Some pregnant women, in the final weeks of their pregnancy, succumb to a strange phobia: They begin to worry that their pregnancy is permanent. It’s gone on so long. It’s been so grueling. It’s so hard to remember living any other way. It seems entirely reasonable, to these women, that they are the exception to the medical rule; that they will never give birth, and will just be pregnant forever.
I never really understood the fear, until this week. Now, I, too, feel that I have been trapped in an unnatural and torturous stasis. In my darkest moments, I am certain that for the rest of my life — no matter how many years, decades, or even centuries roll by — it will always be Election 2016.
But no. This election is going to end. It will end soon, in fact. They always do. It might end in tears, in triumph, even in total Trump-Nazis-rioting-in-the-streets catastrophe, but the one thing it cannot do is go on forever. It’s just that, at this point, it’s hard to imagine any outcome more painful than the race itself. So before we roll on to next week, and its pleasures and catastrophes, let’s just say goodbye to this god-awful election. Flush it down the crapper of history, and move on with our increasingly dystopian lives.
I’m tired. I’m tired of debating whether gender plays a role in the election of the potential first female President, whether sexism is affecting media coverage or public sentiment, whether Hillary Clinton’s female supporters are selfish for caring about gender when There Are So Many Other Problems In The World After All, whether sexism itself even qualifies as a problem. I am tired of the lingering hangover of the Democratic primary, tired of what this conversation has shown me about the seemingly well-meaning, “progressive” men in my life. I am tired of seeing the damage that even the mildest, wimpiest, plaid-shirt-clad beardy-bro can do when he’s been given license to stop taking sexism seriously, and therefore stopped worrying that he might get somebody hurt.
I’m tired of the hurt. I’m tired of hearing from women who’ve been run off Twitter by harassment and death threats and doxing because they dared to express an opinion about a Presidential election. I am tired of arguing that their pain matters, that the attacks on them matter. I am tired of living in a world where a state Democratic Party chairwoman can record her death threats and post them on the internet, a world where that woman needs a bodyguard to visit the goddamn bathroom, and where feminists are asked to prove that this series of events is, in fact, a bad thing.
And I’m tired of explaining why it’s bad. I’m tired of analyzing it. I’m tired of educating strangers on basic Feminism 101 points that they could have learned within (a) their first week of an Intro to Women’s Studies class, or (b) their first twenty-four hours on Tumblr. I’m tired of having to explain why it’s sexist for men to tell me how to do my feminism “right,” why they shouldn’t impose their self-declared authority on my liberation. I’m tired of explaining why barring women’s access to public life, penalizing their public voices through tactics like harassment and intimidation, is integral to the functioning of patriarchy. I’m tired of explaining why demonizing powerful women — calling Hillary Clinton a murderer, a criminal, a hag, a witch, a bitch, etc — is a tactic as old as witch-burning. I’m tired of explaining why “likability” is a trap designed to make women worry more about other people’s feelings than they do about their own lives — and why no powerful woman will ever be “likable,” because the only “likable” thing she can do is give away her power. I’m tired of reading shitty divide-and-conquer thinkpieces about the catfight between “old” feminists (evil, capitalist, wear pantsuits, loathe the young and wish to feast on their economically disempowered flesh) and “young” feminists (hot, cool, hip, fun, down with male power because they understand these silly identity-politics struggles don’t get us anywhere and sometimes men are just smarter, am I right, girls?) and I am supremely tired of looking at that thinkpiece, and others like it, and seeing a male fucking byline on it. But mostly, I am tired of even having to bring it up. I’m so, so, so tired.
Because you know what the kicker is, don’t you? You know what the fun, Black-Mirror-style twist in this story turns out to be? After months and months of painstakingly arguing that (a) sexism was real and (b) sexism played a role in the election, trying to get people ready for the uniquely gendered opposition a female candidate for the presidency would face — “the current Hillary-hate [in the Democratic primary] is an overture: A fraction of the sheer tonnage of misogyny and dishonesty that’s going to come if and when she wins the nomination,” I wrote, back in November of 2015 — and being willfully misunderstood or attacked for it about half the time, well, Hillary Clinton’s feminist supporters were proven right. Now, a year later, in October of 2016, there is nary a progressive-aligned person who would not agree that yes, in fact, sexism does play a role in this election. A very large, very disturbing role, for that matter. We were right. We were vindicated. We won. And it happened in the worst way possible.
Because: After spending a goddamn year arguing about whether sexism even existed, let alone whether it influenced people’s votes, Hillary Clinton’s candidacy now depends on beating a guy who is sexism incarnate — the big, orange, pussy-grabbing monster who grew to Tokyo-stomping size while we were arguing the finer points of progressive self-identification. A racist. A con man. A fascist. A joke. An alleged rapist. An alleged wife-beater. An alleged sexual harasser. After all that arguing about sexism and its impact, in the end, we just had to point at Donald fucking Trump and let people draw their own conclusions.
You wanted to know why feminists made such a big deal out of Twitter harassment? OK: An obsessive who stalked the President on Twitter demanding his birth certificate for years, a man who continually explodes into social-media temper tantrums calling women sluts with sex tapes or fat, flat-chested pigs, could control nuclear weapons. You thought that overturning default white male power didn’t qualify as a radical goal? Cool, cool: Here’s a guy who embodies everything wrong with male power, caught on tape, talking about how “when you’re a star, they let you” get away with sexually assaulting your female colleagues. You didn’t think demonizing Hillary Clinton had gotten that out of hand, that it was just “criticism?” That’s swell; enjoy the footage of Republicans screaming “hang her in the streets,” hanging her in effigy, and publicly fantasizing about her suicide, all while her opponent calls for her assassination or promises to imprison her. And, hey: You thought Americans were so over this “elect a woman president” thing, that a candidate’s gender didn’t even matter in 2016? That’s nice. I admire your optimism. Meanwhile, hostile sexism is a better predictor for Trump support than party identification, and Clinton’s lead among women is building to what looks like the biggest voting gender gap in decades.
Being right should at least feel good, but it doesn’t. I should have enjoyed the debates — seeing that, finally, many of my Clinton-doubting friends got what I saw in her; her grace under fire, her merciless tough-bitch baiting of his insecurities, her ability to take a man who’d bulldozed over a dozen Republican candidates and make him look like a screaming, pouting toddler — but I didn’t. It isn’t just an insult to Hillary Clinton that she wound up facing Trump. It’s an insult to all women; it’s confirmation of our darkest suspicions about sexism, that while women are killing ourselves to do better and be smarter and work harder, while we’re building resumes, accumulating qualifications, going to classes, applying for extra credit, the only thing all that excellence does, at the end of the day, is to put us on equal footing with some male idiot who’s done precisely none of the work. It isn’t fun, realizing that the most qualified candidate in modern history is considered roughly equivalent to a barely literate game-show host with no government experience, just because she’s female. It doesn’t feel good, knowing that even Hillary Clinton has to stand there and get screamed at by some Twitter troll, just because she’s trying to get a job.
It is not fun, was not fun, has never been and could never be fun, spending nearly two years “debating” my own humanity through the lens of the biggest news story in the country. It has not been fun realizing that this matter was up for debate. I mean: By my count, Donald Trump currently has twelve standing allegations of sexual assault. Now, thanks to the magic of modern polling, I can see exactly how many of my countrymen don’t give a shit. According to FiveThirtyEight, the number of Americans who would rather elect a rapist than a female human being stands at around 45 percent.
And here’s the thing: There’s no way out. The sexism that’s escalated to unbearable heights over the course of this election will only escalate further once a winner is declared. In one scenario, Trump will win, and we’ll be governed by a man who is more vocal and unapologetic than most about believing women to be subhumans and second-class citizens. The sexism will flow down in terms of restrictive policies, cultural backlash, anti-choice and anti-female Supreme Court Justices, the incalculable harm done to younger generations by seeing misogyny legitimized and modeled by the most powerful man in the country. Or, Clinton will win, and she won’t have Trump to run against any longer — meaning that the sexism, “progressive” and otherwise, will come back every time someone gets frustrated with her or wants to delegitimize her, and we’ll have to argue about whether it exists or matters all over again.
We’re in the same situation as the nine-months-pregnant woman afraid she’ll never give birth: The thing we fear is better than the thing we’re likely to get. In the long run, staying pregnant for the rest of your life is probably a lot less painful and difficult than actually going into labor and caring for a baby. Letting the election go on forever is going to suck a lot less than watching it play out. Our only hope is that somehow, enough people have seen the tidal wave of sexism hit, and have gotten sick of it, and that we’ll be in a position to plan and execute our resistance on November 9. And maybe, when the whole ordeal is over, we’ll at least be able to tell the country that it’s a girl.
Photo: Keith Kissel/Creative Commons