From Beijing to Brooklyn: Hillary Is the Woman They Just Can't Silence

By Tom Watson and Peter Daou

There is a voice that the national media, Beltway pundits, political insiders and conservative-funded operatives have worked in concert to silence. And that voice sounds like this:

Women comprise more than half the world’s population, 70% of the world’s poor, and two-thirds of those who are not taught to read and write. We are the primary caretakers for most of the world’s children and elderly. Yet much of the work we do is not valued not by economists, not by historians, not by popular culture, not by government leaders.

At this very moment, as we sit here, women around the world are giving birth, raising children, cooking meals, washing clothes, cleaning houses, planting crops, working on assembly lines, running companies, and running countries. Women also are dying from diseases that should have been prevented or treated. They are watching their children succumb to malnutrition caused by poverty and economic deprivation. They are being denied the right to go to school by their own fathers and brothers. They are being forced into prostitution, and they are being barred from the bank lending offices and banned from the ballot box.

If there is one message that echoes forth from this conference, let it be that human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights once and for all. Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely and the right to be heard.

That was Hillary Clinton in 1995, at the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women. Focus on the second part of the most famous line of the most important speech Hillary has ever given:

Let us not forget that among those rights are the right to speak freely and the right to be heard.

We are men. Quite frankly, we are used to speaking up and used to being heard. It comes with the unequal and unjust chromosomal alignment in our society. Yes, it’s easy to take it for granted. But we know that the women in our lives do not. We know that a woman speaking loudly and firmly and with conviction can still be a startling sound on our public commons.

Newsweek explains:

Women in the public eye are much more likely to be asked to protect and project authenticity than men in comparable positions.

We haven’t seen body language experts sicced on the men in these campaigns so far, to assess their unspoken anxiety and discombobulation. That’s maybe because when men speak, people listen to what they say, as opposed to studying how their bodies move when they say it.

Who cares what unconscious nonverbal cues Donald Trump sends when he brushes back his hair while he says Mexico sends us rapists, or when Bernie Sanders waves his arms while haranguing the Walton family.

We assume that when the default gender speaks, what they say is what they mean, and what they mean is what they say. Trump might be hiding things—he is certainly not transparent about his business deals—but he gets a pass on authenticity because he is what he is.

The bar for public female authenticity is much, much higher, maybe insurmountable. In a NYT op-ed titled “Speaking While Female,” Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant wrote about how hard it is for women leaders—in business, or anywhere—to be heard over the white noise of judgmental, sexist filters.

“When a woman speaks in a professional setting, she walks a tightrope,” they wrote. “Either she’s barely heard or she's judged as too aggressive. When a man says virtually the same thing, heads nod in appreciation for his fine idea. As a result, women often decide that saying less is more.”

In other words, women who speak in public as they do among their friends risk being called “aggressive.”

The right for a woman to be heard is fundamental to the 2016 presidential election. Denying that right to be heard silencing Hillary is fundamental to those who oppose the fight for fairness and equality. Silence woman, silence women.

We see it in the manic attacks that Hillary has endured since she announced her second presidential run. We see it in the cacophony of voices demanding that she apologize for using a private email account while at the State Department, something she was legally entitled to do.

When Hillary stepped up and delivered a historic speech that neither the White House nor the Chinese government wanted her to give, she boldly planted a stake in the ground for women’s rights. And she did so with only her voice and her presence in the heart of a capital city of a totalitarian society where human rights are themselves subject to the whims of a single party. She was completely fearless and she was playing the long game; Hillary knew that no speech would change the social and economic landscape with women overnight, but that her words would echo long after they were delivered. As they have.

That fearlessness on behalf of women both in the U.S. and globally is the quality that generates fear among so many of her political opponents and their media allies. It is the basis for their hatred and the reason they are throwing every ounce of dirt they have at her.

“Women,” said Hillary in Beijing two decades ago, “must enjoy the rights to participate fully in the social and political lives of their countries, if we want freedom and democracy to thrive and endure.”

The clarity of that vision, the character of the messenger, the enormity of the world stage have all contributed to the resonance of that speech. It was a rock thrown with conviction into a still lake. As Tom chronicled in a widely-shared Medium essay last summer, Hillary has one enormous and lasting contribution to public life that is unmatched by any of her rivals: she has led the effort to place the social and economic rights of women on top of the global development agenda.

That battle is far from over and few of us reading this today will live to see it won. As we have written, the statistics on violence, on economic parity, on political rights, on social equality remain staggering to anyone who believes in fairness. As Hillary said recently, “It’s a glass-half-filled kind of scenario.”

There has been progress on the difficult path to equality, but there is much to do. This is a long, long movement. Defeating Hillary Clinton with gender-biased narratives, focus-grouped frames and false scandals would damage that movement in this country, perhaps for generations.

If we recoil and lose hope from each misogynistic mugging on Morning Joe, or derisive article in a national daily, or sexist hit from rightwing talking heads, we are allowing Hillary's detractors to stop that movement in its tracks.

Remember, the “right to be heard” was central to Hillary’s history-making speech in Beijing. Do not surrender that right easily. And keep in mind these words from 20 years ago that still ring true today:

As long as discrimination and inequities remain so commonplace everywhere in the world, as long as girls and women are valued less, fed less, fed last, overworked, underpaid, not schooled, subjected to violence in and outside their homes -- the potential of the human family to create a peaceful, prosperous world will not be realized.


Peter Daou and Tom Watson founded #HillaryMen to provide actionable analysis of the 2016 campaign focusing on the gender barrier in U.S. politics. Peter is a former senior digital adviser to Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Global Initiative. He is a veteran of two presidential campaigns (Kerry '04 and Clinton '08). Tom is an author and Columbia University lecturer who advises companies and non-profits on social activism.