THE CHOICE: A feminist who values women versus a sexist who shames them


There is a choice before us: A woman who advocates for women, or a man who treats us like garbage. And the decision will have far-reaching consequences, both legal and cultural, for women. Is our nation ready to move forward on women's rights, or is our equality going to be delayed once more?

Update October 7, 2016: After the Washington Post published a lewd 2005 recording in which Donald Trump boasts about unsolicited groping of women, the words below have taken on new relevance.

September 30, 2016:

Election Day is a few weeks away.

In one corner, we have a history-making female candidate who has spent her career advocating for women and children, and who is the most qualified person ever to seek the office of the presidency.

In the other corner, we have a historically unfit candidate, who talks about and treats women and other marginalized people like we are less-than. Which is putting it politely. A candidate who spends the wee hours of the night slut-shaming a woman who had the temerity to object to his having fat-shamed her. A candidate who has a lifelong habit of trashing women.

This election is a referendum on how America values women.

Donald Trump is so explicitly sexist, and Hillary Clinton is so explicitly feminist, that the choice made by the majority of voters will send a very clear message about the value of women in our country.

I suspect that I am not the only woman who is having feelings about that.

To grow up a girl in a world that believes girls to be less-than is to be discouraged, over and over again. It is to live a life of learning that there are people who think you are worth less, people who will try to hold you back, people who will hate you and hurt you because you are a girl.

To greet lesson after lesson exposing the sometimes cavernous divide between what little girls are told their lives should be, and what little girls want their lives to be.

To have to be indomitable in the face of that discouragement; to confront each day the limits of other people's imaginations about what girls and women can do, can be.

"Strong woman" is a superfluity. There is no choice but strength, in a world that conspires to weaken your resolve, limit your opportunity, and subvert your self-worth.

Millions of women — even many who do not like Clinton, and who may not vote for her — are watching this election and the stark choice that is before us. Cringing at every grossly sexist emanation from Trump and his surrogates. Angry at the evident double standards by which Clinton is judged.

Because of the particular dynamic of this campaign, the Sexist vs. the Trailblazer, many women (and I count myself among them) cannot help but feel as though votes are being cast not just for a candidate, but for affirmation of their position on womanhood. On women.

On our very selves.

Do you believe I am your equal? Do you believe I have agency, consent, choice? Do you see me as an individual, if I am married to a man? Do you see me as valuable if I am not? If I am married to a woman? If I am trans? If I am a woman of color? If I am Muslim? If I am an immigrant? If I am undocumented? If I am disabled? If I am poor? If I am incarcerated?

Do you believe I have talents? That I should have opportunities? To be educated? To work? To be promoted? To get a loan to start my own business? Do you believe I should have access to healthcare? To equal pay?

Do you believe I have intrinsic value beyond my sex and sexuality? That I look fine just the way I am? That I don't need to be beautiful to have worth? That my body doesn't exist for you to desire or police?

Do you believe I am allowed to have flaws and be complicated and make mistakes? That perfection is an unreasonable expectation for entry? That a single failure should not be a permanent barrier?

Do you believe I am human, in all my complexity?

The two candidates do not have the same answers to these questions.

And contemplating that troubling reality is not an abstract exercise for women, because this is the stuff of our lives. It matters, because it's about how much we matter. Or don't.

The result of this election will say a great deal about how we are valued by our fellow countrypeople (or at least a whole lot of them) and will determine how we are valued by our country.

How much we are literally valued, by legislation and executive order and judicial rulings deciding our rights and dictating our autonomy (or lack thereof). And how much we are valued by virtue of the acceptance or rejection of the first (eminently qualified; more qualified) woman in a position to lead the nation.

Electing Clinton would not solve institutional gender bias: We are not, despite claims to the contrary, living in a post-feminist world. Electing President Obama did not solve institutional racism, either — but his election was an important symbol, and much more than a symbol, too.

This little Black boy touching the President's hair and discovering it feels like his is more than a symbol. This little Black girl losing! her! cool! in the most adorable ways about getting to shake the hand of a (then future) President who looks like her is more than a symbol.

To little girls, like Lilly who wanted to change her name to Lillary, and to women, like 103 year-old Ruline, who never thought she would get to vote for a woman, electing Hillary Clinton would be much more than a symbol.

Especially when the choice is not merely between a woman and someone who isn't a woman, but a feminist woman and a profoundly anti-feminist man.

This is what I know: There is only one candidate in this race who respects me in my full humanity. Who believes that women's rights are human rights, and said so, under no small amount of pressure not to.

I wish that were not the case. I grieve that there is but a single candidate to whom I can entrust my desire for meaningful equality, for all women.

But here we are.

This election is a referendum. And that is one of many reasons, the most intimate of all of them, that #ImWithHer.