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Hillary Clinton: an inspiration

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GAGE SKIDMORE (VIA CREATIVE COMMONS)
  • Gage Skidmore (via Creative Commons)

I keep hearing that Hillary Clinton is uninspiring, often from her supporters. Hendrix professor and Arkansas Times columnist Jay Barth, who covered the Democratic National Convention for the Arkansas Blog, said in a recent post that she "lacks the ability to inspire on a regular basis." I take issue with this.

To women like me who work in traditionally male-dominated fields, or have been called shrill and annoying when we use our voice, or have spent extra time getting ready in the morning agonizing over our clothes and hair because we know we will be judged on those first and our accomplishments second, or have been made to feel guilty for wanting our name at the top of the letterhead, Hillary Clinton's mere presence on the stage as the Democratic nominee for president of the United States is incredibly inspiring.

Those of us who understand what she has accomplished do not need her to get up and say a bunch of flowery or quotable lines. When did we begin measuring the ability to inspire solely by the ability to give a memorable speech? Her competence and knowledge of the issues and her well-thought-out solutions should be enough to inspire anyone who listens to her. When her speech addressing real problems and proposing real solutions is called "uninspiring" and "dull," then the struggles and voices of generations of women are discounted.

As a child in the 1980s, I grew up watching movies like "9 to 5" and "Mr. Mom" — movies that depict strong women struggling to get ahead in their careers while they are derided for their ideas and ambitions. Yet, eventually these women are finally recognized for their contributions. I identify with these women. Always have. I am confident in my ideas. I want to be the boss. Instead, like many women, I am called "bossy." To me, Hillary Clinton is the real-life version of those female movie characters. While being criticized the entire way and while being a wife and mother, she was a successful attorney, a U.S. senator and the secretary of state.

For those who claim she had help raising Chelsea, well, good for her. It does take a village. But at the end of the day, as every other mom knows, the buck stops with us. My husband and I split the parenting pretty much 50/50, but I am the one who gets the text message when one of my daughters needs more diapers at daycare or is running a fever or needs a permission slip signed. I am the one who feels guilty when I forget to RSVP to a classmate's birthday party, because I know I am making it harder on another mom. I am the one who feels like a terrible parent when I miss my daughter's school event because of work. Hillary Clinton has been there. She has experienced that pressure and still managed to be successful in her career. Yet as she stands on the stage as the nominee at the Democratic National Convention, she is called "uninspiring."

I'll confess. I did not watch her speech last Thursday night. Early in the evening, I fell asleep, exhausted by a busy day working and rushing around to drop off and pick up my kids from daycare. I watched it the next day in my office, where my own law license hangs next to a photo of my young daughters. I was a sobbing mess as I watch Hillary Clinton walk onto the stage in her white pantsuit after being introduced by her daughter, Chelsea.

While the crowd cheered, I thought about my mother being turned away from her college library in the 1960s because she was wearing pants. I thought about the time in the early 2000s my law professor told the female students that we should consider wearing skirts instead of pants to an upcoming trial competition in case some of the men judging the competition were "old-fashioned." I thought about the time only a couple of years ago when I overheard a judge referring to a contentious hearing between me and another female attorney as a "catfight." I thought, especially, about my 3-year-old daughter who wants to be an astronaut and a firefighter when she grows up. I thought about all of this as I watched Hillary Clinton on that stage. She was not there to support her husband or another man. She was standing there on stage as the Democratic nominee for president of the United States of America. I was sobbing, because contrary to what so many keep repeating over and over about her being "uninspiring," for women like me who struggle everyday to make the world a better place for our daughters, Hillary Clinton's ability to inspire is beyond measure.

Autumn Tolbert is an lawyer in private practice in Fayetteville. Max Brantley is on vacation.

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