At her headquarters in midtown Manhattan last Thursday, Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton sat down for an exclusive interview with Refinery29 to discuss her new book, What Happened, in stores now. She touched on everything from Ivanka Trump's current role in the Trump administration to the misogyny and sexism she experienced during the 2016 election, and what it's really like being a woman in politics.
Here, you can watch the video in its entirety (above) and read the transcript in full (below) for additional moments from our sit-down, including how President Bill Clinton supported the former First Lady after her loss; the lessons she's learned from her daughter, Chelsea; and what she has to say to Democrats who aren't looking forward to the release of her book.
Check it out below.
Secretary Clinton, thank you so much for being with us today.
"Thank you for having me. Thanks for being here to talk to me."
Of course. So Refinery29 — I think all of our readers and our staff, since the election, have been feeling probably equal parts heartbroken and discouraged, but also, in a lot of ways, inspired and motivated. So I'm really excited to talk about what happened.
So I read the book, and in the book, you share a lot of really personal details. You open up a lot about everything, from attending Donald Trump's inauguration to what it was like raising Chelsea, even when she was a baby and you were trying to get her to stop crying; even details about your relationship with President Clinton. What made you want to open up now, and do you regret not letting that guard down a little bit earlier?
"That's a great question. Because you're right, I mean, this book is my most candid explanation of not only my life, but what I believe that I've ever tried to do. It was hard, and I am very proud of the outcome because it was, kind of, cathartic. But a lot of the personal details are meant to explain to people, particularly to women, especially young women, that we're not in this alone. That there are ways that we can learn from each other, be resilient.
"Everybody has losses. 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. So I wanted to share my story on a very personal level, behind the scenes, pulling back the curtain for people. So that, maybe, what I went through, the life that I've lived, can provide some support, encouragement, and maybe even some guidance to others."
I think a lot of people did criticize you on the campaign trail for not doing that a little bit sooner. Do you ever regret that? Or do you feel like now is the time for you, where you can really fully be open?
"Well, as I explain in the book, being a woman in public life is like being on a high wire with no net. And I have been involved in public service and in politics for much of my adult life, and there is a double standard about women, and I try to explain that. I have a whole chapter called, 'On Being a Woman in Politics.' Because it's not just my experience. It's the experience of everyone I've ever known. When you venture forth into the public arena, you're immediately criticized — how you look and what you say and what your voice sounds like, all of which can be very discouraging and even threatening to a lot of women. And I want to be honest about the experience but I don't want it to be discouraging. Because we need more women — particularly more young women — in public service, in government, running for office, in politics. But we have to go in with our eyes wide open, and some of what I've experienced, I hope will be helpful to others who, you know, really want to make their mark.
"And, I guess one of the best things that's happened since the election is that I worried that my defeat would be discouraging for women, and young women in particular. And I'm so excited by all of the young women who are contacting me, who are going to groups that I'm supporting, and saying, no, they want to get out there and they want to try. But I want them to be well prepared and ready, because they will face all kinds of challenges."
I love that, and I love that you're such a proponent for women, even after everything that happened.
But I do wonder, you know, 53% of white women did not vote for you, and unfortunately, I feel like your narrative has been largely left out of the conversation around the Women's March. Do you ever feel abandoned by women?
"No. And I did carry a majority of women, because I like to look at all women, not just women of one background...but all women, and I'm very proud that I carried all women by, I think, 54%. And I actually did better with white women than President Obama had done. So this has been a challenge for Democrats going back quite some time, and I was aware of that going in.
"And I consulted a friend of mine, Sheryl Sandberg, who, as you know, is the COO of Facebook who wrote a really important book called Lean In. And she has both done and collected so much research about women. 'Cause it's not just politics. It's business. It's academia. It's everything. And so she and two of her top researchers came to brief me before the election really got started, before I got into it, and they said something which was so telling. They said, 'All the research shows that the more successful a man becomes, the more likable he becomes. The more professionally successful a woman becomes, the less likable she becomes.'"
Ain't that the truth?
"And, you know, it was so clearly laid out, and when I left the State Department, I had a 69% approval rating, which I was very proud of because I worked hard. I was honored to serve in President Obama's cabinet. But another point that Sheryl made is that when you are a woman in public life and you are advocating for somebody else, which had been much of my work over many decades, starting with the Children's Defense Fund, which I write about in the book, and the extraordinary role model and mentor that Marian Wright Edelman was to me. I was in service to others, particularly kids, and then I got more involved in the Women's Movement and more work on behalf of women and girls. And when you are in service for someone else, you can go and advocate, and people will accept that. But when you are trying to advocate for yourself as a woman, you are held to such a different standard than when men do the very same thing. And one of the points that Sheryl made to me was, if you're a woman and you advocate for a raise for somebody else, like I go and I tell Refinery29, 'You're terrific, and let's give you more support,' I get big kudos for that because I'm advocating for you.
"Now, when a man goes and says, 'You know, I'm working really hard and I would like to get a raise,' or 'I'd like to get other benefits,' that's taken in stride. But when a woman goes and says, 'Hey, you know what? I'm working really hard and I think I should be better compensated,' it hurts you. So when I was serving President Obama, or when I was serving the State of New York as a Senator, or when I was working in the White House on behalf of my husband's agenda, I could still be controversial and criticized, but I was viewed as in support of, and when I came back out after, thinking about it, as I describe in the book, about the process that led me to decide to run, and I say, 'You know what? I'm gonna do this again.' Ooh, all of a sudden, it's like, 'Oh, wait a minute.' You know, because 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."
For sure. One thing I was thinking about as I was reading the book is how you talk so much about President Clinton and the way he supported you throughout not just the campaign but your career. On the campaign, I feel like he was glowing. He was so supportive, and, just, it was really great to see, and I think that the level of support that he has given you might make some men uncomfortable. Did you know he would be [that] kind of husband when you first married him?
"That’s a great question. I thought he would be. We met in law school, so even though when I went to law school, way back in 1969, there were less than 10% women in my class, and in fact, as I write in the book, I was trying to choose which law school to go to, and a professor at Harvard Law School said, 'We don’t need any more women,' which made me quickly decide to go to Yale. We were in a minority. And so, we were viewed as kind of an oddity, if you will, and it was challenging, but there were a lot of great friends we had among our male colleagues. When my husband came, he was a year behind me, 'cause he had spent two years studying in England, and he was just so open and so supportive. And as I got to know him — he had a working mom; his father died before he was born, so his mother always had to support him. And he was very used to having a hard-working woman in the household.
"In fact, when I start the chapter about being a woman in politics, I make the point that if you look at my husband’s story and Barack Obama’s story...think about it. You know, Bill never knew his father. President Obama hardly ever, I think he met him once, and he had no real father relationship. Both of them overcame struggles. In Bill’s case, you know, a level of poverty, abuse from his step-father, and the like. And in President Obama’s, you know, not having a father; his mother working hard; and a really unique, wonderful story. So, I often thought, you know, I don’t have that kind of story, but the story that I have is, when I was coming of age, it was a time of opening doors for women.
"Along with the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement in the 1960s began to question and eliminate barriers to women’s full equality. And my husband always believed in that. You know, he really was someone who encouraged me and supported me. So I know that I’m fortunate, but I would like more young men to understand, as you see with Barack and Michelle Obama, the kind of partnership that you can have, which really makes both of you, I think, better and happier."
Did he have any words of advice that really stuck with you after election night? What kind of comfort did he offer you?
"Oh, he was wonderful, because it was so shocking. You know, we thought I was gonna win. That’s what the data we had suggested. I knew that I had taken a big hit from the letter that Director Comey from the FBI sent, which was, I thought, incredibly, unbelievably unnecessary, unprecedented, and damaging. We knew we had hit some problems with the Russian publication through WikiLeaks of emails from my campaign chair. So, we knew we had some obstacles to overcome, but we thought we had — we thought we were heading in the right direction. The night before we had that huge rally in Philadelphia, both Barack and Michelle were there, and they were so encouraging, they were so sure. My husband was feeling good. So it was shocking. And when it happened, it was really a comfort to have him, because he is, you know, my principal advisor and supporter. But he’d also lost. He’d lost two races for Congress, and reelection as governor, so he knows the pain of losing. And he was able to both buck me up, but also begin to, you know, point me forward.
"Because it was devastating, I’m not gonna pretend otherwise, when it happened. And you know, that next morning, when I gave my concession speech, I was really worried that young people, particularly young women, would be so discouraged, 'cause it was so shocking, and I wanted to, as I said in the concession speech, and as we discussed in some detail in the book, I wanted young women to know that they were valuable and powerful and that they should pursue their dreams. Yes, will there be setbacks, disappointments, failures? Most likely, but you have to get back up and you have to keep going. And you know, Bill was, as was my daughter and my close friends, incredibly supportive during those first terrible days. And I write in the very first chapter what it felt like going to the inauguration that was going to inaugurate my opponent, and I had raised so many concerns about him. I’d tried to warn people, and it was painful. And I felt like I owed it to the country that it was a duty that I go.
"So, I did. Bill and I went. And then we, you know, just kind of recovered ourselves after it was over. I describe what it felt like to hear the speech he gave, which was so divisive and not at all what I thought should have been done to bring the country together. It was pretty grim. But then the next day, with the Women’s March, it was exhilarating. And I was able to get minute by minute reports from my friends and so many of my staff from the campaign. We had a lot of them involved in the organizing and logistics of the march. So, that gave me a big boost of spirit and encouragement."
I think that a lot of young women were surprised, though, how much misogyny and sexism played a role in Donald Trump’s campaign, and you write in the book that that did play a big role in the election. What lessons do you think that taught you about men, in the aftermath of the campaign?
"Well, I think there are several lessons that are important to get out of this book, and that’s one of them: that sexism and misogyny, which I describe and differentiate, if you will, are endemic in our society still. And we elected for our president a man who bragged about groping women and sexual assault, who used vile insults to describe women, who called me nasty for challenging him. It was classic, classic misogynistic behavior. So what does that tell us? It tells us that we’ve made progress. I’d be the first to say we have, certainly from the time I was your age and younger, but that we by no means have achieved the dream of equality in social, political, and economic terms. And that 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 sexism that is so prevalent, and which has been given a real boost by Trump.
"So I want to explain that, because I think for a lot of young women, and I encountered this in the campaign, they thought, well, those days are done. Thank you very much. Here’s your gold watch. We appreciate it. And the statistics are pretty clear that if you’re an educated, college-educated young woman, you start off on parity with your male counterparts in your early-20s. By your late-20s, there begins to be a pay gap. By your 30s, it widens. If you want to be a mom and you want to have a family, it widens further. And it’s not just because women, you know, take time out for families. It is because there remains institutional bias. We see that at Silicon Valley and we see it across the country. So I want young women to read this book and to think about their own lives, and to be part of the continuing commitment to stand up for and speak out against sexism and misogyny, because it’s going to limit our own dreams and ambitions if we don’t."
Yeah, of course. And, your daughter, Chelsea, is one of those young women who is very opinionated and strong, and she’s technically a millennial, and you and President Clinton are Baby Boomers. Has that generational difference ever caused any political differences in your views, and has Chelsea ever helped you to see something a little bit differently when it came to your opinions on things?
"Yes. And in the book, I talk about one of the issues that she really did guide Bill and me on, and that was gay marriage. You know, starting in the '90s, we both tried, Bill and I both tried to open doors and eliminate discrimination against the LGBT community. It was rocky. It was, like, sometimes, you know, one step forward, a half a step back, because it was so resisted. And then, when I got in the Senate, I spoke out in favor of ending employment discrimination, and the like. But gay marriage was something that happened so quickly, and millennials led the way.
"Chelsea was one of the leaders of a group that advocated for gay marriage here in New York, and I was very proud of her. When I got to the State Department, I made changes in how people were treated, what their expectations could be, what their passports would say in the LGBT community, created opportunities for people in committed relationships to be able to travel overseas together. But she kept talking to me, and as soon as I got out of the State Department, ‘cause I couldn’t be in politics then, I said, you know, I support gay marriage and I want to see it be the law of the land. She was very instrumental in that, and other things as well, but that’s the issue that I point to in the book."
So, Ivanka Trump: She was kind of hailed as a moderating force for the Trump administration on the campaign trail. She started to champion a lot of the same issues that you did. She even wore a white pantsuit to inauguration. But she’s kind of failed to live up to a lot of the things that she said that she would. Do you feel that she’s complicit in the administration’s actions, and should we be sympathetic for her?
"The way I look at it is that the person who has to be held responsible is Donald Trump. He is the president. He listens to who he listens to. He tweets and speaks out, makes common cause with white supremacists and neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klanners, takes away the protections that were granted to 800,000 Dreamers, and so many ways just trying to impose a political agenda that is turning the clock back, or attempting to do so, in ways that I find not only really repulsive, but wrong-headed, in terms of the kind of country we are. So, 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 view, then they are part of his agenda and should be judged and held accountable for that."
For sure. There are some reports that a lot of Democrats are not necessarily looking forward to your book tour because they would prefer to look forward and not look back. What do you say to that?
"I’d say read this book, because it is about going forward. I talk about what happened, because I am concerned that what happened could happen again. And let me just briefly say, this campaign was carried out in an atmosphere of a concerted assault on truth, facts, and reason, contrary to how a democracy is supposed to work. That’s not going away. Very powerful forces and individuals, whether it is the Mercer family, the Koch brothers, Steve Bannon, and Breitbart, and Fox News, and all the rest of it, have been undermining the truth in ways large and small for years. It came to a head in this campaign.
"The Russian attack on our election was a hostile attack by a foreign adversary. We still don’t know everything they did. We’re learning more every day, and to what extent the Trump campaign knew, and to what extent they actually cooperated, is being disclosed. I hope we’ll get to the bottom of it, both in the Congressional investigations and in the Special Counsel. I personally would like to see an independent commission with subpoena power, because this was an attack on America. And so, people who say, 'Well, you know, that can’t happen.' It is happening. And it will continue to happen.
"We talked about sexism and misogyny. That will continue to happen. We have to stand against it, and it’s not just about me. In the book, I write about wonderful women leaders being attacked, you know, Kamala Harris, Senator from California, being told to shut up, stop talking, when she was questioning Jeff Sessions. Elizabeth Warren, on the floor of the Senate — I was a Senator — reading a letter from Coretta Scott King criticizing Jeff Sessions, told to cease, and she persisted, thank goodness, right? So these are not just what happened to me. This is what happened that we have to understand, and I would add that the suppression of voters, particularly African-Americans and young voters, really worked for the Republicans. You know, the best estimate is that 200,000 voters in Milwaukee were turned away. Big article in The New York Times about a week ago, people in North Carolina showing up to vote who knew they’d registered, and being told they weren’t. Was that intrusiveness by the Russians messing with voter roles? Was that decisions by Republican governors, Secretaries of State, legislators? We need to know. This goes to the core of a democracy. One person, one vote should be sacred.
"And I guess, finally, the role that the media and social media has to play in our democracy requires a lot of serious thought from journalists and reporters and editors and others, because it was hard to cover the Trump campaign. I understand that. I have a lot of sympathy for how difficult it was, because it was, you know, just a car wreck every day. He said some vile thing there, some crazy tweet here, and it just never ended, and it was really difficult to get your arms around it. But the press has to be ready for a 24/7 media environment with fact checking, with journalistic and editorial standards, so that, no, we don’t wanna live in a world of alternative facts. That’s what they want us to live in. We can argue what’s the best way to deal with climate change, immigration, whatever, but deal with the facts. Don’t let others kind of insinuate this, you know, assault on reason and truth into our reporting.
"So, I think those are things that are just as relevant today as they were in 2016, and will continue to be relevant, because, like, the Russians, for example, they’re not gonna quit. They were successful. So they’re gonna keep going after people. They may end up going after Trump. You know? You create a Frankenstein — you may not know where it ends up."
Yeah, it's scary. One of the other things you read about in the book is your passion for moving forward the Democratic Party, and for all of the things that could be possible for this party. Do you feel that abortion litmus tests are necessary for the Democratic Party in red states?
"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, from the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act and Medicare and Medicaid under Johnson, to the extraordinary work that President Carter did to bring Israel and Egypt to the peace table, to my husband’s great record of broad-based prosperity, lifting tens of millions of people out of poverty, and a balanced budget. And of course, Barack Obama saving the auto industry, getting us on the path to universal healthcare coverage, saving the economy, these are very significant accomplishments of the Democratic Party.
"So I’m proud to be a Democrat, 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. I believe that there can be personal differences, as I explain in the book. I have worked for more than 25 years to try to bring Republicans and Democrats together around things like teen pregnancy and access to birth control and abortion. I’m a strong supporter of Planned Parenthood. So, there can be personal differences. In fact, one of the reasons I was proud to have Tim Kaine on my ticket is that he’s personally opposed to abortion. He’s a practicing Catholic. But he, like Mario Cuomo long before, recognized that you have to protect the rights of individuals to make the most important and intimate decisions. And reproductive rights are important in order to make clear that we want to give women a choice. We’re not gonna tell you what to do. We’re not gonna prevent you from doing. I’ve seen what happens in other countries — China, Romania, and other places that I’ve been — so I think the Constitutional right that women have to make this most intimate choice should be protected and should be defended."
I’ve been thinking a lot about the day after the election. In the Refinery29 Offices, there were a lot of people sobbing and crying and upset, and during your concession speech, particularly, there was an electric energy in the room. Is there anything that you would say to those women differently today than you did back in that speech?
"I think the speech was certainly reflective of my concerns at that point, which were that people would get discouraged, and they would turn away from public involvement, however they defined it. I’m not so worried about that. What I am focused on now, with this new organization I’ve started called Onward Together, is to give more people, young people, the chance to participate through supporting organizations, through being online, through raising money for people who are out in the public arena. I’m gonna continue to do that. I’m very committed to it. And I have a little mantra where I like to say, 'Resist, insist, persist, and enlist.'"
I love that.
"And enlist is really important. Not everybody’s gonna run for office by any means, but you can support those who do. You can be part of groups, whether it’s fighting the unfortunate reversal of EPA rules with our environment and the effects that will have on climate change; whether it is standing up for DACA recipients, because it is so cruel and wrong to rip them away from the only country they’ve ever known and loved. 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. But we just have to organize ourselves as well as we can so that the maximum number of people can be involved, and particularly to vote in elections, because that’s really what it all comes down to."
Right, of course. Well, to end this interview, Refinery29, we love owning your power, and we are big fans of the power pose. Mine’s kinda something like, like a little… [Poses] It makes me feel confident. Do you have a go-to power pose that makes you feel powerful?
"Let me see here. It’s hard to do sitting down, but I think, you know, sitting up straight, and just looking as fearless as you can about whatever lies ahead of you out there. And just being unapologetic to own your own power and who you are."
I love it. Thank you so much Secretary Clinton. I appreciate it. Thank you very much.
"Thank you so much."