Ellie Smeal, the co-founder of the Feminist Majority Foundation and a longtime leader of the National Organization for Women, knew it was going to be ugly.
“It’s really tough for the first woman, no matter what ceiling you’re breaking. The first women police were harassed. One third of our military women are sexually assaulted,” Smeal told TIME in an interview. “This has been a male turf and [Hillary Clinton] has got the chutzpah, the gall, to step into a place where only men ‘should’ be and there are those men whose reaction is they can’t take it.”
Smeal believes that those men, the ones who feel that a woman’s success “takes from their own” are the ones Donald Trump is igniting. “Why does he keep calling her weak when she’s so strong? He thinks all women are weak and only their looks matter look at how misogynistic his language is,” she says.
For Smeal, Clinton’s nomination is “long overdue.” “I always thought I’d see a female president, I just always thought it would be sooner,” she says. “I’ve always been surprised at how hard it is.”
Smeal served as president of NOW for most of the decade between 1977 and 1987, when she co-founded Feminist Majority. She has spent her life advocating for feminism and women’s equality. When she first joined NOW in 1970, women had just 3 percent in Congress and 8 percent of law school classes. “We finally cracked 10 percent of Congress in 1992, 22 years later. Then we went to 19—we are still not at 20 percent and it’s 2016. It’s been hard. It’s taken a couple of generations of women,” she says. “I’m just lucky I lived to see it. I’ll be 78 at the end of the month.”
Smeal is delighted that Clinton isn’t just a feminist but a self-described “strong feminist.” She remembers working with Clinton when she was First Lady to help empower Afghan women; Clinton tried on a burka just to get a sense of what Afghan women faced. She also loves that Clinton’s campaign has a “magnificent platform for women,” which prioritizes early childhood development, paid sick and family medical leave and free community college. Some 70 percent of community college attendees are women. “She will certainly govern differently as a woman,” Smeal says.
Smeal liked Ivanka Trump’s speech last week at the Republican national convention. “It’s too bad that her father isn’t running on a platform of that—of women’s rights,” Smeal says. “That’s where she is, that’s not where her father is, or where the Republican Party is.”
Smeal is beyond delighted at Clinton’s nomination Thursday night. “It’s a very important milestone as it helps destroys the mythology,” she says. “It’s a big deal and we need it. If we’re going to have women at full their potential, people have to envision women in all kinds of roles.”
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