The Ottawa Citizen by Constance Backhouse and Shari Graydon 14 November 2016
We are haunted by this image: a small woman in a tailored pantsuit, waiting to debate a large, imposing man. They’re on stage, beneath glaring lights, in a packed auditorium.
Where he has sought the spotlight like the showman he is, revelling in the attention and addicted to the publicity, observers have often commented about her apparent discomfort with large crowds and the performance demands of politics. Where he seems most at home with a roaring crowd, she shines, they say, behind closed doors, where her wonkish analysis is complimented by genuine warmth and a raucous laugh, often at her own expense.
And yet, there she is, the world watching as she gears up for another rhetorical brawl with a man already famous for publicly denigrating women, racial and religious minorities, and people with disabilities.
Her posture is erect and her shoulders are back, but she is alone. And it seems to us that she’s carrying an almost unbearable weight on those shoulders. The weight of the hopes and aspirations of not only millions of Americans, but of millions of people elsewhere. People who still see the United States, despite its flaws, as capable of exerting moral authority and leading by example in the fight for simple respect and basic human rights.
Her face does not reflect the anxiety, dismay or anger we feel at this impossible burden. Not when he repeatedly interrupts, insults and threatens to jail her, to deflect attention from his own boasts of being a serial sexual predator.
But we sustain the impact of every one of his blows in a visceral way, in awe of her stamina and courage, her intelligence and grace, her willingness to wage this brutal fight, to stand up to this bully, on behalf of us all.
Women who are appalled by Trump’s repeated depiction of them as “pieces of a–.” Muslims who are terrified at his equating their religious beliefs to terrorism. Mexicans whom he dismisses as rapists. Gays and lesbians who worry he will dissolve their marriages. Blacks who fear he will endorse their murders at the hands of police. People living with disabilities who are devastated that they served as his springboard for mockery.
We are all counting on her to vanquish this man – not just to keep his vision of who belongs and who doesn’t from exerting more influence than his fame, wealth and privilege already permit, but to make clear to everyone that fomenting hate and spewing vitriol is not the way to win anything.
So many of us believed that the U.S. remained a more compassionate and enlightened world, the kind of world where a clear majority understand that Black lives matter, that the Muslim American soldier who died in Afghanistan is more representative of Muslims around the world than are the 9/11 terrorists, that bragging about sexual assault cannot be defended as locker room talk. We couldn’t countenance that we were actually living in a world that would require us to explain to our children that a lying, hate-spewing bully could be elected president – of anything.
Last week we learned that the weight Hillary Clinton shouldered during this campaign was, indeed, too much. But we cannot let it have been borne in vain. Every day moving forward, all of us around the world who are devastated by this election outcome need to prove ourselves worthy of her bravery.
Individually and collectively, we must be clear and vocal in the stands we take for social justice. And we must acknowledge in doing so that we’re standing on her astonishingly strong shoulders. That we’re building on her legacy, to widen and break through the cracks in the ceiling she began, to do the work that clearly still needs to be done.
Not just for women, but for all citizens of the world who embrace the values of equality and respect.
Constance Backhouse is a distinguished legal historian and holder of a research chair in sexual assault legislation at the University of Ottawa. Shari Graydon is the founder and catalyst of Informed Opinions, a project that is amplifying women’s voices for a more democratic Canada.
The following eminent women have also endorsed this article:
Nancy Peckford, Executive Director, Equal Voice
Amanda Parriag, President of Media Action
Diana Majury, law professor, Carleton University
Elizabeth Sheehy, law professor, University of Ottawa
Daphne Gilbert, law professor, University of Ottawa
Alicia Natividad, lawyer
Deborah Hanscom, business owner
Sheema Khan, patent agent, newspaper columnist
Mary Lou Levisky, anti-poverty activist
Susan King, communications consultant
Jessica Tomlin, Executive Director, Match International
Roslyn Bern, business owner, philanthropist
Rakhi Ruparelia, law professor, University of Ottawa
Julia Sanchez, President, Canadian Centre on International Cooperation
Meredith Dault, project manager, ExpertWomen.ca