No matter what you might say about Hillary Clinton's decision not to fire one of her top advisors after a young woman on her campaign accused him of inappropriate touching, kissing, and suggestive emails — and you just might have a lot to say — her nuanced reflection on it deserves our attention.
While Donald Trump fear-mongered and hyperbolised his way through an extra-long State of the Union on Tuesday, in which he said essentially nothing about women, much less sexual harassment, Clinton posted a 1,500-word essay on Facebook examining her decision not to fire Burns Strider, a senior advisor to her 2008 presidential campaign accused of repeatedly sexually harassing a staffer who shared an office with him.
"The short answer is this: If I had it to do again, I wouldn’t," Clinton writes.
Sources told The New York Times that despite her campaign manager's suggestion, Clinton did not let Strider go but instead docked him for several weeks' pay and required him to undergo counselling. She also separated him and the woman, assigning her to another office, and, according to her post, "put in place technical barriers to his emailing her." He was warned that he'd be fired if he did it again.
Several years after working for Clinton, Strider was fired from another job for inappropriate behaviour. About this, Clinton writes: "That reoccurrence troubles me greatly, and it alone makes clear that the lesson I hoped he had learned while working for me went unheeded. Would he have done better — been better — if I had fired him? Would he have gotten that next job?"
She admits that at the time, she thought firing Strider wasn't the right solution. "Taking away someone’s livelihood is perhaps the most serious thing an employer can do. When faced with a situation like this, if I think it’s possible to avoid termination while still doing right by everyone involved, I am inclined in that direction. I do not put this forward as a virtue or a vice — just as a fact about how I view these matters," she writes.
Clinton didn't make the decision that many of us, after the cathartic outpouring of the #MeToo movement, view as the right one. She should have fired him, 2018 lens or not. But her statements show a remorse and contrition that are unfortunately rarely heard from public figures. Unlike many, she dissects her decisions and learns from them. "There is no way I can go back 10 years and know the answers. But you can bet I’m asking myself these questions right now," she writes.
Where are the former Harvey Weinstein executives writing thoughtful essays about what they should and shouldn't have done while working with the abusive entertainment mogul? Where are the statements from tech company CEOs that go beyond PR lingo? (Et tu, Republican Party?) How many public figures actually publicly examine themselves in less than flattering ways?
Precious few. But Hillary Clinton does, and our outsized expectations of this woman are hard to overlook. The striking amount of times she apologised in What Happened — her own, personal memoir — shows that she's more prepared to examine her failings that the average millionaire. And it brings up questions of why women are constantly being asked to mop up men's failings.
There are issues with her statement. At one point, she says that a female boss has "extra responsibility to look out for the women who work for her," which suggests that women should assume more of the burden around these workplace abuses. This bears out in real life: Just look at all the women at the Golden Globes (or, really, insert your awards show/event here) who spoke up in support of Time's Up and all the men who didn't and silently wore pins. But as we're all learning and growing in this moment together, there's value to making mistakes out in the open rather than hiding behind an iron-gated PR team.
Some will ask why it took her so long to speak up about this, and her response is honest: "I’ve been grappling with this and thinking about how best to share my thoughts. I hope that my doing so will push others to keep having this conversation — to ask and try to answer the hard questions, not just in the abstract but in the real-life contexts of our roles as men, women, bosses, employees, advocates, and public officials."
Finally, and most importantly, Clinton writes, she's spoken with the young woman who was affected, and the woman has "read every word of this and has given me permission to share it."
It's not going to please everyone in America, because, well, insert shrug emoji here. But it absolutely matters that Clinton delivered a well-reasoned, nuanced response. It matters because we live in a world in which this very article, and pretty much every article about Hillary Clinton, will be pummelled with misogynist attacks, links to alt-right propaganda, "BENGHAZI" GIFs, and misspelled swear words. It matters because the discourse has become so poisoned that there seems to be no room for learning, being human, and making mistakes. Especially not for women like Hillary Clinton. There are only litmus tests.
One of the most criticised women on earth made a mistake when she believed she was doing the best by her staffer. She responded to it more thoughtfully than the vast majority would have. "In other words, everyone’s now on their second chance, both the offenders and the decision-makers. Let’s do our best to make the most of it," she writes.
It would do us well to listen to the words of the supporters commenting on her Facebook post, who say things like: "Why do women tear each other down? She has been a role model and representative for women her whole life and yes she’s not perfect! Are you?"
Another said: "Why do you even need to defend this when we have a sexual offender in the White House and not a single Republican seems to care?"
They have a point. We demand so much of Hillary Clinton — and women in general. It's about time we held men to the same standard.
We've reached out to Clinton's spokesperson and will update this story when we hear back.