On election night, I found myself reflecting on the historic nature of the day. Nearly 100 years after the woman’s right to vote was recognized, we were going to have our first female president. I was excited, but I also felt in hushed awe of the moment. I saved my “I Voted” sticker in case one day I have a daughter to show it to. I thought about people anticipating other moments in history and wondered what it felt like for them. I was amused by the contrast of this landmark in time with what I was doing that night (driving from a busy urgent care to a less busy one to get a nagging cough checked out).
Several hours later, I lay on the couch, nauseous and trying to calm my thoughts and feelings enough to sleep for a few fitful hours. We had not elected our first female president. Instead, we had elected a man who degrades women on a regular basis without consequence.
As it became clear that the unexpected (the unthinkable) was going to happen, actor Patton Oswalt tweeted, “What I’ve learned so far tonight: America is way more sexist than it is racist. And it’s pretty… racist.”
Of course, we can’t quantitatively measure either one (and I’m not sure whether it’s helpful to compare them). And of course there were many, many factors that played into the election. But sexism was absolutely one of the factors (as was racism). And the way the election highlighted sexism’s pervasiveness was staggering.
I’m realizing that with all of the ways sexism is built into our churches and culture, there’s no way that it didn’t influence a significant number of people’s votes for one of the most powerful positions in our country. I’m going to list just a few of these ways sexism is built in, all ones that I can easily name. These examples may seem like “sexism lite” (not as severe as say, denying women the right to vote or sexual assault and harassment), but that’s the point. If we are ok with sexism in all these forms that I can come up with off the top of my head from just my own experience, no wonder we’re not ready to elect a female president.
I’ll start with the Christian church. In many churches and denominations, it is still the norm that women cannot be in leadership, much less in a pastoral role. This is true of my current denomination, a fact I am less and less able to reconcile with my participation. Because I also grew up in churches with this restriction, however, it wasn’t until recently that I began to recognize the twistedness of the situation. For example, when Hillary Clinton first ran for president eight years ago, I clearly remember saying that I just didn’t think a woman should be president. We’re too emotional. Plus, I saw her a video of her upset once and she was kind of screechy. That wasn’t attractive.
It nearly made me gag to type that those last few sentences. How fully I had bought into the male-driven narrative that my own sex was not suitable for leading others. If you can’t accept a female leader or pastor at your church, I highly doubt you’re going to vote for one for one president.
As another church-related example: Long before I started contemplating my actual marriage, I was told that my future husband would be my leader. Even preparing for getting engaged and married, there were still people that told me that my husband needed to be able to lead me (and I needed to be able to follow him). Don’t worry, I’d already worked through and past that. But if you don’t believe a woman can be an equal partner in a marriage, then I have a hard time believing you would consider a woman–any woman–for president.
This “sexism lite” is not limited to the church, either. Women’s restrooms almost always have a diaper changing table, while it’s uncommon to see a diaper changing table in a men’s restroom. That clearly communicates whose “job” it is to change the diaper (and care for children in general). (I did notice the other day that Starbucks had a changing table in both of their single-occupancy unisex restrooms. Thank you, Starbucks! And before anyone gets all bent out of shape about unisex restrooms, remember that the bathrooms in virtually every home–including yours–are single-occupancy unisex!). Legos and other toy companies make stereotypical pink and purple building products for girls–as if girls can’t just play with normal Legos. Girls go to daddy-daughter dances while boys play strategy games. Male politicians–responding to our now president-elect bragging about sexual assault–say that hurting a woman is wrong because she’s someone’s daughter/mother/wife/etc. Not wrong because she’s a person in her own right. Wrong because she’s related to a male.
I guess I shouldn’t have been so taken aback by the sexist implications of the election results, having already been well-acquainted with the above forms of sexism. But when you have every reason to believe a woman is about to accomplish something no woman ever has before, and then it doesn’t happen, it’s a long fall back to reality.
Amidst all of my over-consumption of media in the past few weeks, there is one moment I keep returning to that sums of the this sexist aspect of the election to me. It has to do with a quote from Hillary Clinton’s concession speech. As she spoke, she addressed little girls who might be watching: “Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”
When comedian Michelle Wolf played that clip on The Daily Show, her eyes welled up with tears as she concluded: “The saddest thing I heard all day is that we have to be reminded of that.”