Among the many criticisms that trailed Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton during her presidential campaign was her awkward effort to connect with millennial voters. It felt too “forced,” said some. Others thought she was “pandering” — not just to young people, but to minorities. (This included many of my friends, who said her references to "hot sauce in her bag" and hitting the Nae Nae on Ellen were just trying too hard.) Even President Obama joked that she was like everyone’s “Aunt Hillary” who doesn’t quite get Facebook.
Yet last week there I was, a Black and Latina millennial voter, sitting down with the first woman ever to make a serious run for the White House, and we had no trouble connecting at all. When I asked about President Clinton’s support of her on the campaign trail, she lit up, reached over to touch my arm, and smiled, telling me she wished more young men understood that marriage should be a balanced and supportive partnership. I made a mental note to share with my future husband, if I ever have one: “Hillary Clinton once told me…”
When the Secretary strode into HRC headquarters in midtown Manhattan to greet the R29 team, she exuded a warm energy, the kind that often got lost in translation on the small screen during election season. In person, she was the version of Clinton you always hear the people who really know her describe: upbeat and at ease (“I’m so proud of how much Refinery29 has grown!” she cheered), quipping good-naturedly about our unintentionally matching navy blue pants (“You must’ve been in my closet!”), and shaking the hand of every single person in the room, complete with direct eye contact and a few more outfit compliments. By the end of our chat, I was asking her to demonstrate her power pose (you’ll have to watch the video to catch that moment). And even after the cameras stopped rolling, she took her time explaining to our crew the research she’d read about power poses, demonstrating how we can each make ourselves feel bigger by being bigger, outstretching her arms and legs to take up as much space as possible. She looked completely ridiculous splayed out in that moment, but you could see that she didn't care one bit. In fact, I could’ve sworn there was a twinkle in her intense blue eyes.
Still, underneath it all, there was no doubt that Clinton was also a bit weary. The corners of those same blue eyes turned down a bit whenever she spoke about election night, and she minced no words when she discussed how devastating the experience was, both during our interview and in her new book, What Happened, on shelves today. Clinton describes the 500-page recount of the past two years – which she penned at the dining room table of her home in Chappaqua, New York – as “cathartic.” She also hopes it will serve as a guide for young women who aspire to a career in public service: She wants them to be prepared for just how brutal it can be.
“Everybody has losses,” Clinton said. “Not everybody will lose a presidential campaign, but there will be all kinds of losses and disappointments that are just part of human nature and life. [I’m] pulling back the curtain for people [to show that] being a woman in public life is like being on a high wire with no net.”
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The book is full of honest reflections like these; the kind we all wish we had seen more of during the election. She shares details about the aftermath of her loss, including how she coped via long walks in the woods and plenty of HGTV marathons. She reflects on her struggles as a young mother trying to get a baby Chelsea to stop crying. She even addresses speculation about her marriage to President Clinton being an arrangement: “It’s called a marriage,” she writes. “He is reading this over my shoulder in our kitchen with our dogs underfoot, and in a minute he will reorganize our bookshelves for the millionth time.”
And yes, there are plenty of Donald Trump digs. Clinton gets surprisingly frank about her opponent, reflecting on attending his 2005 wedding (a “gaudy, over-the-top spectacle”), and the way her “skin crawled” when he loomed over her during a debate. Regarding the latter, she explains that in the moment she had to decide between standing up to him or staying measured: “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.”
It’s that section of the book, called Sisterhood, that led Clinton to speak to us about what it was really like being the first woman nominated for president by a major political party. While she doesn't entirely blame her election loss on her gender, she is acutely aware of the impact it had on the presidential race. In an exclusive interview with Refinery29, Clinton gets real on being a woman in politics, her hopes for the future, and much more.
Here are the highlights. Read the transcript in full here, and watch the full video of our interview below.
ON WHY SHE HAD HER GUARD UP DURING ELECTION SEASON:
“I consulted a friend of mine, Sheryl Sandberg, who, as you know, is the COO of Facebook. And so she and two of her top researchers came to brief me before the election really got started. They said, ‘All the research shows that the more successful a man becomes, the more likeable he becomes. The more professionally successful a woman becomes, the less likeable she becomes.’ We know ambition is a double-edged sword. It's fine for a young man, or a man of any age, to be ambitious. But a young woman, or a woman of any age, to be ambitious raises all kinds of dissonance in people's minds.”
ON WHETHER IVANKA TRUMP SHOULD BE HELD RESPONSIBLE:
“Everyone associated with him…they’re either on board with that, or they’re not. And if they’re not, they need to be speaking out or leaving. But if they remain silent and just give lip service to contrary points of views, then they are part of his agenda and should be judged and held accountable for that.”
ON DONALD TRUMP’S SEXISM:
"When someone who is now our president in the White House gives voice to those kinds of degrading comments about women, who’s caught on tape saying those kinds of things, it gives a license to people to be more outspoken against women, against our progress, against our rights. And I think it’s really important for young women to recognize yes, we’ve made progress, but we have to all continue to stand up for ourselves, to stand up for each other, to stand up for the laws that we need, and to take on the the sexism that is so prevalent and which has been given a real boost by Trump.”
ON WHETHER ABORTION LITMUS TESTS ARE NECESSARY FOR DEMOCRATS:
"I have to say that I am proud to be a Democrat, and I’m proud of all the progress that’s happened in my own lifetime. And [I] will continue to advocate for the policies of the Democratic Party. But I don’t think it’s either/or. You need a very strong economic message, which I think I had, but it was hard to get through. And you need to stand up for human rights, social justice, and civil rights. And a woman’s right to control her body and her healthcare decisions is a fundamental human right.”
HER ADVICE FOR MILLENNIAL WOMEN:
"I have a little mantra where I like to say resist, insist, persist, and enlist. Not everybody’s gonna run for office by any means, but you can support those who do. Whether it is standing up for DACA recipients...whether it is fighting for better rules to protect equal pay and overtime and all of the other pieces, or fighting to get healthcare for people. There’s so much to be involved in now, and so I feel like the commitment is there. The passion is there.”