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hillary clinton
Reuters/Jim Young
The Democratic nominee for US president.
ABOUT THAT CEILING

“Some people just don’t know what to make of me.” Clinton’s is the story of every woman in power

By Annalisa Merelli

“I can say with confidence there has never been a man or a woman—not me, not Bill, nobody—more qualified than Hillary Clinton to serve as president of the United States of America.” —US president Barack Obama, July 26, 2016

The night after she won a powerful endorsement from the president of the United States, Hillary Clinton accepted the Democratic party’s nomination for the highest office in the land. Her no-nonsense speech lacked the type of emotional arc that seems to come so naturally to her would-be predecessor. But it was remarkable in its own way, especially in the brief passage that captured both the unprecedented breadth of her career and the struggle to make it all happen.

“Now, sometimes the people at this podium are new to the national stage,” Clinton began. “As you know, I’m not one of those people.”

Indeed, most of us can recite the last 20-plus years of her resume by heart: eight years in the White House as America’s first lady, eight years after that representing New York in the US senate, four years in the Obama administration as US secretary of state.

And yet Clinton is widely perceived as a flawed candidate, accused of the hardness so often associated with women who speak their mind and refuse to give up. Clinton acknowledged the issue, blaming it on the fact that she has always liked the “service” more than the “public” element of public service.

“I get it that some people just don’t know what to make of me,” she said.

With that, Clinton completed a real-life rendition of one of The Onion‘s most genius headlines—”Female Presidential Candidate Who Was United States Senator, Secretary Of State Told To Be More Inspiring”—and summed up the story of so many women in leadership positions.

Women regularly get passed over for promotions, which is one reason why, while 44% of the employees of the largest companies are women, only 4.4% ever make it to CEO, and why the world of academia is male-dominated even though most of the graduates are female.

Women are held to higher standards, and constantly judged more harshly on the job, whether on a professional or personal level. It’s something many of us know first hand. It’s not enough to be good, or even great, to do everything backwards and in high heels, as former Texas governor Ann Richards famously said at the 1988 Democratic National Convention. (Obama would employ the very same saying in his description of Clinton at this year’s convention.) It’s not enough to defeat a system that pays us less and makes it particularly difficult for us to juggle a personal life with a career.

We need to be the best, the most qualified. And even when we are, there remain constant questions about, and attacks on, our abilities, our character, and our personality, not to mention our appearance.

It’s because the world really doesn’t know what to do with us—although perhaps it will get an idea if a women who has fought for women her whole adult life and made gender equality a key plank in her platform ends up going all the way to the White House.