Growing up in a traditional Indian society, I would often have aunties and grandmothers telling me, for my own safety, that I should 'conceal' not 'reveal' my body, that I should stir my tea without clinking my spoon against the porcelain cup, that I should be home before dusk, that I should sit properly, laugh softly, dress appropriately. Centuries of conditioning has ingrained in us concepts like "ladylike", "sophisticated," and "pretty" that eventually define us, that eventually control us. Literal demarcations have been lodged and enforced to restrict us women from what we can or cannot study, how we can or cannot earn, where we can or cannot live, what we can or cannot do.
Traditionally, daughters are considered to be paraya dhan – another’s wealth - because parents feed, clothe and educate daughters only to have that “investment” completely handed over to the in-laws. There is an oft-repeated saying that “bringing up a girl is like watering a neighbor’s garden” because albeit the girl is earning, her parents have no right to that earning. On the other hand, however, we have a deep-rooted tradition of son-preference because they are believed to continue the family lineage, they inherit and add to family wealth and property, they defend the family, and they take care of their parents in their old age. So yes, the entrenched gender roles of my conservative society has often made me feel like a liability and an unbearable burden with nothing more to offer than my appearance, servility, and domesticity.
India is, and has been for a long period of history, a patriarchal society but to see such deep-rooted sexist stereotypes emerge during the United States presidential debate, and the election cycle in general, has left me flummoxed. For a developed nation that is considered one of the greatest superpowers, one that prides itself for the freedoms offered, this election cycle has shown me the perverse society we inhabit, one that is fueled by misogyny, and is miserably trying accept the fact that women do not exists solely for their domesticity. All of this happening despite being thousands of miles from my society and in the land of the free.
Republican candidate, Donald Trump, is notorious for building an empire on a "small loan," extorting money via phony businesses, phony universities, phony charities, and now, a phony campaign. Let's not forget that he has 5 kids from 3 different women, has repeatedly objectified women, and has faced multiple bankruptcies and uncountable lawsuits. During the debate, he boasted about not paying federal taxes, and profiting from the housing crisis - both these issues that have negatively impacted the lives of thousands of citizens, are also issues that Trump takes grave pride in for his complicity.
What was most bewildering, however, is the sexism evident in his conduct. In terms of overt sexism, he was unapologetic for his offensive remarks to former Miss Universe, Alicia Machado, and Rosie O'Donell, stating that they "deserved" the insults. In terms of subtle, covert sexism, he did much more. In 90 minutes, he interrupted Clinton 51 times, often talking over her for several seconds. He interrupted, but hated being interrupted himself, even rebuking the host, Lester Holt, for simply finishing the question he posed to the candidates. Trump questioned Clinton's "stamina," inferring that she is a woman, ergo, she is weaker. He criticized her temperament, insinuating that strong women are aggressive and cantankerous.
Clinton, on the other hand, was assertive, determined, and cogent. She was merciless, and refused to flail while Trump lost his temper. She lured him so subtly, so imperceptibly, proving her point that his itchy finger should be no where near the nuclear button. She did not have explain Trump's lack of impulse control any further because she showed it to us, and we saw it.
Clinton's fortitude was proof that, in a world where women are taught to be neither heard nor seen, here she was, demanding to be both. "I prepared to be president," she said in response to Trump's criticism of her preparing for the debate. She came prepared and qualified; a stark contrast to her opponent who showed up unprepared, sniffled like a coke addict, and has never held any elected office in his life. Larry Womack in his HuffPost article, writes,
Consider, for a moment, two people. One, as a young woman at the beginning of a promising legal career, went door to door searching for ways to guarantee an education to the countless disabled and disadvantaged children who had fallen through the cracks. The other, as a young millionaire, exacted revenge on his recently deceased brother’s family by cutting off the medical insurance desperately needed by his nephew’s newborn son, who at eighteen months of age was suffering from violent seizures brought on by a rare neurological disorder.
What kind of a society treats these two people as equal in any way? What kind of society even considers the latter over the former for its highest office?
Generations from now, people will shake their heads at this moment in time, when the first female major party presidential nominee—competent, qualified and more thoroughly vetted than any non-incumbent candidate in history—endured the humiliation of being likened to such an obvious grifter, ignoramus and hate monger."
I felt humiliated watching Clinton have to entertain, campaign against, and potentially lose to, a man who is nowhere close to being an equally competent opponent. I felt exasperated at watching a man with a temperament of a 4-year-old question her integrity, qualifications, and policies when he himself has nothing to his name. Had the roles been reversed, Clinton would be harrowed for throwing such fits. Clinton is fighting a battle that a man would never have to.
In our national imagination, presidency and its 'leadership' association is a masculinized notion because all the American presidents we have known are male. Clinton's campaign, however, is so radical and sublime that it has expanded our perception of the presidency. She, along with Barack Obama, have paved the path to reimagining what it means to be presidential. Irrespective of whether Clinton wins or not, she will have created a more expansive space for our imagination. It is a slow step but it is one in the right direction. It concerns me that if she wins, however, that the narrative will be one that credits Trump, or even Bill Clinton, for her win rather than her own merit.
Clinton represents every woman who has ever been silenced, who must hold herself together even when she wants to scream "CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS SHIT?" She has to pretend that his baseless opinions and absurd thoughts are equivalent to her hard work, qualifications, and decades of experience. The entire campaign has shown me that a woman can work hard, rise to the top of the ladder, and still have to compete with an unqualified man for the same job. Clinton represents every woman that has to tiptoe around blatant sexism as if she does not have to contort herself to squeeze between the elephant and the wall. I hope each one of you can identify the aggravations that women face on the daily that is literally being enacted on the national stage, as I am. I hope each one of you watching this election cycle can feel the humiliation women have to shoulder, as I am. I hope you are feeling the anguish, as I am.