What Hillary's Win Means For Women Of A Certain Age

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images.
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton takes the stage in Brooklyn on June 7 after becoming the country's first female presumptive nominee.
Editor's note: Michele Murphy is a lawyer who previously served as attorney in the Brooklyn District Attorney's Office. The views expressed here are her own. This story was originally published on June 9, 2016.

It was the summer of 1984 and I was in between college and law school. I was walking through the streets of New York City when I passed the open door of a bar, its TV blaring. I paused long enough to hear then-Democratic nominee Walter Mondale make a historic announcement: he was naming Rep. Geraldine Ferraro as his running mate.

I started crying. I was so proud of her: the first woman candidate for vice president in American history. With that announcement, I realized that my options in life had increased exponentially because of her achievements.

We cannot be complacent about our achievements. If we take our foot off the pedal, there is a risk that society will slide backwards.

The women in my family have always been tough and hardworking, and have valued being first. My mother worked two jobs for as long as I can remember. Work hard. Don’t complain. Save your money. Don’t use credit cards. These are the lessons I learned from her.

Before her, it was my grandmother, a Polish-American woman running her own restaurant in Buffalo, NY. During World War II, she became the first woman to ride in an open-air helicopter test flight at the nearby Bell Helicopters factory. The engineers photographed her flight, framed the photo, and signed it for her. It is still one of my prized possessions because it shows so clearly her spirit and courage.

When I crossed the stage during my law school graduation in 1987, I looked into the audience to see my mother with her arms in the air, shouting out my name. She was proud because I was the first female attorney in our family. I know that I was able to accomplish my goals because of the support of my mother, grandmother and the other strong women who came before me.
Photo: Courtesy of Michele Murphy.
Murphy's grandmother became the first woman to ride in an open-air helicopter during a test flight in Buffalo, NY, during World War II. Murphy had Clinton sign the photo.
What does this have to do with Hillary? I felt that same pride and optimism when I stood in Brooklyn on Tuesday and watched Hillary’s speech as she became the first female presumptive nominee of a major political party. To me, Hillary represents the strong, intelligent, and hardworking women who paved the way for her to reach the pinnacle of her career.

But my daughter supports Bernie Sanders, and she's far from alone. Why don’t younger women feel that same pride and sisterhood? Is it because the “firsts” occurred before they were born, and now it is commonplace to see women judges, attorneys, doctors, and CEOs? Yet it was the women who came before all of us who increased our options at work and at home.

My daughter will have an easier time juggling family and career because in 2016, men are contributing more to domestic work and child care. My daughter will have an easier time advancing in her career because of the women before her who pushed their way into the boardroom. Women who suffered through meetings with men asking them to pour the coffee, or take notes. Women who pushed their spouses to contribute more at home. These women increased our options.

My plea to younger women is this: Embrace the sisterhood. Contribute to the sisterhood. Use it. Step on my shoulders and I will give you a lift up.

When my children were little, and I was a young lawyer, it was unacceptable to ask for time off because of child-care issues. I could easily ask for time off because of my own health issues or other matters, but not because of child-care issues. That is not the case today because of the women like my grandmother, my mother, and I who fought for equality in the workplace. It wasn’t a mission. It was day-to-day incremental change.

Maybe I should be happy that, "We've come a long way, baby," and that women don’t have to worry about overt sexism in the workplace. But we cannot be complacent about our achievements. If we take our foot off the pedal, there is a risk that society will slide backwards. Don’t say it can’t happen. Just look at the fight over abortion rights. I never in my life thought that in 2016 we would still be arguing about the safety of the Roe v. Wade decision.
Photo: Courtesy of Michele Murphy.
Michele Murphy and her friends take a selfie with presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
I believe that we are obligated to honor the women who worked hard to break through the societal barriers that kept women from achieving the career successes that we now have today. Eleanor Roosevelt, Frances Perkins, Amelia Earhart, Shirley Chisholm, Nancy Pelosi, Sally Ride, Geraldine Ferraro: We honor them by helping and supporting other women.

What does it mean to me that Hillary Clinton will be the first female president? It means that the hard work and sacrifices of the women who came before her are finally being honored and respected.

Sisters, it comes down to this — women have to take care of each other in the workplace. We need to have each other’s backs. We have connections, camaraderie, associations, and the financial means to support each other. Just because we have “made it” doesn’t mean that we should eschew the means and methods that brought us here.

Just because we have 'made it' doesn’t mean that we should eschew the means and methods that brought us here.

Do young women feel that it is unnecessary to maintain those connections, camaraderie, and associations and the means to support each other that women have developed over the years? Do young women feel that openly supporting other women — because they are women — somehow diminishes their achievements? Does it make us look weak? Are they ashamed to rely on other women?

My plea to younger women is this: Embrace the sisterhood. Contribute to the sisterhood. Use it. Step on my shoulders and I will give you a lift up. Sometimes it’s as simple as: I’ll cover your shift while you run to school and pick up your child. Sometimes it is: I’ll hire you over an equally qualified male, because you are a woman! Yes. I said it and I mean it. Because you are a woman.

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