I Want This For Hillary / I Want This For All Of Us
I didn’t cry during her speech. I didn’t cry when Chelsea Clinton introduced her, a daughter’s love pouring out for her mother — one of the most accomplished and courageous women in this country’s history. I didn’t cry when she walked out dressed in white, an homage to the women who came before her and the women who came before them and the countless women before them made invisible by moral codes and political documents. I didn’t cry when she declared, in front of the country and the entire world, that she was going where no woman had gone before because someone simply had to, because without the first there can’t be a second, because too many of us wake up every single day or are born into worlds where we simply can’t see ourselves living the same dreams as the boys and men who surround us.
I didn’t cry during her speech. I didn’t cry the entire week, which I spent in Philadelphia as a member of the Democratic National Convention’s assorted media shitshow. I didn't cry during the roll call. I didn't cry when Bill Clinton cried.
I cried when she exhaled.
It was subtle, but I saw it. She exhaled. After sixty years. After 16 months. After eight years. I looked up at the television in my friend’s bedroom and I saw Hillary Clinton exhale. I saw her turn away from the podium and finally breathe out. I watched her well up inside with pride. I watched her smile as balloons fell to the ground.
I watched her exhale. I sat there with my mouth open. Finally I found the words.
“It’s really happening. Hillary Clinton’s gonna be president.”
Eight years and about two months earlier, on June 7, 2008 I woke up, turned on my television, and sat down on the floor.
I was not in Washington, DC, where Hillary Clinton gathered thousands of her supporters at the National Building Museum to end her historic campaign for president of the United States and conceded the Democratic nomination to Barack Obama. I was not in New York City, at her campaign HQ where I'd been just one week before to interview for an internship with her campaign. I was not online, where I'd spent much of the campaign cycle immersed in different political communities supporting her efforts. I was not on campus, where I would eat yogurt and granola parfaits in the morning and watch pundits tear her apart.
I was home, on the floor, craning my neck to look up at my 13-inch television as every news station waited patiently for Hillary Clinton to emerge, to take the stage, to confirm despite our wildest dreams that the only woman it seemed could ever really become president couldn't even make it to the halfway point.
Hillary's speech that day was eloquent: packed with the magic nostalgia of what I had fought with her for; weighted with the disappointment of a missed shot at making a particular kind of history; cautiously aware of the urgency we felt slipping from our fingers and even more cautiously optimistic that even if we had failed to find certain victory, we had surely laid the ground to get closer next time. We had reached the end of one road, but Hillary’s speech reminded us that in the process we had paved a divergent road we had never even paused to imagine. Sexism had prevailed, but we were going to be even better at outrunning it next time.
When I was asked what it means to be a woman running for president, I always gave the same answer, that I was proud to be running as a woman, but I was running because I thought I'd be the best president. But I am a woman and, like millions of women, I know there are still barriers and biases out there, often unconscious, and I want to build an America that respects and embraces the potential of every last one of us.
I ran as a daughter who benefited from opportunities my mother never dreamed of. I ran as a mother who worries about my daughter's future and a mother who wants to leave all children brighter tomorrows. To build that future I see, we must make sure that women and men alike understand the struggles of their grandmothers and their mothers, and that women enjoy equal opportunities, equal pay, and equal respect.
Let us resolve and work toward achieving very simple propositions: There are no acceptable limits, and there are no acceptable prejudices in the 21st century in our country. You can be so proud that, from now on, it will be unremarkable for a woman to win primary state victories, unremarkable to have a woman in a close race to be our nominee, unremarkable to think that a woman can be the president of the United States. And that is truly remarkable, my friends...
Although we weren't able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it's got about 18 million cracks in it, and the light is shining through like never before, filling us all with the hope and the sure knowledge that the path will be a little easier next time.
I spent the rest of the day pretty gutted. I never left the house, and at one point my mother and I were both pacing and collided in the hallway. I’ll never forget that moment, how the sun was setting, how small that living room was that I shared with my single mother and my brother, how limited I suddenly felt in the world when once I’d refused to accept limits could stop any of us, let alone me. She put her arms around me and confessed with a whisper what I'd grown up refusing to fathom. "I don't know that we'll see a woman president," she told me. "Not in my lifetime. If Hillary can't do it, I don't know who can."
The feeling that surged through my heart in that moment never left my body. In a lot of ways, I carry that entire mess of a primary campaign with me in all that I do as a feminist, as an advocate, as an activist. That feeling reminds me not to take any progress for granted. That feelings reminds me why I'm doing what I do.
That feeling became a fire, one that keeps me awake after the espresso has worn off, one that has imbued me with the strength to not only go on but to march on, one that compels me to act again and again and again. One that has yet to burn out.
I grew up fascinated with women who did amazing things. I was a girl enamored with women in power and women who made imprints on history, the kind of women who have the honor of being named in textbooks outside of women's studies classes. These women became my idols, despite their accomplishments being consistently minimized and erased.
Above all, I looked up to first ladies. In a culture like ours where some of the most powerful women are those who marry the most powerful men, I envied their access. These were women who were privy to political secrets, women who had agendas, women who became the faces of all of America's women and, in many cases, were devoted publicly to their own projects. These were women who started new departments and organizations while their husbands toiled in the chaos of minutia, championed their own policies because they had the leeway to be passionate, and brazenly infused the lackluster, frumpy world of masculine political power with a touch of the feminine. They were proof that women were more than their men. In the most delicious examples, they were even sometimes secretly running the country.
When I was visiting colleges in Boston, I read Living History in bed at our hotel and in the car and at steakhouses. I couldn't put it down. I was captivated by life on the inside of the Clinton administration, which I'd admittedly grown up encompassed in but don't remember much of, and I was in awe of all Hillary had done, or attempted, or spurred on. My impression of her was one of a woman who was sincere in her determination to improve the world, pragmatic in her approach to the complex problems of modern society, and compassionate to people she had nothing in common with. The memoir impressed upon me how difficult the games of politics really were, how silly all of the men along the way had been to try and tell her they knew better, how strong women could be in the face of adversity and even mockery.
In the end, I skipped out on applying to all the schools in Boston — even Harvard — to go to American University instead. When application season began, I was more certain than ever that I wanted to take my place in the belly of the beast of politics and set up shop in DC. I had pictured myself on a different path then — one toward public leadership and government — but I'd like to think Hillary goes to bed at night knowing her campaign, and especially that goddamn concession speech, ultimately convinced me to go into Women's Studies instead.
When I was maybe 12, I asked my mom if I could be Pope. I was devout, and I wanted to wear a big hat and live in a big palace in my ancestral Italy. I wanted to speak for an entire religion, instruct an entire peoples. I wanted to talk to God.
"Girls can't be Pope," my mom said, nearly choking on the words.
I remember pondering this, but not for long. At some point I simply changed gears. Pope was out, so I moved on.
"What about President?"
In my room I had a President Barbie; she had a short brown bob and drove a grey VW Beetle. She wore a blue powersuit. She kicked out her slimebag husband and raised all those little Kelly dolls on her own. She ran shit. She gave speeches. She talked down to America's boy's club. She made rules. She really was somebody.
"Well, technically a girl could be president," my mom said. "But it'd be hard. Nobody has ever done that."
Over a decade later, I was at the Museum of American History supervising a field trip for a mixed group of kids under five when one of the three year old girls in the crowd looked around in the Hall of Presidents and noticed she couldn't see herself.
"Are women allowed to be President?" It was a question that tore my heart into tiny pieces. As soon as she asked, we, the teachers — all of us women, and all of us flabbergasted by the truth — looked at each other. "Yes, women can be president," we told her. "It's just never been done before." We took them to the section on first ladies immediately, but all it had were dresses and purses and shoes behind glass.
When I turned 13 my aunt and grandmother gave me a big, soft, white teddy bear wearing a leopard jacket and tied a balloon to her wrist. "You could be the first woman president if you wanted," my aunt told me that day. I wonder, looking back, how I ever believed her.
I was 16 when Hillary announced in 2007. I instantly gravitated toward her, mostly because I recognized myself in her. I was a die-hard Democrat raised by a die-hard Democrat, but in the field of candidates I saw only one who would lead the world with me in mind, with my own life at their fingertips, with my own experiences in their heart. On top of her exceeding qualifications, and on top of her political prowess, and on top of the policies she was committed to which echoed mine so deeply, Hillary Clinton was a woman. That mattered to me. She had achieved more than her counterparts in spite of the unbearable weight of her gender. She had done so cognizant of how that was and why it was important. She had, over the course of decades, fully confronted sexism and often overcome it, and typically with a self-awareness that gave her every action a feminist spirit.
In a field of candidates where other people saw gender only as an obstacle, an impossible difference, a paramount change, I finally felt familiar and recognized. I finally felt validated, seen, visible.
I could have been the first woman president, but I didn't want that for me. I wanted it for her. By the time I turned 18 in November 2008, however, I wouldn’t even have the chance to check her name off on a ballot. After a season of low blows about Hillary's appearance, personal life, and "scandalous" past, she conceded. I would never forget. I still haven't forgotten. For every success, there were four white dudes on television taking aim at her personality. For every momentous occasion, there were a million trolls. Men said she was a nag, that despite her years of public service she was unqualified because she was "just a wife," that her voice was too shrill and her body too old to run for office. Repeatedly, these pundits (and even other women, horrifyingly enough), also dredged up her husband's infidelity as just cause not to vote for her. The attacks defied logic: she was both too wonky and too inexperienced, too bitchy and too sensitive.
I voted early in the general election that year, the day after Halloween, in an empty government building in New Jersey. It took me an hour. Afterward I cried in the car. America wasn't ready for a woman president. That thought echoed in my brain for years. And if America wasn't ready for someone as accomplished and skilled as Hillary Clinton, were they ready for any of us to be anywhere?
In a way, after all, she was all of us. We're all suffering from sexism, even if it isn't being broadcast on television or published in newspapers.
The rampant sexism of the 2016 election has yet to stun me. I wasn’t shocked when mostly white, male progressives insisted on pursuing a witch hunt against Hillary in the name of Bernie Sanders. I wasn’t shocked when the merchandise being sold to commemorate another shot at history included the same old Hillary nutcrackers and shirts branded with blowjob jokes. I wasn’t even shocked at the rise of Donald Trump, or how he brandishes misogyny with an audacious and smug sense of pride. I didn’t bat an eye at “corporate Democratic whores.” I didn’t gasp at “grab them by the pussy.” These things disgust and disturb me, but they no longer surprise me.
Hillary’s failed bid in 2008 forever altered how I saw the world, and it colored how I saw my own experiences. I had watched something momentously unfair unfold without remorse. I had watched a woman thanklessly sacrifice herself, smile on in the face of contempt, all so that we could rejoice in having meagerly pushed the bar.
When Hillary announced in 2015, I found myself sitting at home staring at a screen again — this time, my 15-inch Macbook. I was sitting at the dining room table. It was sunny out. I was refreshing her YouTube page over and over and over again and then it appeared, suddenly and swiftly: A video, packed full of faces representing a diverse landscape we have all been blessed to be part of, announcing her second bid.
I was awestruck. I was genuinely surprised. I was grinning. I didn’t think she would do it, despite the incessant purporting that Hillary would somehow crawl out of her grave to run again if she had to. Surely she was too defeated. Surely she was too bruised. Surely a woman who had suffered through what she had suffered through would never sit down and decide to do it again.
I have long admired Hillary Clinton for her tenacity. Perhaps the reason I’ve wanted this for her for so long is because it’s evident how much she wants it. Not because she is an evil witch running wild with the fever of her own ambition. Not because she is a manipulative insider hellbent on ascertaining power. Hillary wants to be president because she believes in her work. Because she believes in her vision. Because she believes in herself.
I never want Hillary Clinton to smile graciously in the face of defeat again. I want her to rise. I want her to overcome. I want her to win, and I want her to rub it in our faces even though she never will. I want her to talk to God. I want her to cut the ribbon when they put her pantsuit up in that museum. I want her to prove my mother wrong.
I want that fire in my chest to burn even brighter. I want it this time to be lit not with the need to prove everyone wrong, but instead with the righteous indignation of all the women who finally have.
Hillary's campaign for the nomination in 2008 and the current landscape of her bid for the presidency don’t just prove sexism is alive and well in politics. This has never been just about politics. This isn’t just about a woman president. This isn’t just about those girls in the museum looking at ball gowns and purses. This isn’t just about the girl I was who swung her legs in a world overcrowded with glass ceilings.
These campaigns have exposed how our country's gendered concept of humanity lives inside of all of us, and how ugly it looks when it manifests at full volume. These campaigns, full of vitriol and hate, feel disappointingly familiar.
We have all been accused of being bitchy because we were smart. We have all been accused of being bad women because we weren't tiny women or silent women or passive women. We have all been lampooned for speaking up about the issues that impact us. We have all been told we were invariably wrong because of our gender, or that we're special because we transgress it. We have all been pitted against our allies. We have all been told we want too much just for wanting to exist. We have all been wronged. We have all been gossiped about. We have all been robbed.
And when we told the world our dreams, we were all, at some point, asked to say out loud that it was our fault we didn't achieve them.
But every once in a while, I let myself envision a world where a woman is making some of the most important decisions in America. I let myself envision a world where the Hall of Presidents looks a little more like this country. I let myself envision a world in which anything — this thing, and, with that, everything – is possible.
Here's to the 18 million cracks in the glass ceiling we made eight years ago in spite of all of the odds, and in spite of how unprepared we may have been for their mass and their might. Here’s to the million more yet to come, and the incredible fight for the presidency Hillary has proven a woman can bear. Here's to the conversations Hillary Clinton has started in the last forty years just by showing up and standing up, just by refusing to back down, just by refusing to wither away, just by persisting and trying and unrelentingly demanding a fair shot. Here's to hoping that no teenage girls sit in their bedrooms next summer wondering what's possible for them, or rather, what isn't. Here's to the newfound glory with which we pledged to bring sexism to light, bring women's achievements to life, and bring our demands to the table — and how well centering her gender has panned out for Hillary herself in the wake of that mission. Here’s to Hillary doing the hard work of being first, of fighting to be first, so that women and girls like me never have to start from scratch.
Here's to finding out if we're finally ready this time for Hillary to win, and the entirely new world that we’ll wake up to if the answer is yes.
Carmen Rios is the Managing Editor at Argot Magazine, Digital Editor at Ms., Community Director and Feminism Editor at Autostraddle, and a Contributor at Everyday Feminism. Her words have been published by BuzzFeed, BITCH, ElixHER, MEL, and Feministing, among others, and she was once a blogger and activist with the SPARK Movement, a writer at Mic, and Managing Editor of THE LINE Campaign blog. Carmen's successful work for over eight years in digital feminism—as a writer, social media maven, and activist leader—has earned her the titles of “digital native,” “intimidating to some,” and “vapid and uninteresting.” She's too honest on Twitter , too vague on Tumblr and consistently uses the same Instagram filter.
You can also find her at carmenfuckingrios.com