It was day two of the Democratic National Convention, and it was already getting late. Former New York Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had become the first woman in America to secure the nomination of a major political party earlier in the day, and I was already emotional.
Then my daughter climbed up onto the couch beside me and wiggled beneath my arm. “Mommy,” she said, “if I ever meet Hillary Clinton, I will give her a hug, and I will cry because she is the first woman to be president.”
That was it. I lost it.
I can already feel the Republicans, especially the Republican men, reading this rolling their eyes. Hopefully I can hold onto you for just a minute or two as I try to explain what it’s like been like to be a mother of a little girl these past few days.
Because whether you love Hillary Clinton, hate Hillary Clinton or fall somewhere in the middle, she just made history. She just did something no American woman has yet been able to do. That means something to most American women, women who have been waiting for this moment for their entire lives, women whose little girls will grow up in a world unlike our own.
As I explained to my husband, every election season since he was born, he could count on the candidates representing the major political parties in America looking just like him. This is the first time, in my entire life, that I can say the same. It’s the first time his daughter can say the same.
I’ve heard a lot of reasons in the days since — exclusively from white men, I might add, the very people who have always been able to count on the candidates for presidency looking markedly similar to the sight they see in the mirror each morning — that my emotions over this historic moment are “silly” or “not worth celebrating.”
That they don’t like Hillary is clear, and their own personal right. But even when I’ve pointed out that this is a moment that’s being celebrated by many conservative women (women who do not like Hillary Clinton) because it’s a major moment in the progression of rights for women, regardless of the identity of the woman to have reached this goal, I’ve been informed that somehow this is not really a step forward for women because there have been other women who have done great things in history.
Of course other women have done great things.
We’ve had female Senators, Hillary among them. Of course there have been just 46 in our nation’s history, 46 out of nearly 2,000 total Senators. Of those, only 31 have actually been elected (others were appointed, generally upon the death of a husband who was serving in the seat).
We’ve had female Supreme Court justices. But then Supreme Court justices are appointed by the president in this country, and we’ve never had a female president able to appoint a Supreme Court justice of either gender.
And we’ve had women run for president. In fact, Victoria Woodhull ran for president in 1870. But considering women weren’t even allowed to vote at the time, her chances of actually getting as far as Hillary has already gotten were null and void. Shirley Chisholm ran in the 70s, the first black woman to run for president. Her dreams were dashed at the Democratic convention. That’s pretty much always been the way it’s been for woman until now. Never has a woman been afforded the right to stand front and center as the major candidate of one of America’s two main political parties, the two parties (albeit not necessarily in their current forms) responsible for producing every single American president in our 240-year history. The women who came before Hillary Clinton (even Hillary herself in 2008) were trailblazers, but their achievements are not the same.
Hillary Clinton has just taken one small step as a woman, one giant leap for womankind.
Now imagine going back to another historic July moment, some 47 years ago and telling American men that they shouldn’t cheer Neil Armstrong’s first footstep onto the moon because other men had already done great things in history.
It wasn’t about Neil Armstrong then. It isn’t about Hillary Clinton now.
It’s about a whole new future.
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Image via Nathania Johnson/Flickr