Love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Hillary Clinton had to live through some extremely uncomfortable moments on the campaign trail. And while some of them aren’t within the realm of my experience (I’ve never been part of a televised debate, for instance), others are all too familiar.
In an excerpt from her forthcoming memoir, What Happened, which will detail the chaotic and intense 2016 presidential race, Clinton talks about one particular debate moment that many of us remember for the sheer creep-factor exuded by Donald Trump on stage.
“No matter where I walked, he followed me closely, staring at me, making faces. It was incredibly uncomfortable. He was literally breathing down my neck. My skin crawled. It was one of those moments where you wish you could hit pause and ask everyone watching, ‘Well, what would you do? You stay calm, keep smiling, and carry on as if he weren’t repeatedly invading your space? Or do you turn, look him in the eye, and say loudly and clearly, Back up, you creep! Get away from me!
Back up, you creep! Get away from me!
“I know you love to intimidate women but you can’t intimidate me, so back up!’ I chose option A. I kept my cool, aided by a lifetime of dealing with difficult men trying to throw me off. I did, however, grip the microphone extra hard. I wonder, though, whether I should have chosen option B. It certainly would have been better TV. Maybe I have over learned the lesson of staying calm, biting my tongue, digging my fingernails into a clenched fist, smiling all the while, determined to present a composed face to the world.”
Yikes. Visually, I’m pretty sure almost everyone realized that Trump was using physical intimidation techniques when they were on stage together during that debate—that sort of stalking, hovering, and leering doesn’t just happen by accident. I remember being physically uncomfortable just watching it on TV; I can’t imagine how awkward it would have been to experience that as a politician under pressure, with the hot lights shining down on me, cameras recording the whole time.
But even though this was on a huge, televised scale, what Hillary is describing is depressingly relatable to almost every woman I know.
I know you love to intimidate women, but you can’t intimidate me.
What woman among us hasn’t felt creeped out by a man in a position of power, only to remind ourselves to “keep calm” instead of calling them out for fear of being labeled as paranoid or crazy? I could fill a book with all of the snappy comebacks I’ve thought of after the fact, retorts to overt or subtle instances of intimidation and harassment that I was too overcome with panic and adrenaline to say out loud when they were actually happening.
It’s pretty heartbreaking to realize that one of the most powerful women in the world felt the same way. And even though Clinton might wonder what would have happened if she’d spoken up in the moment, I’m glad she’s speaking up and candidly sharing her experience now. High-profile accounts like this show the stark reality of what it’s like to be a woman in the world today, and hopefully by sharing her story, it will help someone out there speak up for themselves the next time they’re being intimidated.
What Happened will be released on September 12.