The Feminist Fire Within Me
By Haley Segall (Oberlin College Undergraduate)
The night Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential Election, I wept. I, like many others, was inconsolable. As I have attempted to reconcile my faith in humanity and the loud-mouthed, prejudiced, sexist reality that has been imposed upon us, I have been forced to reflect on the reasons for my debilitating disappointment and sadness.
Firstly, I am fearful for those whom Donald Trump and many of his supporters have attacked. I am fearful for the lives of my Muslim, LBGT+, immigrant, and Latinx friends and peers. I am fearful for my fellow women, and despite being told previously that antisemitism is a thing of the past, I am fearful for my fellow Jews.
I am very aware that I have lived in a world of privilege; I have never had to worry about money or being judged based solely on the color of my skin. I have lived in comfort. I am privileged, but I am also aware of my privilege. I feel immense empathy and fear for those who are not as lucky as I, and I intend on being an active ally and advocate for the rest of my life.
The second reason for my tears, and admittedly the most personal reason for my tears is not as simple as Donald Trump winning the presidency, but rather Hillary Clinton losing it.
I have grown up in a home of strong feminists. Every day of my life I have gone home to parents who have told me that I can be anything that I want to be. My mother worked on Capitol Hill for the amazing late Claiborne Pell and has pushed for gender equality all of her life. My grandmothers both embody feminism: one is a Holocaust survivor who has become successful academic and the other dedicated her life to promoting the equality of all, no matter their gender, race, or socioeconomic status.
Despite all of the inspiration from within my family, I, like most women and girls, still felt doubtful of my ability to succeed based on my gender. It’s impossible to ignore centuries of patriarchal values that have been deeply ingrained into our society. I felt pressure to smile prettily, to speak sweetly and quietly, and not to debate in class. If you speak up, you’re undesirable, bossy, a “bitch”, or worse, a feminist.
When I was eleven-years- old, my mother took me to the 2008 Hillary Clinton campaign rally at Union Station in downtown, D.C. With the words, “Hillary ‘08” painted across my adolescent, chubby cheeks, I pushed my way to the front of the crowd to get a chance to shake hands with the woman whom my parents never stopped talking about. She was a woman who always spoke her mind, rallied among the men, and was proud to be called a feminist.
This is one of my most vivid memories from my primarily suppressed recollection of adolescence: then- Senator Clinton shook my hand and hugged me. I looked up at her with tears in my eyes and said “Thank you, you inspire me so much.” She knelt down a little and replied “No, you inspire me.”
That interaction may seem simple and mundane, but to me it meant the world. With those few words, Hillary Clinton validated that I too could be anything I wanted, and for one of the first times in my young life, I was proud to be a feminist.
I continued my middle school and high school years being the outspoken, driven, and inspired feminist that I was raised to be. Boys called me bossy, but I held my ground. Boys called me a feminist, and I said thank you.
I was privileged enough to meet Secretary Clinton once more when she stopped at my local congressman’s house for a fundraising dinner in January of 2016. For years, I had been dreaming of the Presidential candidacy of feminism, Secretary Rodham Clinton, and now I got to speak with her face-to-face. I told her about the first time I met her, and how it had changed me. I told her that, in large part, thanks to her, I had gotten myself into my dream college and was going to pursue interfaith studies and peace work. I told her of the big dreams that I had for myself, and how those dreams were validated by those few words that she said to me back in 2008. Hillary Clinton put her hand on my shoulder and lovingly said “Bless your heart”. She congratulated me on my successes and told me that she too believes that interfaith work was immensely vital to establishing peace. She told me that she was grateful for my drive and told me to push forward in pursuing my dreams and that she too would remember the importance of interfaith peace if elected President of the United States. She told me that she was thankful to have inspiring and driven young people like me in this country. Once again, Hillary Clinton validated my childhood dream.
I don’t share these anecdotes to fluff my own feathers, I share them because these small moments have helped defined who I am and who I believe myself to be. When I watched my childhood hero lose the election that would finally shatter the daunting and suffocating glass ceiling, I felt a loss beyond explanation. The closest way to articulate the pain I felt in that moment, was that I felt my childhood dream being shattered into millions of pieces. The woman who embodied feminism, the woman who made me proud to be a feminist, lost to a misogynistic bigot.
The morning of her concession speech, I laid in bed, still inconsolably crying. Yet, when I watched Clinton take the stage, I felt an immediate comfort in the familiarity of her strength, grace, and resilience. Despite her personal dreams being shattered, she looked to a brighter future, and said “This loss hurts but please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. It is. It is worth it. And so we need―we need you to keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives, and to all the women and especially the young women who put their faith in this campaign and in me, I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion.” At that moment, I felt that she was speaking directly to me, directly to the wide-eyed, star-struck eleven-year-old, and with those words, the feminist fire within me was reignited.