I woke up at 2:30am with my iPhone clutched in my hands. One eye still closed, I quickly checked the US election results, eager to see how far ahead Hillary was in the polls. When I saw the jigsaw puzzle of red squares and rectangles bleeding westward across the US map, I knew I wouldn’t be getting back to sleep. Concern turned to anxiety and then to despair, and finally disbelief. I dragged myself across the street to my 24/7 gym for a run as the sun rose, hoping that would help me make sense of the slow-moving train wreck unfolding before my eyes. It didn’t.
I have spent the day at work, the human rights office of the UN, fighting back tears or fighting with friends, acquaintances, and myself. I’ve been laughed at for taking this so seriously (“don’t be so dramatic!”), questioned for caring (“but, you’re not American, right?”), and vociferously opposed by Trump supporters online spewing anti-immigrant hatred and bias, repeating stale rhetoric about ‘corrupt’ and ‘criminal’ Hillary, and defending the election result on the basis that Trump is the answer to ISIS, small businesses, and those wanting to protect US borders.
I know I am not American. I know this is a running blog. I know not all of you will agree with me. Am I getting political? You’re damn right I am. Because this actually isn’t about politics. This election is about much bigger topics that I hold incredibly dear to my heart, and I cannot – will not – remain silent.
I feel this election result deeply and personally. I physically feel Trump’s election in an area located between my stomach and my heart. As a woman, as a member of the New York Bar, as a close neighbour to the North, as someone who runs a charity that serves a primarily muslim population, and as someone who has devoted my career and my life to human rights work, I feel this one. Friends have said ‘it’ll be okay’. America has a constitution. America will rebound. America has been through tough times before. I’m not sure. But to me, that is missing the point.
The results of the election have, in my mind, legitimized the misogynistic, racist, and bigoted platform on which Trump ran. The messages that Trump pushed during his election campaign are reminiscent – if not identical – to those that I have seen and heard in many of the countries in which I’ve worked. Messages that incite hatred and violence. Messages that divide communities and empower the privileged. Messages that fuel discrimination, fear and anger, allowing those who feel powerless to blame scapegoats – “others” – for their situation. Messages that ignore the need to address fundamental inequalities in society, and instead exacerbate them. As my boss, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, pointed out in a statement leading up to the election, what Trump did was not new or unique: “The formula is therefore simple: make people, already nervous, feel terrible, and then emphasize it’s all because of a group, lying within, foreign and menacing. Then make your target audience feel good by offering up what is a fantasy to them, but a horrendous injustice to others. Inflame and quench, repeat many times over, until anxiety has been hardened into hatred.”
This vote means that these views become normalized. It gives space and comfort for those who have held discriminatory beliefs to voice them more loudly. It makes it harder for those who might otherwise be willing to stand up against such hatred to do so.
Americans may have their reasons for voting for Trump. But for me, whatever the reason, there is no justification for voting in someone who has espoused such dangerous views towards women, minorities, muslims, persons with disabilities, and others who deserve to be seen, heard and treated equally. That should have been a redline. It IS a redline. These are not side issues. These are fundamental to who we are as human beings and how we treat one another.
I worry about the actions that this election result has condoned. I can’t speak for others, but as a woman, I am deeply, deeply disturbed. I am a feminist (as any progressive person should be, as my own Prime Minister has pointed out) and I have always been intimately aware of my gender and how that affects the way in which I move through the world. As a young lawyer working in a male-dominated environment, I laughed off sexist jokes and inappropriate comments about my clothing and my body. I remember how they hung in the air, heavy and pregnant with meaning, but apparently only to me – for others, they were just passing comments. Jokes. Nothing to get uptight over. I have had colleagues, supervisors and bosses try to touch me inappropriately, including at a Hallowe’en party just the other week (really?). Because women’s bodies are free for others to consume without asking, right? Well, that’s what Trump said. I have been angered by it, embarrassed by it, and ashamed for letting it happen when I have been too paralyzed to respond.
I have had boyfriends diminish my achievements, call me degrading names, and not-so-subtly hint about certain aspects of my appearance (positively and negatively, depending on whether I fit in with whatever image a ‘woman’ is supposed to have). I should be strong, but lean, not muscly or I won’t look feminine; I should be thin, but not thin to the point where my breasts would become smaller, unless of course that means thin enough to create a thigh gap, and then that seems to be okay; and though I should have long hair, short hair is fine because I seem to be able to pull it off with an appropriate amount of lip gloss. I have ended up comforting and apologizing to men who verbally abused me. The one time I had the courage to bring a discrimination claim against a boss, it killed my ability to work with that organization (ever again) and I was questioned on my own behaviour – what I had done and what I had worn to bring that on. Whether I was just looking for an excuse for getting out of a tough job that I wasn’t strong enough to do (again, really?). I have been questioned and critiqued for being single, for not settling down, for not yet having kids, and for not conforming to society’s image of a ‘normal’ woman (and further more, I have been informed that the reason why I am single, ‘unsettled’ and without kids is because of the life choices I have made… i.e. I can never expect to have these things if I keep following my passion living in war zones, obviously. A woman cannot have it all, unlike a man, or so ‘they’ say).
I have friends who have been physically abused and colleagues who have been raped. I have been more nervous at times running alone at night in a ‘western’ city than I have driving through a war zone. Acutely aware of my gender, I have frequently struggled to navigate the maze that society sets before us as women. I have agonized over how I should behave in certain situations: what I should speak out against and what I should not, and when. It isn’t a black and white decision – one has to be strategic in choosing when to oppose sexism. At no point, whether in social settings or at work, can I recall not being confronted with the reality of being a woman. And don’t get me wrong, I am a seriously privileged woman at that – I recognize that all of my experiences are through the lens of a white woman from Canada with a steady income… but what does that say for the majority of women who face overlapping discrimination as a result of their race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, etc?
I know, some of you have stopped reading at this point, passing this off as the ‘rantings’ of a feminist or an inappropriate political opinion on an otherwise delightful running blog (I threw delightful in there to make myself feel better). Some of you may have unsubscribed by now. But this election has brought out all of these feelings and issues to the forefront. I can tell you it has made me question how women are viewed in society, on and off the trail, in and out of the boardroom and bedroom. It has made me deeply distraught about how much more work needs to be done to raise awareness about the extent of the problem and to engage in dialogue on how to address it. Trump is accused of sexually assaulting women. He has repeatedly made derogatory and offensive statements about women, and bragged about grabbing women inappropriately without their consent. And still people elected him, sloughing this off as ‘comments and actions they don’t agree with, buuuuuuut‘? I truly am dismayed. No, I’m rocked to my very core.
Again, I can’t speak for others, but I have to imagine muslims, persons with disabilities, minorities and others against whom Trump has spewed hateful rhetoric must feel equally scared and enraged.
But, I want to end this on more of a positive note. Perhaps it seems arrogant to say so as a non-American, but I feel like this election result MUST be taken as a call to action. To all of the runners and non-runners out there who are still reading, now is when the real hard work begins… for us all to examine our own biases, to question our decisions and our beliefs, and to stand up for others. What is needed is tolerance, understanding, and COURAGE to support those who need it most. I hope this election will help to unite those who believe in human dignity and equality, particularly when it means giving up some of their own privilege, and bolster the bravery of those willing to fight for others who are less able to do so.
Today was a day of grief, anger, and binge-eating brownies. Tomorrow, I will return to work committed and proud to be working in human rights, and standing in solidarity with others who are willing to take unpopular stances on difficult issues such as these.