Speaking out

election

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.

Happy trails.

 

 

Categories: Musings about life

36 Comments »

  1. Yes, yes, yes. This is our call to speak out, to speak up, and to show that we are committed to zero tolerance towards the hateful ideas that Trump has propogated throughout his campaign.

  2. Thank you for this (and the work you do). Your post is an echo of my own feelings! To address all of the work we have to do on sexism, racism, etc, I must reference my favorite movie quote when looking at adversity: “Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin.” (The Martian)

  3. I’m in total agreement. My optimistic belief that the world generally follows Obama’s arc of history towards a better, more liberal place has been rocked to the core. As a Brit, Brexit was depressing; as an ex New Yorker, with friends
    out canvassing yesterday for Hillary, this is even worse. But as you say, life goes on and we need to build a better world, starting tomorrow.

    And on the plus side, I’ve got an ultra this weekend to work out all my frustration on!

  4. DAMN RIGHT! I’m absolutely sick over this. To know that there are so many people in my country willing to not just overlook the message, but embrace it … terrifying. Huge step backward for the world.

  5. Stephanie – as eloquent and accurate as ever! I for one agree with you 100%. Make America Great again?!! Did they really buy that rhetoric?!

  6. Thank you for putting in to words the way so many of us feel – being the voice for those of us who feel so uneasy, yet don’t have your eloquence and clear-headed explanation.

  7. Thank you for writing this. We could lose so much progress with this presidency. I’m dumbfounded by this result, for all the reasons you stated.

  8. As an American, I’ll say that I too spent the day beside myself, baffled and enraged by the senselessness of this decision. It is a call to action. To champion the groups and individuals that constantly defend equal rights. We sure as fuck are not backing down.

    Thanks for your solidarity.

    Nasty American Women everywhere

  9. This is one of your best posts yet. Your words are true, so visceral. I too am dismayed by the ability of some people to overlook bigotry and misogyny in favor of perceived self preservation. There are so many things that are inherently wrong and perverse about the election of “T”. Yet, I remain hopeful that those of us who are passionate about kindness and the human condition (like you) will prevail in the end. This is a bump in the road on the way to our world’s self-actualization. At least that is what I believe. Don’t give up the fight.

  10. Thanks for the well written view of a very bad situation. I was gutted as I watched this unfold throughout the evening. I hope my country can rise from this ooze and treat people with the respect that so lacked in the campaign. Keep taking the high road and see you on the trail to a better place that we both dream of…

  11. It matters not that you are not an American. The insanity of Donald Trump even being a candidate for the presidency of the United States, let alone being elected to that office, is cause for people of all nations, races and religions to be astounded. That half of the voters of the US cast a vote in favor of Trump being the leader of their country and the individual whose character and actions represent their basic values is nothing less than appalling – if not downright frightening. On a global basis it is time for the role of patriarchal cultures to be examined – and better yet be sidelined for a new one. The election of someone like Donald Trump may be a neccessary evil – a needed fire that acts as a catalyst for change to a matriarchal system less fraught with the male dominated hunter-gatherer mentality to one where female instincts and nurturing are given far more prominence. – I am a male, an American living abroad and a humanbeing that is tired of the poorly functioning male dominance in world affairs that increasingly has angry armed men and women and children fleeing for safety.

  12. I am reading this in Nairobi, Kenya and nodding at everything you say. We are shocked as well that such a calibre of man could get votes to make him president!

  13. Thank you for this! I’m an Irish woman, in Ireland and I feel the same.. and ALL my friends told me to cop on it is nothing to do with me.. but it is! It is about humanity.. and what behaviour we deem acceptable, especially at the highest levels. Of course it’s not the end of the world, but I for one thought it was a monumental jump backwards. I’ll continue to raise my children to look for and demand better from the world around them.. even if others don’t.

  14. Thank you for writing this piece I completely understand how you feel, I still haven’t got over the referendum result here in the UK and the actions that has unleashed. So worrying this feeling of “others” being the problem, I seem to think something similar happened in Germany and look how that ended.

  15. So true and so well said. As a white, American male, while I have been ashamed of the actions of my country in the past, I have never been ashamed of my country until last night. Perhaps naively, I do not believe that policy should overrule morality or decency. My five year old daughter probably summed it up best. When I asked her why she was sad that Trump won, she simply said “Because he’s mean”. It doubly hurts knowing that she could have seen a strong woman take office rather than a “mean” bigot. But you are right–there is an opportunity. So for every shout of hostility, I will pledge kindness. For every immigrant pushed away, I will hug more toward me (and build a tunnel under the wall). For every punch thrown, I will tend the wound. While Trump may be the playground bully flexing his muscles, I am a runner, and I have endurance and determination, and the hate he stands for cannot outlast my love.

  16. Couldn’t agree more, well said! A very powerful article that speaks volumes about the state of our world at the moment. Keep up the fantastic work at the UN!

  17. Yesterday I felt personally violated as a woman. Today I am personally commited to making sure this was the last time I had to explain to my kids how this sort of person could be chosen as a leader by anyone. Thanks for speaking up, Stephanie.

  18. Thank you for this. I am horrified by what my country has done, and I think anyone who would push back against you for voicing your fears/outrage over the fact that the US has elected a fascist needs to take a hard look at themselves and what they prioritize in the world. I love running as well but that love is capable of co-existing with a love for other humans and a desire to fight for justice and against bigotry.

    Keep up the good work. You’re doing amazing, necessary, important things.

  19. Thanks so much for writing this, Stephanie. It’s a far more powerful and meaningful thing to actually write about this, rather than just to sit there bemoaning the situation like most of us do.

    Hope to see you on the trails…

  20. Glad i took time to read this today. It is unfortunate indeed. The bright side being, there was never a greater need and better time for those who believe in values of Humanity, to unite and work towards a systemic change for a better tomorrow.
    Thanks for Sharing.. Cheers !!

  21. Hi!
    I’m a white, non American, man. And I couldn’t agree more with your ‘ranting’. It puts to words my own thoughts exactly.
    I stayed up that whole night, despite the time difference, following the US elections on the live Sky News YouTube feed and as the results were coming in I couldn’t believe what I was seeing.
    My friends did not understand why I was so interested in the US elections during the campaigns either and why I was taking the result so seriously, they couldn’t understand how it affects the whole world, not only for the reasons you mentioned (Trump’s misogynistic, racist, and bigoted platform), but as we can now see economically and environmentally as well. Anyways, I better stop before I start my own rant!

    Happy trails to you as well!

    PS I’ve been following your adventures for a few years now, I’m in awe of how you manage to achieve everything. Running-wise I didn’t feel I had anything to add with a comment, I’m kilometres away figuratively and literally, but the moment you ‘turned political’! And one last thing, f*** those boyfriends, you’re an amazing person and one of the most beautiful women I don’t know. (we live in strange times with all these social media bring us together without knowing each other)

  22. Stephanie,

    I just came across this and I wanted to say thank you for writing it. You express very eloquently the exact thoughts that so many of us are having right now. I have only recently come across your blog (currently stalking race reports on the TdG and waiting to see if I am selected!), but I just wanted to say keep up the good work. We need more women like you out there, fighting for the good, and with a voice that speaks so well for so many of us. I hope you are proud of what you are doing.

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