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A long way to go on misogyny

02 December 2016

I AM in mourning for the lost pres­idency of Hillary Clinton, who, it now appears, won more than two million more votes than Donald Trump, the Presid­ent-elect. It does seem extraordinary to me that a na­­tion as rich, well-resourced, and grounded in the virtues of merito­cracy should have rejected this wise, experienced, and capable politician. But then she is a woman.

A former colleague of mine at the BBC once said to me that, compared with Britain and much of Europe, democracy in the United States was immature. She was right, especially if you consider that we have man­aged two women prime ministers, serving a female head of state, when the United States still prefers men — ­any man, as it turns out — for the top job.

There is misogyny in the system. Mrs Clinton suffered from this, be­­ing constantly criticised for her lack of “charisma”. No wonder she bolted herself into white-trouser­-suited armour and helmeted hair.

In debate, she was as a sharp as a razor: knowledgeable, quick, never losing her rag — unlike her often-ridiculous opponent. And yet the system ensured that she could never be herself. Her playfulness and warmth were rarely on display. She learnt the script, and reproduced it to perfection. But it was never quite enough.

Of course, in a world constructed along misogynistic lines, women are never meant to have personalities at all. They are there to listen and re­­flect; to applaud and admire the great thoughts and deeds of men. Otherwise, they are she-demons, witches, like “Thatcher”.

So many women of Mrs Clinton’s generation have been shaped and constrained by fear. An old friend of mine — a fierce, intelligent, and un­­conventional woman of religion — used to argue against the ordination of women, along the lines that men could not stand women’s exercising authority because they were so ter­rified of being controlled by their mothers. She thought that women ought to understand this, and al­­ways concede power to men. I am glad to say that she later changed her mind, and was ordained.

There is, however, always a danger — I recognise it in myself and in women of my generation — that we live in such fear of being thought terrifying that we squeeze ourselves into moulds that make us feel acceptable. In my career at the BBC, and then in my curacy, I was aware of how dif­ferent standards were applied to men and women. If a man showed irritation, or even anger, it was greeted with a shrug. If a woman did so, the world rocked on its foundations. “Women in time to come will do much,” the prophetic religious Mary Ward said in the 16th century. We still have a long way to go.

The Revd Angela Tilby is a Canon Emeritus of Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford.

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