what was lost

barbara stratyner

The day before the election, you could still find op-eds and e-mails hopeful that on November 9th, an accomplished woman would bring the country back to empathy and begin the much-needed reunification. But Trump was elected and America’s decision validated his tactics of divisive, hatred-producing, name-calling. There have been mass protests in front of his buildings and in public spaces. 

But the image of election week 2016 was the crying woman. One of the prevailing archetypes of the arts is the older, stoically not crying woman – Mary or Hecuba, depending on your cultural background. This week’s image came not from the well-known women of accomplishment who surrounded Secretary Clinton, although I am sure that they gave way in private, but the young anonymous women at the Javits Center who had worked so hard to demolish the glass ceiling.  There will be time to protest, but they would be right to cry. 

What was lost was not just an accomplished woman who would have been an excellent President. That happens with democracy. What sorrows and angers us so much is not just how efficiently they took out Hillary, but that the GOP and its media cohort have spent the last year modeling abusive behavior against her and all women. Her campaign, win or lose, should have been a vindication of women in government. Instead, this election served as a demonstration of all the apparently socially-acceptable ways that women can be demeaned.  The American public – and the whole world – was watching and learning from this behavior.

At the debates, Trump delivered a master class in mansplaining, interrupting and physical intimidation. He complained about her weakness and lack of stamina, although it must have taken super-human strength to maintain her focus on the audience member whose question she was answering while Trump prowled around behind her. There were episodes of rumor-spreading, name-calling, and intimidation. This first campaign of the social media era provided the world with lessons in cyberbullying.

Constant throughout the campaign but especially visible at the Republican National Convention were threats that went far beyond intimidation. In a total perversion of call-and-response, Chris Christie’s speech elicited a cries of “Guilty” for a litany of “offenses.” He, Trump and Rudolf Giuliani demonstrated their prowess as witch-hunters by peppering their speeches with cues for the audience’s chants of “Jail Her” and “Lock Her Up!” The level of hatred belonged in “Strange Fruit,” not in an exercise in democracy.  

Most disturbing to me was Giuliani’s attempt to erase her from post-9/11 service by declaring her invisible, literally not in the picture, although news photographs show her with him inspecting the work site at what became known as ground zero.  This level of monstrous rhetoric from the RNC is rare (though, of course, is always carefully scripted.)

But erasing the accomplishments of women is a common evil, one known by every woman who has been left out of a caption, a recognition, or history itself.

Women’s history and protest rallies provide a suggestion: “Don’t mourn with me, organize!”  But even when the glass ceiling is shattered in the future, as will happen, the iconography for this election will remain: the face of a strong, young, tragic woman, trying not to cry in public.