I haven’t read a word of what the pundits have said about the first Presidential debate last night. I am sure they are spinning and parsing and fact-checking, and I will read their commentary later. I wanted to write this before I enter the world of their thought because I was watching this debate not just politically but personally. I was watching Hillary frame the arguments she was making, shape them around her own needs as well as the needs of this country. I watched her strike a balance between womanly poise and presidential presence, smiling when a man would have barked. I watched her advocate for institutional change in the face of systemic racism. And I watched her call a powerful misogynist on his misogyny, on behalf of herself and all women. I want to take a moment to appreciate the magnitude of her ownership. Praise Be, y’all. Praise Be. We have a real beginning here, because Hillary owned it.
I have written often about a woman’s need to frame the argument rather than allow it to be framed for her. Of course, framing arguments is a necessary part of political debate: whoever owns the nation’s understanding of our problems and their solutions wins not just a series of arguments but an office. When a woman is in the debate, however, the game changes because women aren’t understood as framers of anything—not the constitution, not an argument about climate change or economics, not even our own experience. A woman framing the argument she’s in is, by definition, breaking new ground. Many women have broken this ground and continue to do so daily, both in everyday ways that don’t garner large audiences and in sweeping, political ways. Each time a woman does this—and I have both done it and failed to do it and begun again, publicly and privately—she breaks new ground. We must keep breaking it until the ground is no longer new, and Hillary showed us how.
She had help, of course. Maybe some phrases were her own, maybe they were a speech writer’s, but phrases like “Trumped-up Trickle Down” and “Trump loophole” were on the tip of her tongue, ready to enter the cybersphere of our collective understanding. These phrases had the dual benefit of being true and memorable, a combination that is hard to come by. But Hillary didn’t just frame the argument with her phrases; she did so with her continual return to the issues at hand. Where Trump had bluster, she had answers—she knew it and she called it repeatedly, leaving Trump to “his own reality.” He baits and switches, she names it. He doesn’t answer a question, she calls him on it and then answers the question. That’s owning an argument like a champ.
As she was doing it, she kept the poise that is ever so vital to a woman with an audience. I loved the looks she gave the audience as well as Trump. Her eyes spoke anger, indignation, frustration, and my favorite—a desire to mop the floor with this self-serving, misogynist, racist shadow of a man. Yes, I wanted her to bring it, and she did. But I also wanted her to rise above it, and she did that too. Her eyes, like her demeanor, spoke restraint and dignity. For what good, in the end, does it do to mop the floor with anyone? What purpose does it serve? Could a man have done it? Sure. But men have been mopping the floor with one another for centuries. That doesn’t bring change. Truth does.
And Hillary spoke truth. She sounded like a woman who is awakening to her own privilege and helping others to do the same. She spoke of our need to change policing tactics. I wanted her to go further, and name the tenets of change laid out by Campaign Zero, particularly around broken window policing. She needs to do this more: push the true nature of systemic change into the open. But what she did is good, and a start. She began educating people about the internal biases we all have, and the need to change our institutions because of them. For the entire history of this country, political expediency has impeded change, privileging the racist, sexist status quo. Let us place hope in a new beginning, one in which we come to a national understanding of patriarchy and how to dismantle it. As Hillary said, this campaign is about people—and the truth she spoke opened the way for further dialogue, for speaking truth to all people in a way that can bring about change.
Hillary faced that change head-on when she called Trump on his misogyny, beginning with what he has aimed at her personally but focusing on his abhorrent comments about Alicia Machado, a Miss Universe contestant whom Trump called Miss Piggy (and whom he has gone after with a vengeance today). History, indeed, repeats itself. Feminists were labeled “bra burners” because they protested the objectification of women at the 1968 Miss America pageant, though they never burned any bras at the protest. And those non-bra-burning women, angry at just this kind of thing, are still misunderstood and disparaged. But today history has a new voice. When a female candidate for the presidency speaks truth to a misogynist nation, and to the very embodiment of that misogyny, on a national stage as she names her own preparation for both the debate and the highest office in this land, the game has changed. The game will be changing for a while, and misogyny will not quietly take its leave (neither will racism or homophobia or any other vice of patriarchy). And yet. Here, in Hillary’s ownership of the arguments made against women with power, there is a new beginning. Praise Be.