Rushing out of my exam on the night of the presidential election, I bursted into the brisk evening air before I’d even put both arms into my coat. Nerves were sparking inside me, and they had nothing to do with the exam. I was half-terrified that it might not go the way I hoped and half-exhilarated at the thought of America being on the verge of electing its first female president. Anxiously and somewhat excitedly, I watched the election results roll in, believing that my country would choose to move in a positive direction that would affect real and necessary change.
Hour by hour, my hopes dwindled and the reality of what was about to happen sank in. I knew that we would feel the repercussions of America’s decision for the next four years and beyond. The following day was tainted by a certain numbness and denial. It couldn’t be true. America had elected a man who, by his own admission, had committed sexual assault instead of a highly qualified, educated woman. There are many other points of President Donald Trump’s platform that one could contend with, but the blatant sexism surrounding this election struck a particular chord within me.
How could this situation be explained to little girls? Trump’s victory exemplified to young women everywhere that even if you do your absolute best and pour your heart and soul into something, whatever mistakes you make will defeat you in a way that the mistakes of an incompetent man never will defeat him. No woman has ever been president, not to mention the fact that women have held the hard-won right to vote for less than a hundred years.
This election was definitive proof that the sexism that pervades every aspect of American society still exists at the highest tier of political power. Of the 22 high-ranking members of Trump’s incoming cabinet, only four are female, when including Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. This does, however, correlate to the current situation in Congress. There are a combined 104 women in the Senate and the House of Representatives, which amounts to only 19 percent of all members of Congress. This statistic is startling, considering that the United States is 50.8 percent female, according to the most recent census.
To provide some context for just how ludicrous this is, consider the Inter-Parliamentary Union’s list of the percentages of women in parliamentary assemblies throughout the world: Rwanda is No. 1, with its parliament proportionally comprised of more women than any other country’s. The U.S. comes in at No. 100 on the list. The fact that we are ranked so low is downright disturbing for a nation that prides itself on equality.
During Trump’s campaign, the political climate morphed into something I had not encountered in any previous elections I had witnessed or learned about. Since when has it been acceptable for a presidential candidate to threaten to jail his opponent? For a candidate to interrupt his opponent every few words during a debate and to later dismiss her as a “nasty woman?” It was certainly never before possible for a candidate to be involved in such a scandalous and vulgar incident as the “pussy grab” video and recover from it to secure the presidency.
Brushing Trump’s remarks off as simple “locker room talk” is demeaning to mature and respectable men and frankly insulting to women. A man who once claimed that he could just “grab” women by their privates now sits at the desk in the Oval Office, which validates his behavior by allowing him to get away with it. Excusing behavior like Trump’s permits sexism to continue to have a malignant presence in America, and I do not think that it is outrageous to be wary of a man who views women in that way and is now the leader of the free world. Will he realize that there are fully capable and intelligent women in Congress and the rest of the country, or will he view all women as he viewed former Miss Universe Alicia Machado: based on her weight and physical appearance?
Our new President and Vice President have concerning records on women’s health. Trump commented on the campaign trail that “there has to be some form of punishment” for women who receive abortions. Mike Pence is infamous for restricting access to abortions in Indiana and working to slash funding for Planned Parenthood during his time in the House and as Governor. In 2016, he signed the Indiana Omnibus Abortion Bill, which banned abortions based on the race, sex, or disability of the fetus, and required doctors to perform an ultrasound at least 18 hours prior to the procedure and to preserve the remains of the fetus in order to offer it to the mother. A federal judge later blocked the law.
The American government, with a presidential cabinet and a Congress largely in the hands of men, is poised to make decisions about women and their bodies with less input from women than from men. This begs the question of what women can do to combat this form of oppression. Sitting back and doing nothing will allow our right to equality and our own choices to be taken away from us. If this seems unappealing, then being bystanders is not an option.
The Women’s Marches that took place around the world, including here in Boston, proved to us all that women from across the globe are not prepared to surrender to the misogynistic attitude of this administration. The momentum and passion women are experiencing now cannot be allowed to die down over the next four years. We must continue to make the voice of the female half of America heard, to fight sexism, and to support women in positions of power.
Women in America are used to inequality. We are used to men receiving more than we do— more power, more money, more respect—and we are accustomed to less greatness being expected of us in life. Now, more than ever, is not a time to allow the current order of societal norms to perpetuate and be expanded upon: it is a time to oppose ignorance, sexism, restrictive laws, and blatant disrespect. It is not too much to ask for equality.
Featured Image by Meg Dolan / Heights Staff