Ladies, here's a fun exercise: find a man and tell him, in as much vivid detail as you can, about all the times men have catcalled you, told you to smile, talked over you, talked down to you, undermined your authority, called you crazy, or made an unwanted pass at you. Pull no punches. Watch his expression start to drop in horror as you rattle on. Maybe he didn't notice this stuff before, but by the time you stop, he probably won't forget it soon. Any woman can play this game, because every woman has a million of these little tales to tell.
Existing as a woman in public means subjecting yourself to unending scrutiny that men don't experience or often register as reality. When you work in a field dominated by men, it's not enough to be as good as them. You have to be better. You have to be twice as smart, work twice as hard, and be twice as quick, all just to get the same consideration as your male peers. Any gap in your knowledge is a crack in the dam that a man will exploit for your undoing—proof in his mind that you're inferior.
Hillary Clinton wasn't a perfect candidate, but she was subjected to the same unreasonable, unrelenting dissection that every woman faces. She knows what it's like to be the only woman in a room, what it's like to grit your teeth through physical discomfort, what it's like to be condescended to by a man who thinks he knows better. These things feel like bleeding to death from a million paper cuts. And never mind that she's spent her entire life studying and participating in law and policy—a man with zero experience in any relevant field still got the job. I don't know exactly how Clinton feels, but I can make a well-informed estimation.
To Donald Trump—indeed, to a lot of men—women aren't wholly human. He never said it in so few words, but he made it abundantly clear throughout his entire campaign. We exist to be grabbed, ogled, assaulted, and interrupted, and men remind us of this "truth" every day. No woman is exempt, even in the most banal and clinical settings—like at a recent consultation with a new primary care physician, where I was astonished and embarrassed when the doctor tasked with my well-being spent the entire appointment staring at my breasts.
Even in a best-case fantasy scenario wherein a Trump presidency accomplishes absolutely nothing, his election sends a clear message that you can be the biggest public misogynist, racist, and generally hateful pile of human garbage, and not only will you face no consequences for your behavior, you'll get elected to the highest public office for it, too. Women and minorities get a different version of this message: those who abuse you can do so with impunity. The concept isn't entirely new (see: just about every trial for rape or sexual assault), but it's worrisome to consider the looming wave of those who feel that Trump's victory green-lights their hateful behavior.
So what are we gonna do about it? If you thought we were uppity feminists before, boy howdy, you better buckle up. We've been fighting against physical, emotional, and legislative assaults on us our entire lives; in these dire times, we're only going to get louder.
There's a misconception that the endgame of feminism is monolithic female friendship, which is neither truth nor practical reality. We don't all need to be besties, but we do all need to look out and speak up for one another, protecting the most marginalized among us. Our cries of empowerment are meaningless if we're not also dedicated to making ample space for trans, queer, Muslim, black, and immigrant voices in our communities. A rising tide lifts all boats, after all.
A woman's work is exhausting, frustrating, infuriating, and thankless. A woman's work is never done. But we're sure as hell not about to give up on it now.
This article appeared in print with the headline "A Woman's Work Is Never Done"