Why you should care
Because mothers have always led the way.
Anna Nordberg is a writer in San Francisco.
When I was around 9 years old, Al D’Amato, the Republican senator from New York, voted against a reproductive rights bill my mother had supported. The following day, she wrote a letter on the personalized stationery she reserved for professional correspondence, not the creamy cards she used for family and friends.
Dear Senator D’Amato,
You did not vote as I wished. I will work to defeat you.
Olivia Schieffelin Nordberg
When she showed it to me, I was astonished, even a little afraid. “Wow, Mom,” I said. “Are you allowed to write that to a senator?” She awed me with her frankness. I was also worried the senator might get mad and try to do something to her.
We were a very polite household, and I had never seen my mother be discourteous to anyone, let alone say she was going to work to defeat them. It sounded so … strong, assertive, a bit unkind.
We received no response from Sen. D’Amato, and he went on to enjoy many more years in the Senate. But to me, as my mother’s daughter, something had changed. I saw it was OK to be forceful when principles were at stake. My mother died when I was a teenager, but that lesson stuck, even if part of me wondered if I had it in me to fight for my beliefs with her toughness.
Accepting election results is what Americans do. But supporting a peaceful transition of power doesn’t mean we should be doormats.
I guess we’ll find out now. The elevation of Donald Trump to most powerful person in the world — a man who attacked Hillary Clinton in every sexist way possible, whose demonization of outside groups is so textbook authoritarian it’s almost cartoonish — goes against the values I have been taught my whole life to uphold.
To be clear, I accept the results of the election. Accepting election results is what Americans do. But supporting a peaceful transition of power doesn’t mean we should be doormats. We can, and should, speak out against the racist, sexist and anti-Muslim views Trump has clearly, not implicitly, endorsed.
Already the normalizing of these views has begun. Recently, a male commentator on CNN referred to Trump’s Access Hollywood remarks as “rather vulgar,” perhaps afraid to sound too negative about our president-elect boasting about sexually assaulting women. That’s sort of like calling a dead person “sort of not alive.” Now is not the time for euphemism, especially with hate speech and hate crimes spiking in the wake of Trump’s win.
The Monday night before this election, I spoke at an awards ceremony in New York City in memory of my mother, who spent most of her career in the population sciences, advancing women’s health and reproductive rights. I mentioned an employee evaluation I found in her papers, from 1978, in which her boss banged on and on about her competence and intelligence before he concluded that her relationships with colleagues would improve if she became “less assertive.” She quit that job, I told the audience. But she kept up with the work. “My mom was pregnant with me at the time,” I said. “That’s when I probably got my first dose of her ferocious feminism.”
Tuesday afternoon, jet-lagged and giddy from watching on TV as Hillary cast her historic vote, I boarded a plane back to San Francisco, believing that when I landed we’d be well on our way to electing the first female president of the United States. Then I turned on my phone.
In the cab home from the airport, I called the women in my life — my cousin in Boston, my cousin in San Francisco, my friend who grew up next door to me and whose husband now works in the White House, my friend who lives 10 blocks away from me. Texts and emails poured in from my aunts, my sister-in-law, friends from college now living in L.A. and back East. “What is happening?” I asked, again and again. I cried, a lot.
To me, a woman, the image of Trump defeating a better qualified, more competent woman whom he has called unattractive, shrill and low-stamina, and threatened to lock up in jail, was particularly humiliating. The idea of Hillary having to call this man and congratulate him with grace was almost unbearable.
It’s one of those times — like my first heartbreak, or my wedding, or the births of my son and daughter — that not having my mother by my side really burns. I’d love to have the kind of wide-ranging conversation about feminism that we never got the chance to have. For starters, I’d ask how she picked herself up after reading that sexist claptrap in her employee review. Did she feel weakened by it? Or defiant?
Right now, I feel both. Time to break out the stationery.