Earlier this week, former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton made a stop at New York University to promote her new memoir, What Happened. She was met with a strong turnout of young fans who defied the stereotype of all young people being supporters of Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.
The book offers Clinton’s individual take on the events of 2016, which saw her involved in two contentious races — one for the Democratic party nomination against Sanders, and the other in the general election with now-President Donald Trump.
The year saw a great deal of previously unseen phenomena — overtly racist and sexist bullying, Russian hacking and the presidency handed off to a man who has boasted about sexual assault on hot mic, and mocked the disabled as well as prisoners of war. Everyone had questions, and everyone had opinions. Everyone was allowed to respond to the shocking events of 2016 in their own way. Everyone, that is, except for Hillary herself.
A recent Slate article titled “Critics Aren’t Taking Issue With the Content of Hillary Clinton’s New Book So Much as Its Right to Exist” nails it just in its headline alone. Even Clinton’s fellow Democrats, from Minnesota Sen. Al Franken to rival-turned-ally, Sanders, have protested the memoir’s existence, suggesting it’s time to move on. This, as if Clinton’s insights and reflections on the lived experiences of being called a “c—,” “b—-” and just about every word in the book, not to mention watching racism, ignorance and mediocrity marketed as “anti-establishment” heroism, defeat her more than four decades of public service and tenures as a U.S. senator and Secretary of State, are now irrelevant.
But the shunning of Clinton and the degradation and mockery of her words all these months after Election Day have implications outside of the nation’s political sphere. The treatment of her speech raises the question of the treatment of all women’s speech, in a society where women, women of color and LGBTQ women remain widely underrepresented, where being interrupted and sidelined and spoken over even in those spheres where they are represented is, for most of them, everyday life.
On film sets, in offices, in university faculties and in nearly every sphere involving influence, hierarchy, power and authority, women are underrepresented. In courtrooms, young women who report being raped are called girls. Last week, one of Washington Rep. Pramila Jayapal’s old, white male colleagues called her a “young lady” who “doesn’t know a damn thing” after Jayapal tried to contribute to the House debate around a spending package.
In her 2014 book Men Explain Things to Me, feminist author Rebecca Solnit recounts the experience of having one of her own books explained to her by an older man who was unaware she was the author, but cut her off numerous times as she attempted to interject to explain that she had written the book, herself. He did not apologize. In 2016, 60 percent of all comments made about abortion on cable television were made by men. Incidentally, 64 percent of all comments on the topic were inaccurate.
Threats of rape and violence — especially with the rise of social media — have become an everyday norm for female lawmakers, journalists and activists in the United States and around the world — sometimes not from online trolls, but from their own colleagues. In July, a male GOP lawmaker challenged two female lawmakers who voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act to a duel.
The everyday experiences of women of all ages, races and identity facets cannot be quantified, but anyone could easily survey the women in their lives to hear of similar situations and interactions. In the same vein, it’s difficult to prove to skeptics that women stepping down from academic and professional commitments due to harassment, discomfort in “boys’ clubs” and, of course, watching their speech be sidelined and disrespected.
To that end, we can’t watch Clinton be viciously attacked just for talking, without recognizing these attacks as a microcosm for what goes on everywhere in America today. On college campuses where right-leaning, sometimes Trump-supporting young people hold “free speech” as sacred, the overarching issue of implicit, systemic sexism silencing women and sidelining their contributions to campus debates and dialogues is wholly ignored.