One of my earliest memories is from when I was five years old, when I pictured my future self as the President of the United States. I envisioned standing in front of a podium and a microphone, while the rest of the world watched me on TV. My five-year-old face was pasted on a grown-up body, and I was wearing a red pantsuit with shoulder pads. I don’t remember why the pantsuit had to be red. Nor do I remember whether I was aware of what it would truly mean on a social level to be the first female president. I just recall thinking it would be so cool to be a person who was widely recognized and admired. Girl power, and all that.
At this time in my life, I was not one to keep my mouth shut when I had something to say. I could be shy around strangers, but for the most part I was a pretty sassy child. Some would even say I was bossy, overconfident, and a complete know-it-all. I believe those qualities came from my parents constantly telling that I was smart. I was an early talker, bilingual, and could read before most other kids my age. They never really told me to work hard, just to keep being smart.
Because people were always praising me for being smart, I was never shy about loving my brain. I always wanted to be the one others would look to for the right answers. This is probably why I hoped to be the President– it was the most intelligent and powerful position I could think of at the time.
As I got older, my priorities shifted. Years of being told I should be ashamed of being brown and Muslim had shamed me into fear and, subsequently, silence. Years of being told I was ugly had me dreaming of an alternate reality where I was one of the pretty (i.e. white) girls. And as the years went by, any semblance of the personality I once had slowly disappeared, along with my dream of being the most powerful, intelligent woman in the world.
Eventually, I grew up and went to a university that taught me to embrace the things that make different. It also positioned me among diverse women achieving and dreaming big in different ways. Some wanted to be Internet-famous fashionistas, some wanted to be teachers, others wanted to research cancer, and all of these aspirations were equally valid. It was coming to this understanding that allowed me to put value on my own life again.
The problem is, I still struggle to understand what my dreams are, or what they could have been had they not been corrupted. At 24 years old, I’m too shy, too awkward, too depressed, too distrustful of the government to care for politicking. I don’t see myself making a difference in the world I shied from and learned to hate, at least not in a traditional way. I’m in my twenties living in an America that has its first female presidential nominee and I’m sitting here thinking, but who is she to me?
We are told that Hillary Clinton doesn’t resonate with the young women of today. She does not embody the intersectional feminism we strive to inject in U.S. social policies. Our prospective female president does make me hopeful for the future of women. I can’t see Hillary Clinton and separate her from the foreign policies that have killed so many brown bodies overseas. I also can’t help but consider how little social progressives dared to shout these same criticisms at Barack Obama, who has killed countless civilians with his drones, but apparently does it with “swag.”
If this election year propels a woman into the Oval Office for the first time, it will be for a woman who whose foreign policies are foreign to my sense of my contempt for senseless killings. It upsets me that I don’t see a role model in the first female U.S. Presidential candidate, especially when the influence of society and media is pushing girls to increasingly prioritize their appearance over academic and professional success.
Clinton is a reminder that the system has still closed off avenues of such success for women like me. The fact that so many people are critical of her also makes me worry that our society’s expectations of women may put a halt to girls’ dreams– presidential or otherwise.
For some amazing young woman, systemic barriers will push her even more to be that female role model in the White House, the one I could that the five-year-old me could only hypothesize about. That woman isn’t me. I feel so beaten down that I no longer have the will to follow a path that will leave me so vulnerable to the opinions of others.
That doesn’t mean I still can’t be a forceful change for others. It’s not the type of change that comes with Insta-fame or navigating a corrupt government. It comes from seeing that power doesn’t just exist behind a microphone and podium.