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Calling all Nasty Women: The time to fight is at hand, again

The world woke up and realized that this was not, in fact, an episode of Dallas. We had not dreamed the whole thing and Donald Trump is headed for the White House. The question for many of us today is: What do we tell our daughters?

I'll leave it to others to examine the potentially catastrophic effects of this presidency on race relations, foreign relations, and interpersonal relations. At the moment I want to address the acid cloud that follows what novelist Barbara Kingsolver called, rightly, a "misogynistic horror show of an election."

What do we tell our daughters about this election? That a man who has constantly belittled, objectified and insulted women can win the highest office in his country – and maybe not in spite of those things, but because of them. Did the fact that Mr. Trump boasted that he could "grab them by the pussy" actually elevate his status among his supporters, and burnish that oh-so-important authenticity they love?

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What do we tell our daughters, and our sons, about the fact that a man is not punished for that behaviour, or for his alleged unwanted sexual advances to at least a dozen women, but is rewarded with the keys to the Oval Office? What do we tell them about a man who said that pregnant employees are an inconvenience, that American women's court-protected right to reproductive freedom should be rolled back, that some women are pigs and others are dogs, and that only the rare few worth his attention are 10s.

The day before the election, Slate published a piece of information that would have been troubling in any other era but was lost in this campaign's deluge of toxic mud. Jeremy Stahl wrote that Mr. Trump, when starring in The Apprentice, used to refer to women as "it" and "that." Please let that sink in for a moment. Perhaps don't tell your daughters (or your sons).

Maybe we could tell our daughters that they can be prime minister of Canada: "There was one, once, Virginia, 23 years ago. No really, it's true. I'll show you a picture." Or that they can be president of the United States, if they're American, although the news isn't so great about that either. What did Mr. Trump's supporters call the first female presidential nominee for a major party? That's right, witch. Also bitch. Also demon. She should be executed for treason, they pointed out helpfully. Look, we can say to our daughters, there she is, lit up by the flaming torches of a thousand Twitter and Facebook accounts. Who wouldn't want that life?

In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton resisted bitterness when she told her country's daughters and sons that she expects them to carry on: "This loss hurts, but please never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it. We need you to keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives." And she had a special message for young girls: "Never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world."

On election day, a steady stream of people made their way to the Mount Hope Cemetery in Rochester, N.Y., to visit the grave of suffragist Susan B. Anthony. In 1872, she was fined $100 for trying to vote in the presidential election to protest against the fact that "the blessings of liberty are forever kept from women and their female posterity." She never paid the fine. On Tuesday, her gravestone was covered in stickers that said, "I voted." Not enough stickers, obviously. Not enough voters.

But we could leverage that attention for good, to turn things around. We could show our daughters photos of that grave, and tell them about early suffragists from Canada and Britain and around the world who fought for women's enfranchisement. We could tell them the inspirational stories of women who shattered glass ceilings in politics, in academia, in science, in business. We can inspire them with stories of women who lived boldly, like pacifist and scientist Ursula Franklin, or Frances Oldham Kelsey, who blew the whistle on thalidomide's side effects. One day, we might even be able to show our daughters one of these women on our currency and say: Look what she did with her life.

Because really, at this point, we need counterprogramming. The free world is looking a little shabby today. Unless, of course, you're one of the men, vaguely pink or possibly orange in colour, who is still in the exact same place you've always been, smack in the centre of power. You're fine, dudes. You always are.

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But for the daughters out there, the time for fighting is at hand. It is now perhaps apparent that our mothers and grandmothers did not win every battle, and the ground they did win is slipping away under our feet. Instead of being discouraged, go and put on your Nasty Woman T-shirt and engage in the battle, in defiance of the sexism that lies like a freshly woken monster in your path. In the words of the old protest song: Take it easy, but take it.

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About the Author
Columnist and Feature Writer

Elizabeth Renzetti has worked at The Globe and Mail as a columnist, reporter, and editor of the Books and Review sections. From 2003 to 2012, she was a member of the Globe's London-based European bureau. Her Saturday column is published on page A2 of the news section, and her features appear regularly in Focus. More

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