When I was a little girl, I wanted to be the President of the United States when I grew up. I think I was in second grade, and the boy in school who I had a crush on told me I could never be the President, only the President's wife because I was a girl. When I asked my mother if that was true, she said no and told me I could be anything that I wanted.
A couple of years later, Bill Clinton was elected President, and I started to read the news. I paid attention to the terrible things that were written about Chelsea Clinton, who is just a little older than me, and about Hillary. I paid attention to what they wrote about Hillary using her maiden name, about her headbands and what she wore, and the vicious remarks about her policy efforts in healthcare. There was so much hatred directed towards her, and it seemed so wrong to me – me, an impressionable young girl, who could just as easily accepted those remarks as reasonable. I remember reading the vitriol about how she wasn't elected, which meant she had no business getting involved in policy issues. I remember thinking, isn't it in everyone's best interest to have her involved in public service? Isn't it in the country's best interest to have a First Lady who is a woman of substance, with the education and experience to contribute real work to the breadth of responsibilities of governing? (I did mention I was a precocious child.)
I read a biography of Hillary around this time, and I was riveted by her journey and choices. Reading about her path to becoming an attorney, and her commitment to public service, I felt like maybe I, too, could be a lawyer someday. Maybe I could make a difference in the world, and maybe it wasn't out of reach for a girl like me. The amorphous idea of having an outside role model to look up to suddenly became real, and I was in awe of her. I thought it was so interesting how she started out as a Republican and changed as she learned, officially leaving the party because of the racism she witnessed in its leaders. I was proud of the fact that I was already a Democrat.
I admired Hillary's independence. I thought it was interesting that she resisted Bill's marriage proposals because of her own ambition. I remember thinking it was crazy that she went with him to Arkansas instead of staying in Washington, DC. I thought it was brave, too. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to be on the cover of Time (since Life was defunct) for giving a speech at graduation. I wanted to go to Yale. I wanted to be brilliant and successful, just like she was, and I wanted to also get married someday to an equal partner who appreciated my own brilliance and success.
I was frustrated reading about the sacrifices she made for Bill, rewarded only with criticism and sexism. Years before people praised Barack Obama for achieving universal healthcare, Hillary fought to enact it and was vilified and threatened for her efforts. She did tremendous work advocating for children's rights and had her articles cited, she was the first female chair of the Legal Services Corporation and the first female partner at her law firm, she helped reform public schools, she helped recruit black students and faculty at her college when she was only a student, and all anyone wanted to know about was whether she could bake cookies. As First Lady, she helped create the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice, she had multiple successes with public policy, she hosted conferences and created groundbreaking new initiatives, and she traveled to more countries than any First Lady before her. As I grew older and followed Bill's impeachment proceedings, I wondered how Hillary withstood the humiliation and made the choice to stay with her husband. I don't recall judging her for it, but I was bewildered and sought to reach understanding beyond the black and white positions taken in the media, and by so many others. I wanted to see the whole person and not the one-dimensional image projected.
When Bill's presidency was coming to an end and there was talk of Hillary running for the Senate in New York, I was amazed that she had any interest in remaining in the public eye. I couldn't believe she was ready to sign up for continuing the barrage of hatred and criticism thrown her way, but I was excited and proud to be from the state she chose to run in. When people criticized her for it, I mentioned Bobby Kennedy in response. Her campaign for Senate was the first campaign I made calls for, and it was the first election I was eligible to vote in. Without an absentee ballot, a friend from college drove me home to New York on election night so I could cast my first vote for her. I saw her speak at the Jefferson Jackson Bailey dinner in Connecticut and was – and remain – disappointed that I didn't get a picture with her, unlike one of my friends.
Over the years, I paid attention to how prolific she was in the Senate, a real workhorse. She was known for crossing the aisle to get things done, as opposed to digging in her heels and creating gridlock. She sponsored bills in the best interests of New Yorkers and all Americans. When I contacted her constituent services office for assistance, the matter was resolved almost instantly. I was excited when she decided to run for President and sad for New York because she had done such an excellent job representing us.
During Hillary's campaign for the presidency, I was furious about the sexism and double standards that endured, so many years after I first became exposed to those concepts as a little girl. I watched as people thought it was funny to hold up signs telling her to iron their shirts, and I pointed out how inappropriate that was in a published Letter to the Editor in the Sunday Boston Globe; a sign telling Barack Obama to shine shoes would have been recognized as racist and outrageous instead of funny. By this point, I was a law student myself, with the effect of education broadening my ability to recognize the subtleties of misogyny even further. I worked alongside and took classes taught by men who failed to recognize the distinction between liking women, and respecting women as equals. I read comments, and heard remarks from fellow students, questioning Hillary's ability to be President based on her age, her gender, her personality, the tone of her voice, the cost of her clothes, her hairstyle – never discussing her lifelong public service, tremendous work ethic, or any of her many other qualifications. I listened to people talk about how she defended a rapist, but no one ever mentioned that the case was assigned to her and zealous advocacy is an ethical obligation, or that she was a founder of the first rape crisis center in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Clearly I have admired Hillary for a long time, but my respect for her really grew when she served as Secretary of State. She traveled to more countries than all of her predecessors. Around the world, in every country she went to, she reminded leaders that human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights. I have seen that statement be attributed to Michelle Obama, but it was Hillary who said it first, back in 1995 – long before the current evolution of feminism. Hillary made sure the leaders she met with understood that you cannot be successful if you ignore half of your population. During difficult times where President Obama was suddenly seen as weak, many started to have regrets about not electing her. Texts from Hillary exploded on social media. Photos of her loosening up and having a great time made her more likable, and her tenacity in the face of Congressional hearings won her respect. Suddenly her merits started to be recognized, but still, the sexism and double standards endured. Still, she was singled out for mistakes or issues that others were forgiven for more easily. Others have been allowed to learn and grow through time and admit a decision they made was wrong, and still she is attacked for hers. For years, people throughout the administration emailed her on what must have obviously been personal email, and no one called it into question until it became public. Republican predecessors who served in the same role also used personal email to exchange the same type of information, but it was Hillary who was subjected to a lengthy investigation at the expense of taxpayers.
Now, it is 2016. I have witnessed multiple election cycles and relentless criticism towards Hillary Clinton. She has accomplished more in her lifetime than most others could in several, including many of her fellow politicians, and still, I and so many other women have been accused of supporting her because of our gender. She has led successful policy initiatives in virtually every conceivable category of public policy, yet there are articles everywhere focusing only on the failures and errors. It is so much easier to blame her than to dig deeper and analyze the issues. No one wants to consider whether Congress did its job in properly assigning funds and approving additional security around the world; it is too complicated, and it is so much easier to point the finger at Hillary instead.
I have seen countless comments and posts from friends, family, and strangers on social media, rampant with inflammatory and baseless accusations, and sexism. The sexism is unbelievable, and I see it from Trump supporters, Bernie supporters, women (yes, women can be sexist), and men who have yet to support a candidate but will be damned before they choose her. There are men who won't vote for her because she reminds them of their mother, instead of seeing her as a woman in her own right with her own identity and accomplishments. I know women who don't want to support her because she was First Lady before she ran for office, completely ignoring her history of public service and national attention years before she married Bill.
I see remarks and articles asking if she can be a grandmother and President at the same time, and questioning whether the country is ready for a woman President. I cannot imagine how Hillary has endured these attacks on a daily basis for so many decades when I find it so disheartening after only a few minutes, and I am not always the target as she so often is. We live in the Information Age, where it would be so easy for all of these people to check facts – there are so many easily accessible sources that provide accurate information and appropriate citations. It is far too easy to simply accept what is said, and repeat it further, than it is to do the work. It is easy for politicians to shake hands and give speeches, but there are few who do the work like Hillary Clinton. I've read that more than 20 articles in major publications have compared her to Lady Macbeth, seemingly because she was ambitious and sought to have a career of her own – an identity of her own, separate from her husband's.
I did not dare to hope that she would run for President again. I didn't think there was much reason to believe she would want to go to such lengths, at such great personal cost. Tonight, as I watch her accept the nomination for President – the first woman to receive a nomination from a major political party – I am in awe of her again. I am reminded of the little girl I once was, searching for a role model I could relate to and admire. I think of all the sexism I myself have endured, beginning as a girl and continuing through law school and professional employment as a woman, decades later. The girl I was didn't know that I would be sexually harassed, and denied equal pay and equal opportunities, powerless to fix it among men in charge who saw themselves as feminists but did not behave that way. That girl didn't know that she would grow up to work for and with women who sought to squash younger women they saw as threats instead of mentoring them and raising them up. I think of how much easier I have it because of women like Hillary who paved the way before me. I think of the little girl I met when I waited hours in line for Hillary to sign my copy of her latest book, a girl who shared the ambition I had at her age and who is so much closer to seeing the reality of a woman President than I was so long ago.
I am deeply grateful for Hillary's sacrifices and her service. I am humbled by her determination and achievements, and I am newly inspired to aim higher for myself. Seeing a woman serve as President of the United States – so much later than so many other countries around the world – will not mean that sexism is gone, any more than President Obama eradicated systemic racism. However, it will mean that there will be no more little boys telling little girls on playgrounds that they can only be the wife and never the leader, and that's progress.