One of the (many) consequences of the routine dehumanization of Hillary Clinton—whether treating her like garbage or treating her like a superhero—is that we tend to lose sight of the fact that, in every situation, she is still a human being. A woman. Who carries with her all the baggage of being a woman in a deeply misogynist culture.
Which includes having had scary interactions with intimidating men.
I don't have to guess at that: She spoke about one of those interactions in her Humans of New York profile.
I was taking a law school admissions test in a big classroom at Harvard. My friend and I were some of the only women in the room. I was feeling nervous. I was a senior in college. I wasn't sure how well I'd do. And while we're waiting for the exam to start, a group of men began to yell things like: 'You don't need to be here.' And 'There's plenty else you can do.' It turned into a real 'pile on.' One of them even said: 'If you take my spot, I'll get drafted, and I'll go to Vietnam, and I'll die.' And they weren't kidding around. It was intense. It got very personal.She noted about this experience that she "couldn't respond. I couldn't afford to get distracted because I didn't want to mess up the test. So I just kept looking down, hoping that the proctor would walk in the room."
That is an experience she carried with her into last night's debate. One of, quite certainly, many experiences just like it.
She walked onto the stage last night to face man who we'd all just learned had confessed, twice, to sexually assaulting women. Who had bragged about it. A man who has on two occasions implicitly called for her assassination. A man who has presided over rallies at which people are screaming about her: Hang the bitch; kill her; cunt.
She had to face him. She had, to finish this test, confront him about his abuse of women, which every woman knows is a dangerous proposition. She had to stand on that stage, in front of millions of viewers, locked in a battle with a man who was pacing like a caged beast with a rageful expression, telling her he'd throw her in prison if he could, and stalking her around the stage to intimidate her with his physical presence.
Of which she was keenly aware.
Hillary Clinton just came to the back of the plane and talked to reporters post debate pic.twitter.com/rHEllvHWEi— Josh Haskell (@joshbhaskell) October 10, 2016
Relevant transcript, starting at 0:42: A female reporter asks Clinton if she was aware of Trump behind right behind her during the debate, to which Clinton responds, with a sardonic smile: "I could tell, yes. [laughs] It was a very small space, and I tried to give him space; when he was talking to people, I would go back and lean up against my stool, but, he was very present."Clinton is a tough broad. She has an abundance of moxie, gumption, and fortitude. She clearly neither scares nor discourages easily.
But that doesn't mean she is impervious.
She has learned, over a lifetime, as she said in that Humans of New York piece, to conceal what she is feeling: "I had to learn as a young woman to control my emotions. And that's a hard path to walk. Because you need to protect yourself, you need to keep steady, but at the same time you don't want to seem 'walled off.'"
Especially not during a townhall debate where you are expected to be approachable and warm and personable and so very human.
But Clinton has learned that, for women, being human means denying parts of your humanity around dangerous men. And so she faced her opponent, a man who has harmed women and been capricious with her very life, with the obligation to show only the parts of her humanity that she could. Accessible for the audience, but not vulnerable for Trump.
Close off this part, but not that one.
It's an absurd and horrendous ask. And somehow she navigated it. So expertly, in fact, that I've not heard a single pundit—or anyone else, for that matter—even comment on the fact that she had to do it at all. That maybe it was quite unsettling for her to face Donald Trump and all his grotesque misogyny and incitement.
She is formidable as fuck. And she is brave.
And she's done it for so long, so successfully, that hardly anyone even notices how extraordinary it is anymore.
I notice. I see you, Hillary.