I’ve Been a Feminist Since the Fifth Grade
In the 5th grade, I tried out for the lead role in my elementary school’s production of Othello, as Iago. Iago is the duplicitous “friend” to Othello, so filled with jealousy and rage over having been overlooked for Lieutenant, that he singlehandedly sets out to destroy Othello’s life. None of the other female characters in the play interested me. They lacked depth or strength or even a sort of deviousness that I desired to play. No, If I was going to be anyone, it would be Iago. I had the confidence, the cockiness and the sheer desire to play him. I was intimidated by no one and nothing. I just wasn’t a boy.
I remember the principal and my teacher expressing some trepidation about allowing me to play Iago. They weren’t sure I could pull it off, I remember them saying. They knew I was more than capable, as I read and spoke very articulately at that young age. But they shared doubts about allowing a girl to play the role. I can only guess what those doubts really were. Maybe they felt it was too risky having me play a man’s part because of my age or the gender politics it could have raised, maybe they doubted I could be convincing or they could have worried I’d embarrass myself and in turn, embarrass them. None of that really mattered to me. I got the part and I worked twice as hard to be halfway convincing as the scheming male antagonist of a Shakespearean tragedy.
I went home every day and studied my lines, and the lines of everyone else in the play. I worked on my walk and deepening the tone of my voice. I needed, as a girl, to project an effortless confidence that I was told “men naturally possess.” Through months and hours of preparation, it all came together. Maybe too well. My defining memory of the day of that performance was when it was over. An older woman came up to me and asked in Spanish: “eres niño o niña?” Was I a boy or girl. Under normal circumstances, I would have been offended. Instead, I was flattered. On a very small scale, I had done my part in challenging gender expectations not only for myself but also maybe for others around me. At least, I hoped so. It’s that sort of defiance that has defined who I am for much of my life. It remains with me to this day.
The same feminism that drove me to play Iago, continues to guide my feelings throughout this contentious political season. I empathize with Hillary Clinton. I understand her. Because I can be her. In some ways, I have been her: literally playing a role defined by men, as a woman.
I consider myself an interested political observer. I read, I watch and I engage with politics and the issues surrounding it often but refrain from coming across too strongly. I like to examine issues from all sides, and study them. I try to remain open to the complexities and people that define our sociopolitical climate. But, I have had absolutely enough of this election. I have had enough of the sensationalism, the bombastic rhetoric, the hatred, racism and misogyny of Donald Trump. That Hillary Clinton may potentially become the first female president has scarcely been written about or discussed. Usually when people mention it, they begrudgingly say it’s the only reason women are voting for her. As if there could be no other reason.
Clinton’s likeability has been discussed ad nauseum throughout this election. And I think that’s reflective of the inherent bias of a predominately male media, but I also think it’s just complete bullshit. Mitt Romney (remember him?) was as interesting as a can of white paint. Nobody cared about his likeability then. But it’s all they care about now. So, let’s clear this up for a second. No, the fact that she is a woman is not the only reason I’m voting for her. But I sure as hell am excited about it and I will not make any apologies for that. I don’t give a shit whether she appears likeable or not.
People have issues with her politics. She’s a warmonger, close with wall street and wishy washy, they say. Don’t forget those stupid emails and that private server (how could you anyway?), or Benghazi where she killed U.S embassy workers with her own bare hands (well it’s how the media makes it seem anyway). Also, make sure not to forget her husband’s successes and failures as president, or his extramarital affairs because it has everything to do with the type of leader she will be. Or those speeches she made on Wall Street which show how money hungry she is. Or those emails that Wiki Leaks, with Russia’s help, have hacked that show what a spawn of Satan she is. Oh let’s not forget the governments she’s helped overthrow and foreign leaders she’s had taken down. She was terrible as Secretary of State, they say. Let’s ignore that she became Senator of New York when she was still technically First Lady. Let’s ignore her lifetime as a public servant where she’s made very challenging decisions at the highest levels of power. Let’s just ignore all of that. Hillary often gets too much of the blame and not enough of the credit for doing what most male politicians have done before her: succeed and fail on the most public of stages.
Who cares about politics? They don’t care about us. It’s rigged. We don’t matter anyway. This is what I hear people say more often than not. I understand those arguments. Sometimes, we feel powerless because we are powerless. We don’t have the money or the resources or the institutions behind us that will allow us to succeed as minorities or as women. I understand the frustration. But I don’t subscribe to that defeatist mentality. I may not be as successful as I want to be in life yet, but I damn sure am not going to forgo my right to vote because of it.
It’s that same mentality that allowed me to believe I would be the best person to play Iago because I was the only person who could play him. Was I crazy or delusional? Maybe a little. But no, not really. Am I crazy for wanting to believe in our American political system? Maybe. Am I insane for believing Hillary Clinton will the best person to lead this country in this moment in our history? Absolutely not. Does the fact that she’s a woman hurt or help her in this quest to become president? It hurts her only in how people perceive her as a person, how they believe she should act and who they think she should be. But that means nothing ultimately. The fact that she’s a woman will only make her that much better for the job. Being a woman is just one of her many advantages.
By Madonna Hernandez