Watching the Democratic National Convention in July 2016, I finally understood what it meant to have representation. Growing up, I always thought I could do and be whatever I wanted, but in an ambiguous, general sense. However, after seeing a woman onstage, one I have personally watched get publicly battered again and again (example 1 of countless) in my lifetime, stand up there and accept her party’s nomination, I cried.
When Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, and my friends of color rejoiced with cries of “My President is Black!”, I was so happy for them. I am a student of history and I know what that meant for our country, and could only imagine what that meant for my friends. However, I didn’t get it emotionally and viscerally until I watched the culmination of the DNC that hot July night and stared, riveted, as a woman came one step closer to becoming commander in chief.
When FBI Director James Comey issued his foolish, unethical, and likely illegal statement about Hillary Clinton’s emails just days before the election, people around me discussed how nervous they were. I dismissed them, rolling my eyes at their skittishness. It was a done deal. Set in stone. Hillary Clinton was becoming our 45th president, and I wasn’t going to engage in the silly fearmongering we had all become used to, thanks to the media. She was brilliant and more qualified than anyone had ever been in history. Even more, she was up against a misogynistic, racist, bigoted bully. How could people even worry?
Well, we all know what happened next. We liberal, coastal elites tumbled from jubilant celebration to despair and confusion.
How could this have happened? Do people hate women that much? Could people not handle eight years of a black man followed by a woman? Was that just too much for large swaths of middle America? In the end, we may never know exactly what it was. But one thing is clear: Being the first and only of your kind puts you under a microscope of epic magnifications. Shonda Rhimes, boss lady creator of Grey’s Anatomy, writes in her book Year of Yes about being an “F.O.D.” - first, only, different. "When you are an F.O.D.," she writes, "you are saddled with that burden of extra responsibility - whether you want it or not. You can't be raised black in America and not know. This wasn't just my shot. It was ours."
I heard people claim that they just didn’t feel inspired by Hillary Clinton. I don’t understand that argument because I have loved her for many years, ever since I read “It Takes a Village” and realized that the woman I had only previously known as the First Lady was a powerful force for change herself. But the larger problem is that Hillary Clinton was an F.O.D. She was the first of her kind, the only one we could point to, and certainly different from others. If her style didn’t match yours, you were out of other lady options. If it was important to you that a woman have the same opportunity to compete for the highest office, but she just didn’t resonate with you, what did you do? Some people voted for her anyway. Some people voted for Jill Stein in protest. Some people voted for other offices, particularly local officials, but left the presidential option blank. And 53% of white women took that confusion, that need for the F.O.D. to be perfect, and self-destructed by voting for her misogynistic opponent. (One of my personal acts of resistance is that I refuse to ever say his name. It’s small but it makes me feel better.)
I’m also engaging in big actions that make me feel better. For starters, a couple million of us marched around the world the day after the inauguration and made a very strong, very visual impact. It was there I saw my favorite sign: "We get it, you're afraid of women. You should be." Eight years ago, I took off work to schlep down to Washington, D.C. for Barack Obama's inauguration. I was invigorated, hopeful, and excited for what the future would hold. On January 21, 2017 I woke up with a very different feeling. But after marching with millions of my sisters and brothers around the world, I was able to feel all of those same emotions again for the first time since the election.
Here’s my 5-step beginner’s plan for keeping these feelings going so we can dismantle the patriarchy.
Set up recurring monthly donations to causes like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. If you can only donate $5 per month, do it. You won’t miss it but monthly donations help nonprofits make budgets. End of year gifts are much less effective because they can’t factor them into yearly projections.
Call your elected officials. Actually pick up a phone and call. Use a script if you like to be prepared. I was so nervous to start making these calls. I thought I had to read the whole script and convince the person answering the phone of my reasons. Instead I got politely thanked as soon as I said my name and that I was opposing the appointment, and didn't even have time to get into the reasons. It turns out you're basically just adding your name to a verbal petition. It's so not scary and you have to use your voice now before you don’t have one anymore.
Get involved with Emily’s List, She Should Run, and any other organization that helps women get elected. Better yet, run for office yourself. We can’t keep protesting and demanding that men take our needs into account. The men in office who are making decisions have never been women. They just do not know what that experience is like, no matter how woke they are. We are half the world. We need to be at LEAST half the representation.
Keep taking action. Remember, this is NOT normal. The day you get complacent and accept that the leader of the free world has the emotional self-regulation of a sleep-deprived toddler is the day you give up on humanity. Take steady, consistent, small actions whenever you can.
Get your girl gang together. Remember that you are part of an army of love and you are not doing this alone. Find your allies and your support system, and talk about it all. Be vulnerable about what scares you, what makes you angry, and what gives you hope. Then use each other as accountability partners and take some of the actions listed above. Creating a better world is a marathon, not a sprint. You are a warrior.