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Hillary Clinton and The Smart Girl in the Room

Published in ChicagoNow, September 27, 2016

I’m only a couple of years older than Hillary Clinton. Like her, I grew up in a middle-class suburb in the Midwest. So, I get it. Back when we were growing up, it was considered bad form to be the smart girl in the room.

Listening to Morning Joe just now while I exercised, I was shocked to hear that lots of the talking heads thought the debate was almost a tie, and that Trump was still in the game. This despite Clinton giving a debate performance that demonstrated knowledge and preparation. Clinton did her homework and studied hard for the test.

Trump, on the other hand, seemed to feel his charm would be enough. He made faces, talked about how not paying taxes was smart, bragged that benefitting from the housing crisis in 2006 was good business, sniffed constantly (is it possible now he was sick?), drank more water than Marco (remember how he ridiculed him for doing the same thing?), and somehow brought Rosie O’Donnell into a discussion of foreign policy. And yet, many folks on Morning Joe were not sure Hillary won the debate.

Then it hit me. She and I grew up in an era when we were told to tone down our intelligence, hide our good grades, and never let guys see us as the smart girl in the room. I’ll confess that I played that game through high school and even college. And I’m so proud of Hillary that she didn’t.

I’ll confess that in 2008, I fell hard for President Obama. While Clinton was “likable enough,” Obama was the guy who got all A’s without breaking a sweat. Her effort showed. His was masked by a coolness that always appealed to girls like me.

From time to time, I feel guilty about making that choice. I understood how hard she worked, only to discover over and over again that guys didn’t like women whose smartness showed. And women didn’t appreciate them either. Even in an era when women are told to lean in and have it all, women still earn less than men for the same work. And they still have trouble talking about themselves, which feels like bragging rather than self-promotion.

I understand that women like Clinton don’t appeal to some voters. She’s not perky or personable. Yes, she’s kind of what we used to call a grind back in the day. But why should a woman who was definitely the smartest person in the room during last night’s debate have to hide her intelligence and appear like she didn’t spend much time studying for the exam?

Hillary, I get you. I was you. Please keep up the hard work.


by Laurie Levy
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