By Erinne Paisley – This is my own experience. It is from my own Canadian, female, white, perspective. I do not believe any of these things make this perspective any more or less valid. I just believe this is one experience and my hope is that this experience resonates with at least one person out there – and that through this they know they’re not alone.
Yesterday Donald Trump was elected President of the United States of America. As I went to bed the previous night, it was not fully determined. It looked as if it might go in that direction – but the largest part of me felt like it would not. It never felt like a possibility. The reason it never felt like a possibility was because I truly believed the norm of female equality alone was so universal in Canada and North America that the violations to women’s rights that Trump so clearly violates would be enough to deter voters in the end. That in the end it would be abundantly clear that a qualified woman, no matter what your personal opinions of her tone of voice, her email history, or her pantsuit options were, would be a clearly better choice than a sexist, objectifying, potential rapist, who wants to make abortion illegal.
I awoke at 4:30AM in a sweat and physically jumped up to a sitting position. I felt sick, like I could have a flu – but as I started to catch my breath it began to wear off. I had had a nightmare that I was caught in a car that was on fire, and as an unidentified woman tried to grab me by the arm and pull me out, she couldn’t. The dream then zoomed out and I saw this car was alone in an abandoned parking lot – with no one near – no one to hear or see – just me and this woman trying to save ourselves from this burning car and unable to.
I opened my phone. First I got a text message from my friend who lives in the room beside me in University residency – “this is fucked” it read. She had also awoken from a nightmare at that exact moment and opened her phone. Before I responded, I looked at my news-app notifications to see what my nightmare had already told me: Donald Trump elected next President of the United States.
I had believed the world understood women as equal in every way, but I realized in this moment that this may have just been due to those who I chose to surround myself with.
I next woke up at 9AM. I was meant to go to class and then write an exam. I skipped class in order to try to gather my thoughts. I paced through my room reciting aspects of how cultures are formed. How nations represent themselves on the international stage. The role of global watchdogs. My mind couldn’t stop grasping onto any small sliver of an idea of how I could have helped this. How could I have stopped this from happening.
I forced myself to stop going online until after my exam. Images of sobbing women, minority groups, immigrants, all fearful for the hatred now validated by their leader kept burying into my mind.
Campus was quiet. The cafeteria was quiet. Everyone seemed to have their head down, to have a gloom cast over them, to not know what to say. I asked my friend if I was imagining this – we looked around and couldn’t see one smile, one energetic person.
I walked to my exam – but I did not walk alone. I thought I was alone, but instead I felt like I was walking with both my current self and myself ten years ago. A nine-year-old girl, a girl who loved to lead, loved to help others, had big dreams, and was often called “bossy”. A girl whose parents never told her she couldn’t, or that her gender made a difference, but who still knew in a part of her that being female made a difference. I kept thinking of this girl. Of how this would have affected her. No matter how much shelter my parents would have tried to build around me, I would have known. I would have seen. I would have seen a strong, qualified woman be turned down for an unqualified, rude, hurtful, and sexist man. I would see how people were comforted by the low tone in his voice. I would see the pain in the women around me when they look at the glass ceiling that still remains. I would see people not be able to explain why they trust him more.
I saw a white male wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat. I wondered if I will ever see any other demographic wear this hat. I wondered what made this boy feel pride in wearing this label, in promoting and encouraging these messages, and everything that comes with them.
I crawled back into my bed after the exam. Finally able to sleep. Finally able to close off what was happening and not think about it. But I couldn’t. Of course not. This is something that affects every aspect of the world around us, this is something that shows what is okay or not okay. I watched HRC’s concession speech.
I forced myself to leave my room. I am exaggerating, I thought. I don’t even live in America. This is just one thing. Maybe people are right, maybe this doesn’t really affect me or anyone else.
And as I walked I felt every single male gaze, every single invasive glance, that would normally be present hold a new validity. I felt every look hold a little longer. I felt shame and I felt embarrassment. I felt like every look was saying, “we know you failed, we know women can’t really, we told you so.” I felt disgusting. I felt like I needed a shower. I felt like I had in some way failed. I felt like I had kid myself. I felt like in my studies, in my activism, in my life I had been too naive. That I had believed the world understood women as equal in every way, but I realized in this moment that this may have just been due to those who I chose to surround myself with. That I had put myself in my own shelter, not one created by parents trying to not show their daughter that a female president was not currently possible, but instead one I had created myself.
I had blinded myself. I blinded myself at how crucial women’s rights actually are. I had believed that women’s rights were known – were respected. If this was the case then this would never had happened.
Think of it this way – reverse the roles – can you imagine America electing a president who said that male bodies were only objects, who said that if a man claims he was raped he was most likely just making it up for attention. This would never happen.
I cried. I felt sick. And I felt more sick knowing that I am not at all someone who is the most affected by this.
I will not stand by and I will not give up. As many have said – today is for mourning and tomorrow is for planning.
I talked to my friend who is at school in the United States. She said that she was the most concerned out of everyone she had talked to about this. She – the Canadian surrounded by Americans – was the only one significantly concerned about this. I can’t begin to wrap my head around this. The damage of this has already begun and it has nothing to do with policies and everything to do with culture, with you and me, with what is okay.
I write. I wish I had written more before. I gather my thoughts. I will not stand by and I will not give up. As many have said – today is for mourning and tomorrow is for planning. I can already feel women from all around beginning to plot. I can feel minorities coming together. I feel people staying strong. I feel people slowly getting back up – already. I have some hope, and it grows the more I see people share their own thoughts, their own experiences from this. I feel a bit better knowing my own emotions are not abnormal – that I am not alone. That I may be in a car that’s on fire, trying to be saved from it, but that I am not alone there. That people are here with us together. That I have not imagined that positive voices that believe women are equal beings. That women are powerful, not shrill. Qualified, not bossy. Resilient, not emotional.
One day we will see that glass ceiling break. One day there will be a female President. And one day, there will be no reason to try to shelter that nine-year-old girl from the reality that much of our world perceives her as lesser. Until then, I am grateful. I am grateful that this has shown me the clear battle that has to still be fought.
This has illuminated the work that needs to be done.
About The Author
Erinne Paisley is a student at the University of Toronto in Canada studying International Relations. She is a women’s rights activist and upcoming author of a 3-part book series on youth activism with Orca Book Publishing. In 2015, her Malala Graduation Dress for Women’s Education went viral for raising attention and funds for women’s education worldwide. She is the founder, contributor, and editor in chief at /react-text PopActivism.com react-text: 1552 and in Spring 2017 will sit in the Canadian House of Commons for International Women’s Day through the Daughters of the Vote initiative.