In the shiny apple image of America, there is a rotten part that we try to ignore—a part of us that shames us when we dare to look at it. That part is made up of the prejudice, racism, sexism and other “isms” that we learned early in our lives, either from our families, our religions, our regions or our experiences as citizens.
I want to share a story that formed me in the world. It was 1959. I was seventeen and in my first year of college at the University of Florida. I had gone to Catholic School in my formative years and pubic school in Illinois and Florida after that. I hung out with people who wanted to be musicians and liked to read books. I knew my father treated me and my sisters very differently from our brothers, but most of the time he was an equal opportunity offender with his sarcastic wit.
One beautiful fall day, I went with my boyfriend to the law library on campus to help him research a paper. We were, as they say, absorbed in each other so I didn’t notice the absence of females in the library. We sat down, and immediately a low rumble began to roll through the room—I looked up and saw tables full of men slapping the flat of their hands on the wooden tops. And then I noticed something else. They were all looking at me. As I sat there, bewildered at the meaning, they began to drum their feet on the wooden floor. The noise was like rolling thunder, the cadence like war drums. Some ancient fear arose in my body. My date gestured toward the door and got up to leave as the sound swelled around me. Eyes filled with something close to hate, but more like disgust, followed me as I stood. As we walked away, the sound followed us out into the yard. On the sidewalk, a teacher stopped and said: “How could you not know women aren’t allowed in the law library?” And there it was. Not only was I restricted because of my sex, I should have known.
When I remember that incident, all those years ago, humiliation is the emotion that comes up. When I talk to other women, they all have their seminal moment where they “learned their place.” Hillary Clinton has shared hers. As she sat to take the entrance exam for law school at Harvard, the men around her yelled epithets and one even told her that if she got in, he might have to go to Vietnam and die because she took his place.
Hillary did what we all did. We hunkered down, put up a shield and proved to the world that we were worthy by working harder, staying quieter, and earning top grades. Our bodies never forgot. If you know my work, you know I write about energy—how it travels, how it affects us, how powerful it is. All types of prejudice carry a certain privilege and energy that says “I can do this to you because you are not like me,” and the primary holders of this energy are white men. For those who fit that description, the election of a woman is anathema.
In Hillary’s debate for Senator of New York, her opponent came to her podium, crowded her and ordered her to sign a paper. She humored him, in the way women do, so they will be seen as good sports. A man would not have done so. I have watched this entire election season and seen the paternal, misogynistic attitude that male interviewers and politicians apply to Hillary. The questioning on Benghazi, following right after the death of Clinton’s dear friend and her own accident, was belligerent, belittling and paternalistic. In all the years that hostages had been taken in foreign countries—five times during the Bush administration—this never happened.
Watching the forum with Matt Lauer the other night was shocking.
His tone was directive. Make your answer brief, he ordered, and he interrupted her constantly. He allowed Trump to ramble and dissemble and didn’t interrupt. He told them both to not discuss their opponent—anyone who watched knows what happened. Even the press has jumped all over Lauer for his behavior, but he is their lightning rod. Almost all of them have a different tone with Hillary than they do with Trump. Some of the women reporters are trying to be “one of the guys” so they do the same thing. It is sexism at its most insidious, and if she were to mention it she would be whining. So she doesn’t. Sexism is the core of Hillary Hating. Only by naming it can we root it out. Be aware when you watch and listen. See the body language, the crowding of the candidate, the tone of voice. And then, hardest of all, speak about it. Don’t continue the silence to keep the peace. If we can’t bring this to the forefront in the 21st Century we are doomed to repeat our failures. People of color, women, gays, lesbians and those who choose alternate lifestyles have to speak up in spite of their attempts to get along by keeping quiet. Women like me were asked not to speak because we embarrassed our spouses or our colleagues. Enough is enough. This election is giving us the opportunity to be clear that we are not willing to accept prejudice in our system. Period. I honor all those brave enough to do so. Hang in there. You are part of an awakening army.