It’s been a week since the first presidential debate, and one of the issues raised therein was just how feminist are either of the candidates.
Hillary Clinton recently released an ad highlighting some of the most egregious statements about women made by Donald Trump. In the debate, she brought up the specific case of Alicia Machado, a Miss Universe contestant who gained weight after winning the title, bringing scorn and shame from Mr. Trump. Following the debate, Mr. Trump has defended his statements about Ms. Machado, and during the debate itself, he defended crass, derogatory comments he has made about Rosie O’Donnell, saying that she deserved them.
The question being raised was whether or not someone who spoke about (and still speaks about) half of the electorate thusly is someone who is qualified to represent Americans in the highest office of the land.
Of course, as soon as you call one candidate’s views on women into question, it becomes fair game for them to turn the tables.
Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani attacked Secretary Clinton and her treatment of Monica Lewinsky following the revelation of then President Bill Clinton’s affair. In a private email to a friend, she called Ms. Lewinsky a “narcissistic loony toon.” She has not ever walked back that statement, though in 2014, she did say that she “wished her well.”
Does this mean that Hillary isn’t a feminist?
I don’t think so.
A few years ago, a friend invited me to be on the board of a non-profit she was starting to help the women in our state achieve greater freedom. I loved the mission that she laid out, but felt like maybe I wasn’t a good choice. After all, I had an affair with a married man, so I had inflicted pain on a woman. That wasn’t the behavior of a feminist.
And yet, I am a feminist. My beliefs about the importance of equality for women have not changed. My desire to see women in positions of influence and power has not diminished. I long to see women receive equal pay for equal work, and recognition for the work that they do. I want to see women able to speak without apology. I am a feminist, and I am happy to offer whatever support I can to feminist causes.
Certainly my affair was not feminist behavior. It wasn’t Christian behavior. It wasn’t loving behavior. It wasn’t even entirely sane behavior.
It was, however, human behavior.
High stress situations do not always reveal our best selves. When we feel abandoned, when we feel alone, when we feel sad, we may say or do things that betray our ideals.
Hillary Clinton has spent her life fighting for the rights of women everywhere. Over and over she has shown herself to be a champion for women and for feminism. Her nomination as the Democratic representative is a huge milestone for women everywhere.
Her anger and subsequent name-calling of a woman who caused her pain is not a shining moment of feminism. Certainly tearing down another woman is something we want to avoid as women seeking equality for other women. But in the middle of a public scandal, it is an understandable offense.
I don’t say this to excuse bad choices that any of us make when we’re in pain, but to remind us, to remind myself, that one negative decision does not erase all of our ideals. Instead, they are a reminder that we are human.
More than that, when we stray from our ideals, they allow us to reassess those beliefs. We have an opportunity to ask ourselves if we still hold to the things we believed, or if those ideologies have changed. We are offered a chance to affirm those beliefs, or if necessary, evolve.
Giuliani may be right that Clinton was wrong to attack Lewinsky during the exposure of her husband’s affair. However, she has shown herself in her actions both before that time and since, to be an advocate for women’s rights. She may not have lived up to her ideals at all times, but that does not strip her feminism.
Aspiring to live up to our ideals is a worthwhile pursuit, even when we are hurting. But allowing ourselves a measure of humanity in our pain is necessary.
Giving grace, to others and ourselves, is a worthwhile ideal as well.