Here in the U.S., something momentous happened last week. For the first time in our history, a woman was nominated for President by one of our major political parties. Former Senator and Secretary of State and wife of 42nd President Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton will face Donald Trump in the General Election in November. She’s not the first woman to run for President, but she is the first woman to get this far among our two major parties. Whatever your political leanings, that’s significant.
Clinton is not without her problems as a candidate. Some voters have had their misgivings about her voting record as a Senator, her handling of sensitive information as Secretary of State, and the Clinton legacy of mass incarceration. Those are valid concerns — concerns I share.
I’ve heard it said, “I’d love to see a woman president, but not this woman.” I understand reservations about her, but I’m not convinced that we would be less reserved about electing another woman, either.
At least some reticence about Clinton is that we wish we had a woman to present to the electorate who is without flaw, who never gave us pause due to her past or current positions, who never gave us reason to doubt her competence or motivation. We wish she weren’t such a lightning rod. We wish she didn’t have so much baggage. In short, we wish she were perfect.
Except perfect isn’t human.
As a voter, I’m inclined to be discerning about who I will support in the election. As a woman, I’m way too familiar with some of the resistance Clinton faces. The rubrics by which we measure her success and worthiness are often more stringent than they might be for a man. All women in leadership have faced this resistance. Yes, all women. Especially outspoken women. Especially opinionated women. Especially women who dare to believe they have what it takes to call the shots. We often like to take those women down a peg or three. Women in ministry know what that’s like.
I’m an outspoken woman in visible leadership in my denomination. I could show you some of the messages in my inbox and you’d grow red with either embarrassment or rage. Criticism and difference of opinion (which I can take just fine and find very helpful) too often devolve into condescension. I’m called “young lady,” or my academic and ministerial credentials are brought into question. “The Reverend” is conveniently left off my name when referring to me. Women aren’t even supposed to be leadership in the church, so why should anyone listen to you? Yes, in 2016 this is still a thing. Women routinely have our authority, competence, and calling challenged in ways our male counterparts simply do not, even by other women. This is especially true in male-dominated lines of work, such as ours. When we step outside of kowtowing to the fragility of others, when we show no interest in making everyone around us feel good, then we’re labeled “problematic.” When we don’t exist for the enjoyment and comfort of others, people don’t know what to do with us. Instead of being regarded as complex, nuanced, or even passionate, we’re more likely written off as emotional, unstable, or hormonal. Frankly, it’s harder for us to just be human.
To be clear, this is not an endorsement and I don’t think all opposition to her is sexist. Clinton is problematic, but I also don’t believe she’s exceptionally so. I’m just Calvinist enough to know that any election is the choice between the “lesser of two (or more) evils.” I know we’re dealing with candidates who are, at least marginally, motivated by self interest.We’re dealing with people with skeletons in their closets. We’re dealing with people who specialize in expediency, constantly shifting their message to maximize their appeal. In all my years of voting, I have never voted for someone who didn’t let me down. I’ve always only voted for humans.
What’s more, Clinton has been problematic for forever. She didn’t need to use a private email server for work to get under someone’s skin. She accomplished that by using her platform as First Lady to work for universal health care. To some, nothing an outspoken woman can do will be right, even when she is right. When you step outside of your “place” in the margins, you become an interloper, and there are folks who can’t wait to usher you back to your seat.
Honestly, I’m lukewarm on the crop of candidates. I’ve not been among those who have enthusiastically proclaimed, “I’m with her.” But I am with us, and by “us,” I mean every woman who has been labeled too big for her britches — or her pant suit — by refusing to be a shrinking violet.
Rev. Denise Anderson is a member of the RevGalBlogPals Board of Trustees, a Presbyterian Church (USA) Teaching Elder living in the Washington metropolitan area and Co-Moderator of the Presbyterian Church (USA). She blogs at Soula Scriptura.
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