“Always aim high, work hard, and care deeply about what you believe in. And, when you stumble, keep faith. And, when you’re knocked down, get right back up and never listen to anyone who says you can’t or you shouldn’t go on.” — Hillary Rodham Clinton
On election day, in the middle of an early morning filled with grim updates on the television, I watched the US election poll results being called in growing disbelief when my doorbell clanged. I opened it to find the little girl next door informing me that she was staying home from school, sick, and wanted to come in and hang out with me. I let her in and she gleefully went to pick up my little black cat, whom she is inordinately attached to. I returned to the living room and focused on the news again, and on Twitter, until I turned around and realised she’d joined me. I instantly became more aware of how appropriate the language was, considering some of the shocking things that have been said by the Republican candidate this election cycle, when she suddenly piped up with: Why does America hate girls?
I looked around at her. ‘America doesn’t hate girls, honey’, I said automatically, before considering the weight and the worth and the truth of the words that I was saying. I grew thoughtful. I was starting to realise what parents the world over have already realised: I can protect this eight-year old from hearing inappropriate language, but I cannot edit out the overt and underlying misogyny that she’s clearly been picking up from this US election.
Her next question was also one she’d clearly been thinking about for a while. ‘How old is America?’ she asked. I’m an avid history buff, but I don’t have these figures in my head. ‘Hang on a minute’, I said as I googled quickly. ‘240 years old’, I told her a second later.
‘How old is India?’ was her next question.
That was an easier question to answer. ‘India is thousands of years old but we’ve been an independent nation for 69 years’, I responded.
‘And we’ve already had a woman as Prime Minister and we’ve had a woman as President’, she said thoughtfully.
I agreed with her that we had, and after watching as yet another state fell to Donald Trump she turned her attention away to the cats, my Tintin comic book collection that I was just in the process of unpacking (I moved recently), and to the fact that I had cake in the fridge. Meanwhile I opened up OpenOffice Writer and typed that little conversation out word for word. My mind was racing. If an eight-year old girl halfway across the world from the United States had worked all of this out for herself from little snippets of conversation about the US elections and the incessant coverage on the media, what was this election saying to little girls growing up in the US, completely immersed in the elections and invested in the future of their own country?
After my little neighbour had long gone, and genuine distress and terror had set in about the way the election results were going, and shortly after Hillary Clinton conceded to Donald Trump, I set my shock and sorrow aside to wonder about the question I’d been pondering earlier. What would this tell American girls who would wake up to the news that Hillary Clinton had lost? Older girls who perhaps knew that there were problems with the way the Republican candidate had conducted himself around women, and who knew the things that he had said to – and about – girls and women. Sure, parents can couch Clinton’s loss in comforting language, and tell their children that America and progressive Americans can and will survive a Trump presidency, but what would a child really take away? Children are often given prizes for showing up, but every child knows what it feels like to lose when you really want something, and all of them are acutely aware that this isn’t just about wanting someone to win; they’re aware that this is about a safe and secure future for themselves and their country.
Since I couldn’t be sure what a child would take away from it all (although I could guess), I went in search of my little neighbour. I found her in her own garden, swinging from a tyre swing.
‘She lost?’ she asked me in dismay. I confirmed this fact sadly. ‘What does it mean to you that Hillary Clinton lost?’ I asked her.
She thought for a second, before the answer came rushing out. ‘It means that you can study hard and work hard and do good and live your life the best way you know how and do all the right things and it still won’t matter because you’re a girl.’
My heart sank. ‘You don’t really believe that, do you?’ I asked, ready to placate, to bolster, to support, and to encourage.
She shrugged her small shoulders. ‘Well that’s what they told Hillary, didn’t they? She’s a girl – and I am too.’
I hugged her and told her it wasn’t true, that the world was changing all the time, and that not everybody felt that way, even as I realised with dismay that I was using the ‘not all of us’ argument. ‘You know, even the thought of someone like Hillary running for President was unthinkable some years ago. Women had to fight for their rights; we had to fight for our voices to be heard. We’re winning all the time.’
She mumbled, ‘But we’re not winning enough.’
I patted her back. ‘I promise I’ll fight and I know you will too, won’t you?’ She nodded.
As I turned to leave, a few minutes later, I realised I had another question. ‘Hey’, I said. ‘If you could tell Hillary Clinton something right now, what would you want to tell her?’
She glanced up at me as she swung her plaits back. ‘I’d tell her that she did a good job, that I think she’s really brave, and she should keep trying because – because – if India can elect a woman as a Prime Minister and a President, then America can too.’