About a week ago, I was invited to join a “secret” Facebook group. I could tell you all about it, but then it wouldn’t be a secret, right? What I can tell you is that it is a group that exploded literally overnight into over 25,000 members, currently has more than twice that number, and would have far more than that by now if Facebook didn’t limit groups that multiply in number so rapidly. I can also tell you that we are overwhelmingly female and unabashedly supportive of Hillary Clinton and her goal of becoming our first woman president. We literally gush with pride, and sisterhood.
Now, I don’t especially have a need to be secretive about my political leanings. I live in a blue county, in a blue state, where I feel comfortable enough to have a Hillary yard sign and not one but two Hillary magnets on my car (though even I have occasionally heard someone yell “Hillary for Prison” as he drives by me). After learning why many of these women do have such a need, however, it reminded me of why I started my blog (”Musings from the FeMOMist”) in the first place. Women are the largest “minority” there is, considering we make up about half of the population. We are a minority, however, in the sense that we are treated as “different” from the norm. Women have been fighting for equal rights—human rights—for about as long as African Americans have been fighting for civil rights. We have only had the right to vote since 1920. The Equal Rights Amendment would seem to be a no-brainer to many of us and yet, we fell short of ratifying it in the 1970s and to date we still have nothing in the United States Constitution that expressly guarantees us equal rights regardless of our gender. There remains a discrepancy between men and women in terms of how much we are paid, glass ceilings in many professions, and inequities in governmental representation at the federal, state, and local levels.
I have written extensively about how during this campaign, negative views about Hillary Clinton—the most qualified person ever to run for the presidency—stem largely from a place of sexism and misogyny. I am unabashedly pro-Clinton and wanted to give voice to Clinton supporters and middle aged feminists like myself whom I found didn’t seem to have a place on the Internet. Listening to young women sing the praises of Bernie Sanders while simultaneously condemning Clinton and dismissing the need for feminism in this country did not sit well with me. My own now-deceased aunts were among the earliest women’s libbers and trailblazers for well educated, professional women like me, and I wasn’t going to sit back and watch some youngsters squander the hard work of them and so many other feminists. In those early months when I was writing my blog it was lonely and at times scary. The silence on my own Facebook news feed was deafening and punctuated sometimes with anti-Clinton commentary, invariably by men shouting over my own strongly held views.
So, I absolutely get why a “secret” pro-Clinton group on Facebook is a thing. In fact, I didn’t want to use my own name when writing about Clinton on the Internet (I either use a pseudonym or my maiden name). It’s well-known that women espousing views that don’t match with white men’s views are not treated kindly online. True to form, Donald Trump supporters, Bernie Bros, women haters, and trolls of all kinds felt welcome to post all sorts of nasty, negative comments the first time I posted a blog entry on HuffPost this past June. The topic? My 14-year-old daughter had come home from school and announced over dinner that her school friend had called Hillary Clinton a “liar.” I wrote about how this was a tired old GOP trope dating back to the Bill Clinton administration and debunked it. At that time (during the primaries), this was an unusual thing to write about and read. It attracted a lot of attention in a short period of time. What interested me the most was that while the article was quickly liked over 1,000 and shared close to 2,000 times, the actual comments were largely negative and from white men using their own names. These men were saying I was a terrible mother for telling my daughter that Clinton wasn’t in fact a lying shrew. That was when I realized I was on to something. The people who were quietly liking and sharing my writing I hypothesized were largely women; the haters who felt compelled to write and angrily tell me why I was wrong, wrong, WRONG about Clinton were mostly men who felt entitled and safe enough to exercise their First Amendment rights, openly and publicly.
Somehow Hillary Clinton has remained immune enough from all the hate spewed her way over the years from entitled white men who can’t stand the idea of a woman being smart and strong enough to challenge them. After all the bashing over a lifetime of bucking the traditional female role—from GOP opponents and Democratic opponents alike—she is now poised to win the presidency. Ironically, her final obstacle is a man who is the poster child for the alpha male bullying mentality. A man who is so narcissistic he relishes in humiliating his opponents and anyone who doesn’t worship him. A man who embodies sexism and misogyny and treats women like objects. How could Clinton be anything but the protagonist in this story?
Yet, we know that a sizable number of white men (and as I’ve discovered, some women too) not only do not see her in this light, but see her as unlikable, a liar, crooked, overly ambitious, inauthentic, bitchy, shrill, a rapist enabler, etc., etc., etc. These people feel entirely comfortable voicing their opinions online. They feel entitled to shout down others of us who have a positive opinion of Clinton—many of us women and minorities. No wonder Trump and his surrogates argue that there is an “enthusiasm gap” and the polls showing Clinton is up nationwide by fairly sizable margins must be wrong or even “rigged.” They have bullied many of us into silencing our legitimate opinions, and have quashed our First Amendment rights. That’s what the “majority”—the entitled class—has the luxury of doing, and they mostly get away with it.
I am proud to speak for the tens of thousands of women out there who don’t feel comfortable enough to do this publicly and openly. Women like the ones I’ve met on the “secret” Clinton Facebook group, who are so enthusiastic about voting for her it brings tears to my eyes when I hear their stories. So if they feel so strongly about Hillary, why don’t they feel they can state their opinions openly—online or in their personal lives? There are many reasons but some patterns have emerged as I read their stories.
There are the women whose husbands or families disagree with them and they have decided never to discuss politics to avoid confrontation, arguments, and “backlash.”
There are the women who live in parts of the country where they are surrounded by Trump signs (probably the same areas observed by Trump surrogate and CNN talking head, Jeffrey Lord) and are frightened they will be harmed if they make their views known. (One woman from a conservative part of Colorado said that she had a rainbow H bumper sticker and a hit and run driver totaled her car while it was parked. Another woman, from Texas, said that when she stated her views publicly why she didn’t like Trump, she came out to the parking lot after work to find her car plastered with Trump bumper stickers.)
Some women have their own businesses or jobs where they feel they would suffer repercussions and their livelihood would be impacted if they dared to talk about their politics and enthusiastic support of Clinton.
Some are military wives who told me that having progressive political views goes against the culture.
Multiple women told me that they live in extremely liberal areas of the country (like Seattle) where Bernie Sanders supporters were equally strident in their views. (A Bernie-or-Bust Sanders supporter told one woman—on her birthday no less—that she should pop “sarin gas balloons” for supporting Clinton, whom he labeled a “war criminal.” Really.)
On the secret Facebook group, women like Patricia Mendoza of San Antonio, Texas (despite the obviously covert nature of the group, she told me—go ahead and use my real name!), feel validated in their opinions about Clinton. They don’t have to worry about confrontations or being shouted down by the Trump supporters in their family or on their personal Facebook feed. They have a “safe space”—truly a “breath of fresh air” said another Texas woman—where they can post positive things about Clinton and be excited about our first major party female presidential nominee with likeminded women. As a member of the group myself, I can say firsthand it is a beautiful thing to behold.
Still, it is also a sad state of affairs when a sizable number of American citizens do not feel comfortable openly exercising their First Amendment rights. Women on the secret Facebook group speak of being verbally abused and attacked or “heckled” when they dared to express their support of Clinton more publicly. A victory for Clinton may have an impact beyond the most obvious. It may demonstrate to all of us that it is possible to stand up to a bully, and to not only survive, but ultimately prevail. In my view, American democracy works best when we all have the same basic human and civil rights and feel safe enough to exercise them without fear of negative consequences. When we can respectfully disagree with one another and try to understand each other’s concerns and needs, without resorting to name calling and worse. Only then are we truly a “free” country, and can become an even greater America than we are today, continuing on a path towards a more perfect union.