The Day After Failing to Make History

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tags: Hillary Clinton, election 2016



Alex Penler has a Masters in Colonialism and Globalization (International History) from the London School of Economics and works in communications and foreign affairs in Washington DC.


Six. Six years I've studied women's history. Six years of learning about women's accomplishments and failures; politically, culturally and socially. Today I cried six times, one for each year I prepared academically for this. 

I tried to explain my feelings this morning about waking up to find out that Hillary Clinton didn't win was like being given a cookie and then having it swatted out of your hand before you can even have a bite. I really wanted that cookie and had counted on that cookie, but then it was gone in an instant and it's never felt more surreal. 

I met Hillary Clinton when I was four years old. She came and read a book at my pre-school and my parents told me to remember that day because they believed she would be president one day. And so I did. I remembered that day in 2008 when she ran for the first time and I remembered that day throughout the last 18 months as I proudly stated #Imwithher. The night Hillary was nominated in Philadelphia, I texted my parents thanking them for raising me to be just like her. 

In 2013, I was an intern in political history at the Smithsonian and I was given three research projects: women's suffrage movement, equal rights amendment and non-citizen voting. At the time I didn't understand that I was on my way to becoming a gender historian at heart, I was simply working on what was in front of me. I catalogued pins from the ERA movement and stared for what seemed like hours at small pins given to women who were imprisoned for picketing the White House for women's suffrage. I read about women who went on hunger strikes but were not taken seriously as political prisoners and who did everything they could to gain that right to vote. 

Today I cried not just for Alice Paul and Susan B. Anthony, but for all of the women who made Hillary's candidacy possible. I cried because young women around the world are told even if a man sexually assaults women, he can still be one of the most powerful men in the world. I cried because no matter how hard a woman works and prepares and devotes herself to public service, she can still be mocked for being too emotional by political pundits.

Hillary made me proud of being a women's college graduate. I never realized how much that education shaped me until I went to grad school and was labeled a gender historian just for bringing gender and women's perspective into my political and economic history classes. Listening to her speak today, I was touched by how strong and confident she was in such a soul crushing situation, something I know Wellesley prepared her for. She paid homage to that education and the women before her when she wore the suffragette’s color, purple, not only as a sign of unity but as a sign of the progress accomplished.

One of Hillary's biggest fans is my 92-year-old grandfather, who has rooted for her all along and self identifies as a feminist. He was born just a few years after women were given the right to vote, to a mother who had been orphaned by the time she was 15, and alone raised her younger sister in a New Bedford boarding house while working in a textile mill. She would later go on to have 11 children, bury three and become a gold star mother. I never knew my great grandmother but I voted for her, my mother and grandmothers, all of whom fought sexism in the world place. It took everything in me not to cry a seventh time when he told me that while he wouldn't live to see a woman elected president, he was so glad to know that I would. 

During that summer we started talking about what would happen to the First Ladies exhibit if Hillary won. Would Bill Clinton's tux go in the exhibit next to Michelle Obama's dress? Today I wish that were our biggest problem. 

Tonight I will fall asleep assured that we put 59 million cracks in that glass ceiling and that one day, there's a little girl who will grow up to be President of the United States and one day she'll be the one in the Smithsonian's presidency exhibit next door to the famed First Ladies hall. 



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