Why Her?

We live in two Americas.

I have lived in both of them.

When I was in high school, there were rumors of Hillary Clinton running for president. At my nondenominational, evangelical church in Minnesota, the response was one of casual non-enthusiasm.  Someone told me that everyone who worked for her said she was really mean, unhinged. They didn’t say it, because we were at church, but they thought she was a bitch. I believed that person. I had no reason not to. Politicians have stressful jobs and are untrustworthy. Why would Hillary be different?

When I was 16, I asked my pastor what he thought of women being ordained pastors. He was ok with it in some cases, as long as they weren’t senior pastors—in charge of a whole church—but they could be pastors of specific ministries. Even at 16, this bothered me. There seemed to me to be no inherent reason for women not to be pastors (or presidents). I was in charge of the Bible study at my high school. Nobody stopped me for being a woman. Nobody thought I was doing anything important.

I didn’t pay attention to Hillary’s first bid for presidency, not real attention. I lived in France during the primaries, and I discounted everything I heard French people say about the presidential race. What did they know about American politics? They thought I was neighbors with Brad Pitt and Sylvester Stallone. They thought I could tell Bush to end the war in Iraq and it would be so.

I grew up in a republican household. My parents never had enough money. Our cupboards sometimes didn’t have food in them. My parents argued about money. I had the same bed spread until it had been worn to rags, the same sheets, the same towels. We were on the reduced lunch program, paying less than students whose parents were comfortably middle class. We shopped at thrift stores. I had summer jobs and babysat for family friends with children. We barely qualified as middle class, well before anyone noticed the middle class was shrinking.

In my home and in my church, it was a Christian duty to vote republican. My mother who had grown up mainline protestant, a Methodist, had a come to Jesus (the charismatic, evangelical one) moment in the early 80s and voted republican ever since. She couldn’t bring herself to vote for candidates who supported Roe v Wade. My dad was more a fiscal conservative and had been a republican all his life—or so it seemed to me. I didn’t know what homosexuality was until I was in the 4th grade. I thought lesbians were aliens from Star Trek, and I thought gay simply meant “happy” (thanks Shakespeare).

None of this bothered me. It didn’t bother me that a faith that had existed for two millennia had become so entwined with its current political tendencies, that I grew up wondering if Democrats were really Christians (an absurd notion, because both my grandpa and aunt are Methodist ministers as well as democrats). The people I knew were kind. They cared about each other. We volunteered together at soup kitchens. We prayed with each other. They taught me to be patient and kind, even when people were mean. They taught me to stand up to bullies, sit with the uncool kids at lunch. Be compassionate. Seek justice, love mercy.

Then it started to bug me. I was in college. It bugged me that men around me acted like I was dumb when I told them I was majoring in fashion. It bugged me when several of the men in my dorm blocked my departure from one of their rooms, manhandled me, so that another dorm-mate could get in position to pull his pants down and expose himself when I was finally let go. It bugged me that the female professors at my university had to remind students to refer to them as Doctor rather than Ms. or Mrs. It really bugged me when the leader of my former youth group at my church in Minnesota publicly shamed his wife, emotionally abused her privately, sexually harassed me and my sister, lied openly to the teens who attended the youth group, and the senior leadership did absolutely nothing to stop it. I had multiple meetings with the pastor who had known me since I was 8. I spoke to other pastors over the phone and in person, pleading with them to intervene. This man was hurting his wife. She confessed it all late one night to me. I was 21. I had no idea how to help her escape such a man. No one listened. I was incredulous that anyone could be allowed to continue in such blatant misuse of power, especially in a church, my church. I knew and loved these people. They knew and loved me. Why couldn’t they see what I was seeing?

I felt starkly disenfranchised from the church I had grown up in. It didn’t matter what I said, because I was a woman. It only mattered that he was a man, and he was in charge of something.

So I learned more. I learned from the vocal feminists who talked about how sexism played out in their mothers’ lives, how easy it is to demonize a woman compared to a man, how our unconscious biases work, what internalized sexism is. I found a different kind of church, one where the two millennia of history were embraced, where women had free agency, where Mary could hear my prayers and provide a sense of home. I persisted. I grew angry.

My anger was not isolated to the injustice of women. In fact, it was sparked by the death of Mike Brown and the inception of the Black Lives Matters movement. The inequality was palpable. It was sparked again with a live shooter at my Alma Mater where a student was killed and several were injured. It was sparked when I realized how duped I had been, taking out student loans when no job awaited me after my bachelors was completed. It was sparked when learned about the state of undocumented immigrants in detention. By 25 I was completely disenfranchised from the Republican Party.

Then, I was sexually assaulted. It wasn’t for the first time, but it was the first time I had a name for what had happened. I knew I had done nothing wrong, that I had actively declined his advances, and that I still ended up awake in his bed at three am on the day of my 26th birthday with only my underwear on.

It was a textbook case of violated consent. Rape culture had a new meaning to me. Creating a culture of consent meant more than ever.

Still, as election talk rolled around again and it became clear that Hillary would run again, I was underwhelmed. I did not like the Republican Party, but I felt just as betrayed by democrats for selling an education dream that lead me to prolonged debt, for failing to address wealth inequality.  Why wasn’t Elizabeth Warren running? That was the question. I heard it repeatedly. I asked it. She seemed perfect. But wait, there was Bernie. I spent a good portion of 2015 learning about Bernie, being sure I knew how to caucus in my state. I was puzzled when a former classmate of mine chose to interrupt one of his rallies. Didn’t she get that he was going to help our race problem too? He wanted to grow the middle class. That meant the black middle class.

And then I started dating someone. He was for Hillary. He had always been for Hillary, even in the 2008 primaries. I had come a long way from believing that she was the bitch my church-mate had made her out to be, but I was still unenthused. I was going to caucus for Bernie, come hell or high water. He was going to grow the middle class and address the student debt crisis. He had even hired Black Lives Matters activists to his campaign.

My new boyfriend sent me some articles to help explain his point of view. I softened toward Hillary. She’d be good. She wouldn’t be as good as Bernie, but she’s a person and a good politician. My boyfriend did not try to change my mind.

I moved into a house with a family. I saw how much emotional labor the wife in the family put in. I saw how her skills were downplayed. I saw how she took on more than she could bear and did it all anyway. I watched as her aloof husband made threats to his daughter’s imaginary future would-be suitors. And on the night before the Washington State caucus, I watched an episode of Naked and Afraid.

If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a show where a man and a woman who have never met before, take all their clothes off and walk into the wilderness where they have to survive for 21 days. They only get a couple tools, and they don’t get to have any clothes or food. At the beginning of every episode, each participant is given a survival score based on his or her experience.

In the episode I watched the day before the caucus, as was true in every episode, the woman was given a lower survival score. Then, even though she was instrumental in their survival, her score was not raised as much as the man’s. It happened the same way every single episode. And that night, as I watched, I noticed that the women were using skills to aid in their survival that the score did not account for. Survival was measured only in terms of ability to build a fire, catch food, and create a suitable shelter. What was consistently ignored was how women took care of the emotional needs of the men and persevered despite all kinds of physical encumbrances. Over and over, the men would start to break down, make a poor choice that compromised their health, and the woman would get them through it. Yet, their scores remained low.

On May 21st, I woke up knowing that I had to caucus for Hillary. Enough was enough. She had skills that no one had been accounting for, and we needed to give her a chance to show us for certain what they were. So I caucused for her. It was a joy and an honor.

From there, my fondness for her only grew. She does brilliantly in small groups in a way that she does not thrive on a large stage. I read up on her history in politics, her process, her accomplishments. She won my heart and my imagination, and I woke up yesterday morning believing that she was about to be elected the first woman president.

We live in two Americas.

For some of you, the first 18 years of my life resonate. The world, as it is, has a certain order that that should be protected and maintained. You see the people in your church communities and love them. You might even believe you love Muslims and the gays and women who get abortions. When you are so convinced that there is no place in heaven for such people, the best way to love them is to try to prevent them from being them. You are horrified by where my twenties have taken me. You may even offer to pray for me. Thank you for those prayers. I know they are kindly meant. Some of you will have worse thoughts of me. You will grimace at my fondness for a woman you believe belongs in prison. You will call me names that you have called a hundred other women.

Others of you find my first 18 years peculiar, or even offensive. You are excited to see my turn in attitude and may measure my experience as evidence that you have been right all along, that perhaps religion is to blame for the many of the ills of humanity. You feel a sense of affirmation when I say I am a 3rd wave, intersectional feminist. You won’t try to find a way to blame me for my own sexual assault. You won’t ask me what I was wearing or whether I was drunk.

These two Americas don’t talk to each other. We don’t read the same publications or watch the same TV. There is no present-day Walter Cronkite who is the arbiter of today’s news. None of us have the same facts. I forgot. I forgot the amount of anger a woman can incur just for being in charge. I forgot that the subtext for women, no matter how capable, kind, involved, or intelligent, is that we are seen as only partly people, sort of disadvantaged people, slightly handicapped for our uteruses. I forgot the America I came from, buoyed by the hope of equality, of justice, of mercy toward the least of these. I forgot how narrow the scope of Christian charity can be here.

Yesterday, unequivocally, the other America, the America I walked away from, voted for the most bigoted, racist, misogynist, hateful, unkind, deceptive candidate it has ever voted for to date. I could list the particulars, but you won’t hear me, or you have heard it and questioned the order of the universe. History will judge him harshly, and it will judge us all equally harshly. History will not see two Americas, but one, who thought such a despicable person should be executive and chief of such a country.

We get it now; you’re not going away so soon. We’ll consider your tenacity in our upcoming adventures. We’ll reframe our moral high ground. We’ll reframe our user acquisition tactics. We won’t move to Canada or become literary ex-pats. We’ll be right here, helping people who are getting hurt by your candidate and his policies. We’ll be safe havens for the LGBTQ community, for immigrants, for Muslims. We’ll stand in solidarity with BLM, and victims of sexual assault. We won’t stop creating safe spaces for the least of these. We’ll continue to learn about science and how we are affecting the environment. We will be here winning hearts and minds, the way mine was won: with patient conversation, with showing not telling. We will be kind. I will be kind.

4 thoughts on “Why Her?

  1. This is good, Claire, perhaps a little strident, but good. I know what it’s like. I struggle to keep a compassionate tone when my anger is stirred too. I hope you write more. You haven’t been writing recently.

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    • When it comes to our current president elect, I intend to remain strident. While I know the history and the context of the Evangelical church, I refuse to condone it or be gentle with it in terms of its presidential nominee. Perhaps that will make me an enemy to the church that raised me and taught me that sometimes it is necessary for the voice of a prophet to be harsh. I will not be quiet while these things unfold, not while violence against the vulnerable is at risk. It may not be feminine in your eyes, and therefore uncharitable or failing in Christian virtue, but Christian virtue is a laughing stock today, and I mean to make some noise about it.

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  2. Hi Claire! I saw this pop on FB, and came to read because I always value your thoughts. So many personal/painful things placed in the open. I admire the braveness of that, and I ‘see’ you, and your pain, frustration, and determination. I hope you received many encouragements on FB. I thought I’d post here for posterity…

    As a white, male, middle America, Christian (racial profiling? ;-)), I perhaps represent a sliver of ‘that America you walked away from’. Fwiw, I did not vote for Trump (I went third-party). For reasons of character, I could not do so. And I know many others from a similar demographics who acted similarly. And of those who did vote for Trump, I can tell you that no one I was aware of did so out of alignment with his character. I say this only because I hope to speak against a lie you are hearing deep within your spirit that we should be enemies.

    Please do go battle for justice and safety and the marginalized! I cheer you, and will join as best I can. If I am to be perceived as an enemy, then please know that you have an enemy who loves you and wishes you well.

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    • Tim, I’m sorry that what you got out of reading this is that I feel a need to be an enemy to evangelicals or to you.

      See: “We will be here winning hearts and minds, the way mine was won: with patient conversation, with showing not telling. We will be kind. I will be kind.” I wasn’t referring to winning the hearts and minds of the vulnerable. I meant winning the hearts and minds of people who thought a hateful man would make a better president than a person who has held three different kinds of national office.

      I know why evangelicals voted so overwhelmingly for the Republican candidate. As a voter block, they’ve been voting on a single issue since Reagan. But putting all the eggs in one basket produced a candidate loathed within his own party and a candidate evangelicals couldn’t dream of understanding from the opposition. Maybe it’s important for people of faith to be involved in both parties.

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