A Feminist View of Strength and Stamina

Clinton’s 11-hour performance in front of the House Benghazi Committee is proof of her qualifications.

Over the weekend, Rudy Giuliani was the latest Trump surrogate to weigh in on the myth being created by the right wing media about Hillary Clinton’s supposed health problems.

When Fox News Sunday host Shannon Bream asked Giuliani about Trump’s lagging poll numbers, Giuliani responded that Clinton has “an entire media empire,” — including the New York Times, ABC, and CBS, among others — working on her behalf.

“She has an entire media empire that…fails to point out several signs of illness by her. All you got to do is go online.”

Personally, I’d like to align myself with what Ruth Marcus wrote about this nonsense.

“To defeat crime and radical Islamic terrorism in our country, to win trade in our country, you need tremendous physical and mental strength and stamina,” he [Trump] said in Wisconsin. “Hillary Clinton doesn’t have that strength and stamina.”

And a day earlier, in case you missed it, “Importantly, she also lacks the mental and physical stamina to take on ISIS, and all the many adversaries we face.”

It’s obvious what’s going on here. The strength-stamina combo is a gender-age twofer, a double whack at Clinton for the price of one. Strength, what men have and women lack; stamina, with its intimations of go-all-night virility. Clinton, in this depiction, is both a weak girl and a dried-up old crone.

On the ageism, as Marcus notes, Trump is actually one year and four months older than Clinton. And then, of course, there’s this:

If there are any men left who still believe that women are the weaker sex, it is long past time for them to think again. With respect to that most essential proof of robustness—the power to stay alive—women are tougher than men from birth through to extreme old age. The average man may run a 100-meter race faster than the average woman and lift heavier weights. But nowadays women outlive men by about five to six years.

As a feminist, I don’t tend to see sexism in every political utterance this campaign. But in this case – it is not very subtle. I actually don’t doubt that Trump thinks that Clinton is lacking in physical and mental strength and stamina. That’s because I assume he thinks that about women in general.

When it comes to the office of POTUS, the level of physical strength a candidate possesses doesn’t seem particularly relevant. We just want them to be healthy. But I’d guess that Trump and Clinton have completely different ideas about how they view mental strength and stamina – something that is definitely required by this job. If anyone ever had any doubts about Clinton’s qualifications in that arena, all they’d have to do is watch her amazing 11-hour performance in front of the House Benghazi Committee. It would be interesting to watch Trump even try to keep his cool under fire that long.

As I’ve written on numerous occasions, it is clear that Trump equates strength with dominance. For Clinton, her campaign slogan says it all: “Stronger Together.” The truth is that a feminist perspective allows us to expand on what we mean by strength (which could be helpful for men as well as women). A good place to start is this poem by Marge Piercy titled “For Strong Women.”

A strong woman is a woman who is straining.
A strong woman is a woman standing
on tip toe and lifting a barbell
while trying to sing Boris Godunov.
A strong woman is a woman at work
cleaning out the cesspool of the ages,
and while she shovels, she talks about
how she doesn’t mind crying, it opens
the ducts of her eyes, and throwing up
develops the stomach muscles, and
she goes on shoveling with tears in her nose.

A strong woman is a woman in whose head
a voice is repeating, I told you so,
ugly, bad girl, bitch, nag, shrill, witch,
ballbuster, nobody will ever love you back,
why aren’t you feminine, why aren’t
you soft, why aren’t you quiet, why
aren’t you dead?

A strong woman is a woman determined
to do something others are determined
not to be done. She is pushing up on the bottom
of a lead coffin lid. She is trying to raise
a manhole cover with her head, she is trying
to butt her way though a steel wall.
Her head hurts. People waiting for the hole
to be made say, hurry, you’re so strong.

A strong woman is a woman bleeding
inside. A strong woman is a woman making
herself strong every morning while her teeth
loosen and her back throbs. Every baby,
a tooth, midwives used to say, and now
every battle a scar. A strong woman
is a mass of scar tissue that aches
when it rains and wounds that bleed
when you bump them and memories that get up
in the night and pace in boots to and fro.

A strong woman is a woman who craves love
like oxygen or she turns blue choking.
A strong woman is a woman who loves
strongly and weeps strongly and is strongly
terrified and has strong needs. A strong woman is strong
in words, in action, in connection, in feeling;
she is not strong as a stone but as a wolf
sucking her young.  Strength is not in her, but she
enacts it as the wind fills a sail.

What comforts her is other’s loving
her equally for the strength and for the weakness
from which it issues, lightning from a cloud.
Lightning stuns. In rain, the clouds disperse.
Only water of connection remains,
flowing through us. Strong is what we make together,
a strong woman is a woman strongly afraid.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.