So by now you’ve almost certainly seen the Humans of New York post in which Hillary Clinton attempts, one more time, to grovel because, do penance for, and explain why other people perceive her as “cold” and “aloof.” You know, cold and aloof — negative terms that are reserved almost exclusively for women. (You know who else acts aloof? Jeb Bush. Jeb Bush acts really aloof. How come he never has to explain that? So did Steve Jobs. Steve Jobs could be really aloof. How come he didn’t have to regularly explain why he seemed so aloof? You know who else acts cold? Clarence Thomas. Karl Rove. Dick Cheney. Those cold dudes will cut you and never even look at you. How come they never have to explain that?) In the post, Secretary Clinton tries to explain how, from an early age, men who couldn’t control their emotions yelled at her that she didn’t belong and she tried to control her emotional reaction to those threats in order to focus on the job at hand and how, over time, that caused her to learn, as a young person, to control her 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.’ And sometimes I think I come across more in the ‘walled off’ arena.
Then, as all women must, she apologizes for her affect, because to exist as a woman in a man’s world is to “seem wrong” to yourself, other women, and, most importantly, men.
And if I create that perception, then I take responsibility. I don’t view myself as cold or unemotional. And neither do my friends. And neither does my family. But if that sometimes is the perception I create, then I can’t blame people for thinking that.
Secretary Clinton’s words have elicited a large and intense reaction from many women, especially women my age (I’m an old bitch of 60) — indeed from many women who have moved beyond entry level positions and learned that, well, yes, all that sexist shit is still a thing. She’s put into words something that many of us have experienced.
A second career lawyer, I took the bar exam many years after Secretary Clinton. The Viet Nam War (with its exemptions for men who could stay in school) was over and no men yelled at me to get out of the testing hall. (Later, in class, I got to endure a lot of “ribbing” about how the women’s bar association was for those who couldn’t hack the “real” bar association, about how being over-prepared for class showed that I didn’t really have the “stones” to “lawyer on my feet,” and how being too good at law review meant that I was OK for academics, but not really suited for the hard-knocks business of legal practice. The judge who critiqued my moot court argument noticed my Mediterranean (married, but he didn’t know that) last name, and ample breasts, and admitted that I’d won, but admonished me not to be so emotional and waive my arms around so much. When I reviewed the tape, I noted that my arms left the podium only once to gesture, quite appropriately, to the other side. I got to hear that I got the prize job I got because the white shoe firm that hired me was predominantely male and needed, for PC reasons, a woman. So I guess my sex was more important than my brains, courage, and competitiveness. )
I took the bar exam as a single mother with a son going to college, studied for it while I worked several other jobs, and realized, 20 minutes into the test that, although I had been as regular as Greenwich my entire life, the stress of the exam had brought on my period a week early. I had, of course, no tampons with me. I got up, went to the bathroom, folded up all the toilet paper I could find, stuffed it into my underpants, and went back to finish the exam. I didn’t get the extra minutes back. Sure, both men and women may need to pee or poop during the exam, so maybe it’s fair to to tell all of them that if they need to go, that’s their problem. But no man in the history of taking the bar exam has had to leave the room rather than bleed out on the chair. But countless women have. Later, although I easily passed the exam, I asked myself why I didn’t just sit there and bleed all over the hard metal chair, the floor, whatever. If they didn’t want to acknowledge the simple biological fact that women sometimes bleed, why did I have to make up the difference? But, like Secretary Clinton, I learned to stay quiet, deal with the differing standards, still pass the test, and move on.
Here’s what I want to say about Secretary Clinton’s post. As honest as it was and as affirming as it has been for many thousands of women, she should not have had to make it. It was wrong. Why is it that only the woman has to, repeatedly, apologize for and explain her emotional affect?
Look, I’m a Witch. And so what I will tell you is that Secretary Clinton, Goddess bless her, is a Scorpio, Pisces, Scorpio. So I don’t find it odd that she, any more than a man with that astrological footprint, prefers not to spread herself out as an emotional banquet upon which others may feast. As my favorite astrologer, Diotima Mantineia recently explained to me, Clinton’s chart also “suggests a deeply emotional idealist, who is quite capable of playing hardball with the best of them in order to protect [her] ideals,” which is what I think we’ve seen over the course of Clinton’s life. But the simple fact is that it is always and only the woman who has to constantly explain her emotional affect.
Let’s talk for just a minute about Secretary Clinton’s opponent: Donald Trump. Now there, if ever, is a person who ought to have to explain his affect. Unlike any presidential candidate in recent memory, that man comes across as grandiose, bombastic, narcissistic, unnecessarily combative, dangerously intemperate. Show me the times when, over and over and over, he has been forced to explain his apparent lack of humility or inability to control himself or his emotional inaccessiblity. Crickets. As odd as it is, it never happens. Until Senator Warren and Secretary Clinton dared to do it, no one ever challenged his emotional incompatibility for the presidency and, to this date, he is almost never asked to explain himself.
Of course, I have friends of color who can tell stories about how they are forced to hide their emotional reaction to racism. I have a gay friend who has been forced to be nice and smile while a “friend” announced in a social situation that, much as she liked him, she didn’t think he should be allowed to marry his partner. Hiding our true reactions from the colonizer is actually a fairly common reaction of colonized people. And then the colonizers get to call us “inscrutable.”
So, sure, I’m grateful to the point of tears to Secretary Clinton for trying to explain, one more time, why we women of a certain age don’t wear our emotions on our sleeves. (Of course, when we do, we’re “too emotional” and aren’t “tough enough” for the job, whatever it is. And when we don’t, we’re “cold,” “too reserved,” too “walled off.” Lean In! But not too much!) But much more than that, I’m angry that it’s STILL necessary for a woman to grovel, explain, entreat, and try to justify the fact that she’s managed to exist while having ovaries.