What I learned from losing a high school election to a totally unqualified guy
"Hey! What's the deal with our 10-year reunion?"
A decade after my high school graduation, people still think they elected me senior class president. They forget that I'm not in charge.
I don't know what the deal with our 10-year reunion is. I lost the presidential race that would have given me reunion-organizing responsibilities. After a decade, I'm relieved that it's not my responsibility.
I ran our student government for two years, all through sophomore and junior year of high school. Then my peers voted to replace me with a male candidate with no leadership experience. So now it's someone else's job to run the reunions.
Class president seems like an honorary position, but it's a job for a workhorse. On Saturday mornings, I woke up at 6 a.m. to sell coffee and muffins for our class at a local soccer field. There were no delis or coffee shops within walking distance of the field, and hordes of parents flocked to the table. The job posting for class president could have looked like this: Responsible for large-scale coffee operation. Ability to carry large loads and handle scalding water. 6:30 a.m. start time. No pay.
The money from our coffee-and-muffin scheme funded junior prom, which found me on a ladder with a sprained ankle, hanging decorative lights. Dangling 10 feet in the air, the brunt of my exhaustion fell on me. Was I working too hard?
Little did I know, I had an image problem too. My class fired me despite the awesome prom.
A few months after my crushing electoral loss, I saw an invitation from my then-Senator Hillary Clinton addressed to my dad on the kitchen counter. She had organized a breakfast to talk to local business leaders. I convinced my father to RSVP and take me as his date.
We showed up early in a room of a few hundred people. I crossed my ankles under the table in a big conference room, sitting up straight in my first professional outfit — a former high-school politician ready to meet her role model.
But when I jockeyed my way to the front and briefly shook hands with Hillary, she didn't smile. "Hello!" I wanted to say. "Why aren't you charming me?" In that moment, it didn't matter how she could balance a budget or how effective she was in Washington. I cared about how she made me feel.
I didn't like Hillary for the same reason my classmates didn't like me.
In her hard work, Clinton sacrificed the sense of warm effortlessness people wanted to see. She embodied the characteristics that make a man a roll-up-his-sleeves-and-get-the-job-done kind of guy. And I found her less likeable for it.
Sen. Chuck Schumer greeted me with a frustrated eye roll during my trip to the Capitol building, but it didn't sway my perception of him in a negative way. I said to a friend, "Wow! He must be doing something important."
We don't judge women leaders according to their capabilities. We judge women by an impossible, contradictory code for female behavior, instead of by the simple assessment: Can they can do the job well?
When our society cares more about image than competence, we not only dismiss women, we hire the wrong people. Leadership roles require the tenacity and grit to untangle an expanding list of complex issues. Government positions are about paving the roads and protecting women's rights. Just don't forget the importance of paved roads.
If we don't elect Hillary, we're letting her go the same way that my classmates let me go. My senior year was a breeze. I left politics and became a writer. And I don't have to run class reunions for the next 50 years.
But it's us that I worry about. If we don't elect Hillary, we are throwing out our biggest asset: the person who cares more about getting things done than her own image, in exchange for someone who cares solely about his image and little for getting things done.
What an absolute danger that would be.