For a long time I didn’t think a female president was a big deal. While New York yellow cabs have reminded me of my Blackness on a regular basis, my womanhood hasn’t been a noticeable burden in my life. For years I didn’t see what the fuss was about with the “glass ceiling” people referenced in corporate America. Especially since I’d managed to climb the ladder in an industry where women make up single digit percentages of leadership.
So unlike 2008, when my crew of friends lost our collective shit in my friend’s apartment on election night with tears and screaming from our 9th floor window, when rumors started to circulate that Hillary Clinton would run (and win), my response was “meh” at best.
However, that all changed when I traveled to India last year, and experienced what it’s like to feel completely inferior and powerless because of my gender.
Throughout my seven day trip, I obliged with the local customs and covered up as much as possible. I don’t walk around in thotalicious attire anyway, so it wasn’t difficult, but I was shocked at how little it took to attract unwanted stares. Even a little collarbone action was enough to raise eyebrows. This subconsiously made me avoid eye contact, shrink away from conversations, and try my best to be invisible.
On the day we went to the Holi Festival of Colors, I wore a tee shirt and long skirt thinking I was dressed appropriately. However, it didn’t take long to realize they were both fitted just enough to spark unwanted interest.
We were about to head home from the festivities for the day, and our group leader turned and faced us to give us directions.
“Guys we need to move quickly,” she said.
Normally I’d take this as a sign that we were behind schedule, but something in her voice said otherwise.
“Everybody stay together,” she said with a serious tone.
I found it odd that we were rushing since we had nowhere left to go but home, but heeded her advice and joined the group in a swift walk towards the hotel.
At first I didn’t notice the men following us. I was surrounded on all sides by people in our group, and was focused on getting back to the hotel. Then I felt something brush against my butt. I thought nothing of it because we had bags and were walking close together. But then I felt a hand on my shoulder, followed by another on my right breast and looked up to realize those touches were no accident.
There were so many hands. Coming from everywhere. Grabbing whatever they could get a hold of. I looked up and locked eyes with one of them and I’ll never forget his stare. He looked me dead in my face like he ran out of fucks decades ago, as if he was entitled to what went down (and whatever he really wanted to happen).
Then as quickly as it started, it was over. The guys in our group along with our local guy friends pushed the riff-raff away, and we soon made it back to our hotel. Since the ordeal all happened so fast, and our day at Holi had been so amazing, the incident didn’t ruin my day or the trip. I honestly didn’t think about it again until I boarded my flight home, and felt another set of eyes staring through my clothes again.
This time it was a guy a few seats behind me in the next aisle over. I followed his gaze back to my seat, and realized he was looking at the silhouette of my thigh under the airplane blanket. I repeat. Under a blanket.
At that very moment, after 7 days of trying to make myself as invisible as possible, I was ready to go home. I mean sure, you have creeps in the U.S. who can’t control their eyes and hands. Hell, one is even running for President. But having to tuck in your womanhood all day long is exhausting. And while my experience was trivial compared to the horrific accounts of gang rapes and sex trafficking women have endured in the region, it was just enough to open my eyes to the privilege, power, and freedom of expression we have as American women.
So that day, in the aisle seat of a plane in New Delhi, I realized what a monumental statement the United States would be making by electing a woman as our president. We would be showing a world full of powerless women and girls around the world that they are equally as smart, intelligent and capable of doing anything they want in life, if given the opportunity. Women in countries where education is discouraged, women in cultures that circumcise them to “prevent promiscuity,” women who are valued most for what their bodies can provide or produce for a man, will all be watching as we elect a woman to be the President of the most powerful nation in the world. And in the words of Uncle Joe, that’s a big fucking deal.
So on election day, I’m not asking you to join me in voting #WithHer. Your vote is your decision to make. I’m asking that if she wins, that we collectively put away our election season baggage, and celebrate the fact that a woman will be leading our country for the very first time. As Americans, our words on the bullhorns of social media ring louder than all of the broadcast media channels combined. Our nieces are watching. Our daughters are listening. What are we saying about the first woman to take the Oval Office? She’s not perfect, and because of some questionable decisions in her past, she has a gargantuan hill to climb to earn the trust and support of this nation. But instead of ripping this woman to shreds for her mistakes for eternity, perhaps we recognize this historic decision that could inspire so many women and girls around the world, including the ones in our own country. Women have been running the homes of America for centuries. It’s about time we let one run the White House.