plan to be an undersea explorer or a general in the military or a great scientist if you don’t see role models? All of this is part of the challenge that we face going forward.
Another concerning phenomenon is online bullying. So much of it is aimed at girls, and so much of it comes out of a sense of nasty behavior, mean-girls syndrome, whatever you want to call it. But a lot of the girls who are being mean to other girls are doing it because they’re trying to curry favor — they’re trying to get some kind of position in their own young society that helps to assuage their insecurities. We have to recognize that this is an ongoing issue. It’s not just about politics. It’s about every single woman’s story. And every girl’s dreams.
These cultural barriers have persisted even though we’ve knocked down legal barriers. And part of the challenge is that you do have to be well prepared and highly competent and work hard. All of that is true. It should not be an impossible task for more women to achieve their own goals, but we face what is a pernicious double standard that is aided and abetted by the idea of perfectionism.
The curse of perfectionism is an issue I’ve spoken about in the past. So many young women feel like they have to be perfect—that the world is telling them they’re not pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, nice enough, likeable enough … whatever it may be. That somehow they fall short. I’ve tried to make it as clear as I can that they shouldn’t be held back by this imposition of perfectionism. Nobody can achieve that. Yes, you have to be good, you have to be competitive. But don’t let it paralyze you. Don’t let it undermine you. Don’t give in to those who are constantly demanding more and more of you when frankly they don’t demand the same of your male counterparts.
There are no perfect people. So many articles about me always say, “Oh well, she’s flawed.” Well, name a person who isn’t! But that was part of the whole diminishment: Don’t listen to her, don’t follow her, don’t vote for her. Let these other guys entertain you and go on their merry way, flaws front and center. Embrace the fact that you’re not perfect—nobody is. Every one of us is flawed. Every one of us has challenges that we have to overcome. Embrace the fact that you’re going to do the very best you can, to produce good work, to be a good person who is understanding and empathetic. We’ve got to get to a point in our society where you expect excellence and you deliver excellence, but women should not be judged by a different set of standards about how they produce their work and how it’s judged.
I want to support people whose values I share to run for office, to wage campaigns, to advocate for public position, to be supported both in politics and government to do what is right. I have a new organization, Onward Together, where we are taking these small startups that came out after the election and looking to encourage more people, particularly young people and young women, to run for office at all levels of government. But we also want to encourage people to get more engaged in our civic life—to understand what a town hall meeting is, to use your voice and your vote to influence politics and the people who represent us. I’m very committed to doing everything I can to help the Democrats take back the House and to maintain if not grow our position in the Senate as a check and balance on the current Administration.
I don’t want anyone to be discouraged by my defeat or say that they shouldn’t try or support others who will try. We can’t give up trying. This past election was unprecedented in so many ways. In my upcoming book I try to sort out what I could have done differently, what my campaign could have done differently. But you also have to recognize that you had the unprecedented intervention by an FBI director. You had a foreign adversary successfully influence the election. You had voter suppression aimed primarily at African Americans and young voters. And you had sexism, which was front and center. We have to prevent those things from ever happening again. And some of those are long-term challenges.
I’m going to spend time during my book tour, and for many years to come, talking about what we need to learn about what was done to us in this election. Every day that goes by, we seem to learn more about the interference and the profound impact of that on the outcome. And that should terrify every American. I don’t care if you’re Republican or Democratic or what your independent leanings might be, what party you might belong to, we cannot tolerate being manipulated by a foreign power, especially one that is so bent on destabilizing democracy as Russia and its current leadership is.
I also want my presidential campaign to have helped pave the way for young women who come behind me. Because even though we didn’t win, we made the sight of a woman nominee more familiar, and we brought the possibility of a woman President closer. We brought into the mainstream the thought of a woman leader for our country—and that’s a big deal. Everyone who played a role in making that happen should be deeply proud. We ran into some big speed bumps right at the end, and I believe I would have won but for those, and that’s what I want people to believe. We have to get back up and get back out there. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t give up. The fight was worth it.
Clinton, who has served as First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State, was the Democratic Party nominee for President in the 2016 election.