How to Be Human: A Feminist Reflection on the 2016 Election

Author, Camille Tallichet, pictured left at the 2018 Women's March in Denver, CO.

Author, Camille Tallichet, pictured left at the 2018 Women's March in Denver, CO.

“The humanities, done right, are the crucible in which our evolving notions of what it means to be fully human are put to the test; they teach us, incrementally, endlessly, not what to do, but how to be.” ― Mark Slouka, Essays from the Nick of Time

When I first heard Donald Trump refer to Hillary Clinton as “that nasty woman,” I was immediately struck by the similarity between Trump’s 2016 derogation and the Watchman’s criticism, in Aeschylus’s tragedy The Oresteia, of Clytemnestra: “that woman—she maneuvers like a man.” Although there are varying translations of the original language, the line communicates disdain for a woman behaving as only a man should. The play concludes with one of the first depictions of Athenian democracy and, simultaneously, the legal subjugation of the female for the sake of the patriarchy. When I read The Oresteia as an undergraduate, Clytemnestra presented a fascinating character for contemplating gender in the context of ancient Greek theatre.

Seven years later though, this is not a play; this is our reality. I hear a male presidential candidate in the Unites States of America refer to a female presidential candidate as “that nasty woman,” and I am suddenly, inexorably thrown back to the moment I first read about that woman, Clytemnestra, who, to her ultimate destruction, maneuvered like a man. I am consumed once more by compassion for this brilliant, driven, vengeful woman righteously pursuing some kind of justice against the man who killed her first husband, forced her into marriage, raped her, and murdered their daughter to win a war. The echo of Clytemnestra’s grief and rebellion in a world constructed by and for men roared through my mind. The many comments, critiques, and accusations from all manner of media labeling Hillary Clinton as callous, calculating, corrupt, or even criminal tumbled into deafening accord with this one revealing characterization. “That nasty woman” spoke volumes of Trump’s and others’ crude indignation that a woman dare maneuver as only men had before.

In what world are we living that a woman with as impressive a resume as any presidential candidate in history is reduced to “that nasty woman” and beaten by a man with neither legal education, political experience, oratorial skill, nor any discernible character to otherwise redeem his inexperience? The man we elected president admittedly assaults women, advocates racist policies, censures the free press, lies as often as he speaks, and speaks in prejudice-saturated diction. My mind races with the implications of this presidency: The leering stranger who lunged out laughing to wrap himself around me at a night club—will he be so easily pulled off the next girl he assaults? The teenagers who harass or assault the queer kids in their class—will they question their blind hatred? Those who regard, with bias and condescension, anyone who doesn’t look white—will they fear reprisal when they contemplate turning their thoughts into action?

The 2016 election has had staggering consequences, not only politically, but also culturally and socially. The issues that drove it are deeply personal to this country and its citizens. We are left as a people, not merely with discontented acceptance, but with shock, anger, guilt, revived conflict, and, perhaps, a renewed civic engagement. Coping as a nation with previously ignored, even denied, realities demands that we confront more than the substance of our collective political existence; it demands that we confront the substance of our collective humanity. As a population infinitely diverse in its identities, beliefs, values, and experiences, grasping a collective humanity fractured by prolonged injustices, misconceptions, and resentments, requires a kind of national therapy. If we are to come to terms with who we are together, we will have to achieve an unprecedented level of nuance and compassion. We may want different things for ourselves as individuals, but, in order to reconcile our disparate wants with the reality we share as a people, we will have to accept all our parts with value and respect.

So, what does it mean to be human in the 21st century? How we answer this question will shape history’s interpretation of our nation’s humanity. We can choose to make heard our previously quieted and marginalized parts, or we can resign ourselves to a future racked with further inequality, hatred, violence, and disconnect. Let’s choose to be better. Let’s reject the division, fear, and ignorance for which Trump and this election stand and become a functional, integrated whole in which we all have a voice, a vote, and the knowledge that we are valued, not disdained, for the characteristics that make us individuals. Let’s learn to see each other, before anything else, as human beings, not as objects of fear, blame, suspicion, condescension, or stereotyping. Let’s prove to ourselves and to future generations that we can embrace all of our parts in our discourse, our diction, our values, our expectations, our aspirations, and, most importantly, in our representation. Let’s prove that, even if characteristics like sex, sexuality, gender, and skin color still determine differences in experience in our society, they do not determine human value or political electability. Let’s prove that we can address, even celebrate, our humanity and our diversity with a truly representative government. Finally, let’s begin by applying these values to our participation in the upcoming 2018 midterm elections.

“Aeschylus and Plato are remembered today long after the triumphs of Imperial Athens are gone. Dante outlived the ambitions of thirteenth century Florence. Goethe stands serenely above the politics of Germany, and I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over cities, we too will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”–John F. Kennedy

Written by InvestHER MembHER, Camille Tallichet.