Women mourn historic missed opportunity

Heather Silvestri embraces her daughter Zoe Ferguson as they watch the disappointing election returns. (Jonathan Wilson for Newsworks)

Heather Silvestri embraces her daughter Zoe Ferguson as they watch the disappointing election returns. (Jonathan Wilson for Newsworks)

Shirley Chisholm, the first black woman elected to Congress, once famously said: “Of my two ‘handicaps,’ being female put more obstacles in my path than being black.”

And with Donald Trump’s stunning upset in Tuesday’s presidential election, Hillary Clinton and her legions of pant-suited supporters now believe that, eight years after Barack Obama broke the race barrier, gender proved an insurmountable obstacle to the White House.

Many politicos went into Election Day believing the United States might finally see a woman win the top office men have held for 227 years.

Pondering a presidency with Hillary at the helm, Donna Dougherty, 60, on Tuesday found herself thinking of her 3-year-old granddaughter, with joyous hopes that she would never remember a time when a woman couldn’t be president.

“For women, it’s a big thing,” she said simply.

Lynda Cascarino, 50, of Wallingford, agreed: “As the mother of two girls in their young 20s, I’m just excited for them to have the opportunities we didn’t years ago.”

But what a difference a day made.

When a 14-year-old Brooklyn, New York, girl named Grace Isaacs broke out in sobs at news of Clinton’s defeat, her father texted her words so comforting that her mother shared them online. That Facebook post now has been shared dozens of times.

“My sweet Gracie,” wrote Byron Isaacs, a professional musician, “I feel so bad about the election, and I know you do too. Mommy and I were so excited for you to see a strong woman become our nation’s leader, especially at this time in your life…Our nation has always favored white men in myriad ways, legally and culturally. The strength of our nation however is in the idea of equality and opportunity for all. These ideals are still strong. There are just many many white people who are angry that they are losing their privileged status. It is inevitable that whites lose this special status; no election can hold back the tide of change. This is a step backward in an otherwise forward trend. I love you so very much, please don’t despair. America is better than this. We are experiencing the last furious screams of spoiled children who have been made to share their toys. Growing up is hard, even for a nation.”

But for plenty of women, solace was elusive.

“In 2008, we really put Hillary through the ringer in terms of all the hateful rhetoric, the crude cartoons based on her gender, saying she’s a witch and all these other horrible things,” said Giao Dang, 26, a Clinton supporter from Chinatown. “I really thought we would win this one; it would be like a love letter to her for sticking it out despite all the rhetoric. (A Clinton win) would prove that we had grown. But instead, we found out that white women were willing to excuse his so-called locker-room talk so that she couldn’t win.”

Dalice Shilshtut, 32, of Newbold, a Bernie Sanders supporter who voted for Clinton Tuesday, added: “This proves that sexism is real. Misogyny is real. People will vote against their own best interest, because they don’t believe that a woman is capable of this position.”

Clinton herself had advice, during her concession speech, for those mourning her loss.

“To all the women, and especially the young women who put their faith in the campaign and in me, I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder to be your champion. I know we have still not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling, but someday, someone will, and hopefully sooner than we might think right now. To all the little girls that are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable, and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.”

And even though a woman heading the White House remains at least another four years away, Clinton’s campaign proved instructive for many young women. In that way, at least, Clinton was a smash success.

“I didn’t realize how important women’s rights were until recently; as a child, you don’t think there is inequality between the genders,” said Midora Middleton, 18, of Center City. “But during this election, it became very obvious. I learned that women aren’t paid equally for equal work. And I don’t think it’s right that men make decisions about women’s bodies. I think that this race has shown that there are still big issues with inequality.”

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