Last week I published an essay in Salon on how I’d come around to casting my vote for Hillary Clinton because in her journey I recognized my own. I’ve had pieces go viral before, but nothing like this. My best friend from third grade emailed to say she’d seen the piece. People started emailing my parents. The article so far has received thousands of comments and hundreds of thousands of shares. Two people who are not US citizens, who don’t live in this country, emailed me about the essay. Out of this overwhelming response I’ve realized two things.
- Women who work in technology read this essay as a story about what it’s like to be a woman in an industry that, frankly, makes it difficult to be a woman. I hadn’t thought of the essay that way when I wrote it – I saw it more as my personal journey from someone who believed we lived in a post-sexist world to one who understands that of course sexism is alive and well, it just looks different. I haven’t worked in an industry other than tech so i can’t speak to other industries, but I will say that the emails from the other women (and a few men) in tech are especially meaningful. They make me realize that I’m not alone, which I knew on some level but now I understand the scope and breadth of the problem, and I see that not only am I not alone, I’m surrounded by a tidal wave of women who have also felt devalued, overlooked, and occasionally stomped on. And while I love knowing that it’s not just me, obviously that knowledge is also gut-wrenchingly depressing.
- Personal essay is a powerful medium. This might sound obvious, but essayists are constantly being criticized for being self-involved navel-gazers. I don’t think I’ve ever published an essay where someone didn’t comment something like “This author needs to worry about more important things,” or “This is a bunch of worthless nonsense.” But the truth is that I write personal essays because I want to give voice to the issues I see around me. These essays may have the aura of a diary entry, but the hope is that I can use the lens of my life to help make sense of the world, and that by extension that will help others to make sense of their own lives, or their own worlds. That may sound grandiose, but I don’t think too many people write essays simply because they want to hear themselves type. The ultimate hope is to get people talking, thinking, and ultimately to elicit change. I don’t know if my essay will change anyone’s vote — and my intention wasn’t to change votes, because I understand that different things are important to different people — but I do hope it will let other women know they’re not alone, that we’re not living in some kind of post-sexist utopia, and that it’s okay to stand up and scream loudly.