On Glass Ceilings


The glass ceiling was supposed to shatter. Hillary Clinton was supposed to be the president.

Today, November 9, was supposed to be a new day in the political landscape of America. Hillary Clinton was supposed to be the president, and Donald Trump would be slouching back to Trump Tower, defeated and hopefully conciliatory.

Instead, President-Elect Trump made a victory speech, and Hillary Clinton conceded the election and we are living in the upside down.

I’ve long admired Hillary, and I was excited at the potential for a woman to be elected president of the United States, despite not being American and having no say. I know that there have been other women elected to political leadership all around the world, but there is an significance to the office of the President that somehow transcends all of that. Electing a woman to that office would have represented breaking the highest and hardest glass ceiling in politics, leaving the door wide open for anyone to take on that challenge.

A couple years ago, I wrote this:

I’m a huge fan of Hillary Clinton. I don’t agree with some of her policies about certain issues, but if there’s someone in this world who is a badass in her own right, it’s her. I was crushed when Obama won the Democratic nomination in 2008, because I firmly believed (and still do) that Clinton was the best choice for president at that point. Instead, she was named Secretary of State, and (opinions on Benghazi notwithstanding) became one of the most powerful people in the world. Despite her considerable professional accomplishments, people still found time to criticize her hair, wardrobe, ability to make decisions because of her daughter being pregnant, and all manner of things that no one in their right mind would have ever asked Obama about. She’s dealt with the sexist lines of questioning with her usual aplomb (because besides having been in positions of great power, she’s also incredibly smart), but admitted that the digs at her wardrobe and hair, while irrelevant to her job performance, deeply hurt. This in itself is shameful, that an intelligent, well-respected lawyer, state senator, presidential candidate, secretary of state, and author is judged not by what she did at work but by what she wore and how her hair looked. 

For whatever reason this is politics as usual, and women have to work doubly hard to be seen in the same light as their male counterparts.  Today, however, it’s not politics as usual, though, because (barring a miracle) Donald Trump won the presidential election.

Hillary not breaking the proverbial glass ceiling this cycle doesn’t mean that it will never happen, but it does mean that it will be some time before a woman is nominated by either major party. The excitement over the election of Barack Obama in 2008, and the potential for a continuation of Obama’s policies did not translate into another minority candidate winning, for myriad reasons.

The glass ceiling is still intact, and that saddens me.

I was hopeful that we’d wake up this morning with a woman president because it would show the world that love does, in fact, trump hate. That we are stronger together. That it’s okay to admit that we were with her (even if we couldn’t vote).

How do I go to work and talk to my kids about being good and doing good when we were just shown that racism and sexism and homophobia are rewarded in ways we couldn’t even imagine?

One of the things that I like to talk to my students about is the idea of being better, of treating people well without selfish intent. But if the holder of the highest office in the land can campaign on a platform of hatred and bigotry, what’s the point in being better, of doing better?

How do I tell my kids that bullying gets them nowhere, when it won Trump the presidency?

We teach our kids that bullies don’t win, and that it’s not okay to belittle our opponents, and that we don’t have to stoop down to those levels in order to get ahead. This election showed us that bullies do, in fact, win and that they can win with support from the very people they bully.

How do I look my girls in the eye and tell them they can be anything they want to be, when it’s clear they can’t?

I’m most saddened by this notion. I see in my girls the hopes and dreams of an entire generation and I can’t comprehend a world in which they are not given the opportunity to achieve those dreams. But this election showed them that those obstacles are still in place, and that it’s still not possible for them to live out their dreams without conflict. I’m not suggesting that they should be able to achieve anything they want without any hardship but the roadblocks in front of the girls I teach may just be insurmountable.

The last, most enduring question I have is this: how do we leave this world better for our kids?

The world we live in right now is scarier than it was yesterday morning. A man with a short temper and an apparent lack of impulse control is going to be the president of the United States and I’m not exactly sure what that will mean. What I am sure about is this: the glass ceiling will shatter one day, and whoever does it will have Hillary to thank for putting the cracks there.

It may not feel this way right now, but in the end I firmly believe that love can and will trump hate. Instead of dwelling on the negative, I’m going to think about the words Jack Layton left us from his deathbed:

Love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.