In the end, an old historical imbalance could not be set right. It had taken close to two-and-a-half centuries, 240 years to be precise, for a major party to nominate a woman to run. But in the bitter, personal, visceral fight between misogyny and bigotry on one side and 40 years of public service on the other, the American public chose Donald Trump. A man accused of sexual assault by over a dozen women is now the leader of the free world.
Certainly, Hillary Rodham Clinton is no saint—the emails, some of the Clinton Foundation’s dodgy funders and the general ickiness of the paid speeches has dulled the halo. In the primaries, it was her older, white, male opponent Bernie Sanders who was the favourite amongst the younger women demographic. “Suddenly the simple binary of Republican vs Democrat dissolved to Bernie’s ‘liberal’ vs Hillary’s ‘not liberal enough’,” says Raffaella Meloni, a 20-year-old volunteer with Clinton’s New York campaign headquarters.
It was clear that not everyone saw Clinton as a feminist. And yet, her candidacy dovetailed neatly with an increasing global concern about gender issues—The New York Times is hiring its first gender editor and half of Justin Trudeau’s cabinet ministers are women. Around the world, we’re raking up sexual assault, domestic violence, girls’ education, political representation, and even, destigmatizing menstruation. If history is about timing, then there has never been a better time for a woman to take the White House.
History will remember campaign 2016 for many things, but most definitely it will remember it for hammering home gender. Many of us who have no personal stake in this election and no particular feelings for Clinton would have cringed at the bullying, the mansplaining, the threatening language and the constant putting down of a candidate—her clothes, her lack of warmth, her voice and her, my God, ambition—simply because of her gender. How many of us rolled our eyes when Trump interrupted Clinton 51 times in the 90 minutes of the first presidential debate? How many of us wept, or at least were teary-eyed as the terrible truth of the results sank in?
In the days to come, analysts will slice the data to find out how an upset of this magnitude could have happened. To what do we attribute the victory of a reality TV host who has bragged about grabbing women by their genitalia—the sort of predatory male entitlement that women across the world struggle with? Should we attribute his victory to a deep public distrust of Clinton, economic anxiety about jobs or should we put it down to misogyny? And if it’s misogyny, then America has a long, hard journey to traverse before it can defeat it.
The statistics make for grim reading. Women comprise just 19.4% of the US Congress. Only six American states have women governors. America’s ranking in the 2016 World Economic Forum (WEF) Gender Report slipped from 23 to 45 of 144 countries mainly because of a decline in labour force participation and the shrinking number of women in senior positions. America is the only developed nation that does not legally mandate maternity leave. One in five women in colleges have been sexually assaulted.
Our experience in India has shown that the gender of political leaders doesn’t always lead to empowerment. States with the best sex ratio and gender indices, Kerala, for instance, also elect the fewest women to Parliament. Nitish Kumar’s Bihar, on the other hand, has made massive strides in girls’ education.
Are there lessons for women from today’s result? Undoubtedly. The first, never underestimate your opponent. The second, never underestimate the strength of the sisterhood in bolstering a common cause. The support of Michelle Obama and Elizabeth Warren may not have been enough to catapult her into the White House, but it helped bring Clinton close. And the third, never underestimate just how hard and tough the battle for equality and acceptance is.
The verdict is in. The battle has just begun.
Namita Bhandare is gender editor of Mint.
Her Twitter handle is @namitabhandare