This is a question I have been asking myself since the 2016 Democratic National Convention when Hillary Rodham Clinton, the first female nominee for a major party for President of the United States of America, figuratively and visually smashed the patriarchy. Hills shattered onto the screen through a collage of past male POTUSes, like a Microsoft Powerpoint transition from the painful past to the glorious future.
I remember watching this clip on my phone back in Australia, where it was morning instead of night. The contrast was stark and powerful: just one woman to even be nominated against oh so many faces of men, a sea of men, who had all won by defeating other men, 227 years of men. It was too visceral a reminder of the barriers that have plagued our sex, and I felt anguish and pain, in the same measures that I felt pride and joy, for the entirety- past, present and future- of womankind.
That morning, I ugly cried like I had never ugly cried before.
It was a bit like this:
Since this day I have had a new favourite artistic genre.
I call it: Political Cartoons of Hillary Clinton Breaking Glass Ceilings. While I have a range of issues with the metaphor of a glass ceiling (for a future post) these metaphoric depictions of Clinton’s feat never fail to move me, to incapacitate me, to inspire me. Even if I’m at work and have to go have a cry in the bathroom.
So without further ado, here are the reasons why I cry* when I see imagery of Hillary Clinton breaking glass ceilings.
(*I am yet to come up with an explanation for why my happy and sad emotional radars are so overlapping)
1. Because of all the women who have paved the way
I wonder how Susan B. Anthony would feel today.
Did she ever think this day would come? Or perhaps would she be aghast at just how long it has taken us?
I don’t think she would be surprised at the nearly 100 years it has been between women winning the right to vote and voting in the first female POTUS. The woman spent most of her long life as a suffragist, living to the grand old age of 86, and still never saw women win the right to vote (it was won 14 years after her death, in 1920). She would have expected the change to take time.
But she would have known it would come.
I cry when I look at this, not only for the suffragettes, but for the pioneering women who ran for President before Clinton, scratching marks in the ceiling to ease the path for a woman like her.
Since 1872 woman have been running for POTUS, knowing they could never win, but doing so anyway in order to begin to normalise the idea. Victoria Woodhull knew, in being was the first woman to run for US president in 1872, that she would be ridiculed, but said “What may appear absurd to-day will assume a serious aspect to-morrow”; Margaret Chase Smith in 1964 listed amongst her reasons for running, to “break the barrier against women being seriously considered for the Presidency”.
These brave women made the idea of a viable female candidate for POTUS even possible, and Hillary stands on their shoulders.
2. Because a woman becoming “Leader of the Free World” is a big fucking deal, wherever you live
I’m not one for American cultural imperialism, but there is something so ubiquitous about the position of President of the United States of America that intensifies the scale of this historical moment.
The idea of the POTUS is woven throughout western pop culture, with fictional depictions from the West Wing to Veep to House of Cards. I lived in Australia for most of my life, but I can name more former US presidents than former Australian prime ministers (although this trend may soon be reversed as Australia continues to change their prime minister every 12 months or so). Most Americans, meanwhile, cannot even recognise, yet alone name, the current Australian Prime Minister- a friend working at the UN recently failed to realise he was talking to anyone important when he met Malcolm Turnbull.
But we all know who the US president is, like it or not. And while people around the world may not have much exposure to the number of other fabulous women in the US Senate or holding governorships, they won’t be able to miss it once one of them is the leader.
The idea that a woman might finally hold this role, this most male-dominated, symbolically-powerful title, tugs at my heartstrings in a more intense way that even the appointment our first female Prime Minister did. Don’t get me wrong, Julia Gillard is a goddamn queen, but it wasn’t a glass-shattering moment for women worldwide*.
This is ceiling-demolishing, earth-shaking moment…and that’s worthy of my tears. Multiple times per day.
*Julia Gillard: A mini blog
Even in Australia, we may have failed to feel the earth move and that glass shatter as we ought to have at the time due to the shock of her overnight ascension from Deputy to Prime Minister. Had there been a drawn out election campaign, there might have been more mounting excitement and tear-provoking cartoons of the ceiling’s impending obliteration. But the way our PMs are appointed (leader of the majority-holding party in the lower house) did not demand that Gillard jump through so many hoops and trials as the path to POTUS does- those trials came after her appointment.
In hindsight however, we must marvel at what Gillard did: she didn’t shatter the glass so much as act like it wasn’t there at all, which is no doubt part of what especially offended her sexist critics. She refused to even consider for a moment that her gender should stop her doing what so many men have done before her (and after her) in challenging a sitting Prime Minister. And without her boldness, who knows how long we may have been waiting.
3. Because little girls (and bigger girls) can do anything they want *sob*
Please play: Helen Reddy’s I Am Woman
“And, if there are any little girls out there who stayed up late to watch, let me just say, I may become the first woman president, but one of you is next!”
My heart, already shattering like the tapestry of male presidential portraits, panged as Hillary said this, and when the camera panned out to show her standing with one such little girl, I was done for.
I pictured an array of little girls, watching in their pyjamas at home, and even those who weren’t, those sleeping soundly, unaware that shards of glass were falling from the ceiling. Little girls around the world, not just in the US (see 2.), would finally be able to see a woman in the role, to have it made clear that such a position was something they could and should aspire to. The “Presidential Look” will no longer be defined by looking male and white. Politics won’t stop being a man’s game overnight– but little girls can now have no doubt that this territory is theirs for the taking.
And if a woman could be the President of the United State of America, surely these little girls could become anything else they dreamed of. Compared with the generation before them (not to even begin to speak of the generations before us), they can feel less like they have to be polite, acquiescent, cautious and “nice” in going after something they want.
I think she’s had that effect on us all. I mean, sure, I will never be President of the United States of America (I wasn’t born here). But on November 8, I too will feel a huge weight off, once that “highest, hardest glass ceiling” is finally broken and we can all breathe the sweet air above it.
And of course, there was the reminder in her words that there will be others after her, from amongst the living breathing women on this planet. Hopefully the next female POTUS is not currently a little girl- she better come much fucking sooner than that.
4. Because it’s just so fucking hard
While Hillary Clinton gets closer and closer to her Great Glass Elevator Moment, Donald Trump continues to illustrate for us the double standards of just how much harder the road is for women by being a series of uns: unprofessional, undignified, unqualified and uninformed.
Clinton has had to endure a near mythical series of labors, complete an obstacle course of structural barriers, and at each stage her gender has been an issue in a way such that a man’s simply is not. She won the political Hunger Games that was the primaries, where she had to beat two men, just for the right to face another man and more months of scrutiny, mockery and abuse.
These barriers on the path to the US presidency are daunting, making the fact that any woman should manage to jump them all- despite their extra impediments- magnificent, glorious and awe-inspiring. And that she is:
I’ve attached a gallery of others for your masochistic pleasure: