It wasn’t until Hillary Clinton lost the U.S. presidential election one year ago, that many people understood how very much they wanted her to win. Whatever her shortcomings, Clinton was a smart, well-prepared, experienced candidate supported by a diverse coalition of Americans. Her opponent, meanwhile, was an uninformed and uncurious racist bully and blowhard, and an admitted harasser of women. Not only that: He brazenly — and successfully — pitched himself as the candidate who would protect the power of white Americans, the very people who had wielded it or benefitted from it, unequally and often times malevolently, almost the entirety of America’s history.
The past year has been a dizzying and dispiriting one for America. Rising racial hatred. Rollbacks of civil rights protections. Attacks on Muslims. The destruction of affordable healthcare. And central to this far-right platform, has been the Trump administration’s systematic dismantling of women’s rights, with appointments of pro-life justices, a reinstatement of the global gag rule, a revocation of equal pay and safety regulations for female workers, and the erosion of funding for Planned Parenthood.
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Forget about the promise of accelerated progress for women held in Clinton’s campaign. The past year has been a battle for American women to just re-assert and re-entrench the gains they have made over the past 50 years. It is horribly, monstrously fitting that the anniversary of Trump’s election finds us talking once again about male sexual violence and entitlement, that the news is once again full of stories of women groped, bullied, threatened and raped by powerful men.
What’s become more and more evident over these last 12 months is the fragility of women’s rights and safety. To some women, this has come as a rude shock. They had felt they no longer needed feminism, or had felt the word was too angry and bitter. Because they were fine. A full 53 percent of white women voted for Trump, women who were willing to overlook his crude misogyny (“grab them by the pussy”) and threats to women’s healthcare. Other women simply didn’t show up to be counted.
Here’s who did: Black women and other women of colour, LGBT people, immigrants, and everyone else who wasn’t fine and who understood that the work of feminism and other movements for civil rights was far from complete, and who palpably felt the danger of a Trump presidency. Ninety percent of all Black women (and 95 percent of Black women without a college degree) voted for Clinton; and Hispanic women and other women of colour showed similar support.
The global women’s marches last January were thrilling and inspiring. They also sparked a much needed conversation about complacency. People who enjoyed a degree of safety and comfort prior to Trump suddenly woke up to what it meant to be under attack. And the renewed interest in feminism and grassroots politics by women who had previously felt invulnerable, or even disdainful of the cause is a reminder from Emma Lazarus (best known for penning the poem on the base of the Statue of Liberty), who once wrote “until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
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This year marks another anniversary, here in Canada. One hundred years ago some women got the right to vote. Some, but not all. Japanese Canadians didn’t have full voting rights until the 1940s; Indigenous people not until 1960. Just as 150 years of Confederation has compelled us to reflect upon our nation’s cruelties and failures, as well as its triumphs, the anniversary of women’s voting rights should make us stop and consider what it means when some of us move forward and leave others behind.
The marker of how far we’ve come shouldn’t be the number of women in our male-feminist prime minister’s cabinet, or the percentage of women in corporate corner offices. We need to measure it by the progress of women who are most vulnerable and most overlooked. We’ll know we’ve truly been successful when the lives and safety of Indigenous girls and women are fully cherished, when women are no longer disproportionately living in poverty and fear, and when the bodies and clothing choices of all women, regardless of faith, are truly no one’s business but their own.
What this past year has taught many of us is that far too often, we’ve understood women’s progress as being revealed in what the most accomplished, extraordinary women can achieve — like becoming president of the United States. But the real work of change turns out to be much more challenging than even that.