The ugly presidential campaign spurred professional women in Chicago to become politically active, many for the first time.
Attorney Laurel Bellows joined 900 women from 60 countries for the International Women’s Forum annual conference in Chicago this fall. At every lunch and dinner, she says, the conversation turned to the mistreatment of Hillary Clinton during her campaign for president. “Women from all over the world asked, ‘Why isn’t she respected?’ ”
The misogyny issue has galvanized professional women in Chicago. Many worked on a political campaign for the first time—by hosting or going to fundraisers, making phone calls, getting on buses, knocking on doors, writing bigger-than-usual checks, registering voters and talking about this unfairness at work and at play.
It’s not OK, they said, that the nation discussed the color of Clinton’s pantsuits and whether they made her look fat. It’s not OK that Donald Trump called women pigs, dogs, slobs, disgusting animals. It’s not OK that, during the debates, he talked over Clinton and branded her a “nasty woman.” It’s not OK that the president-elect bragged, in a 2005 video, that he’d groped women, which he dismissed as locker room talk. It’s not OK that women who came forward to say they’d been sexually assaulted by Trump were not believed.
Professional women say they’ve faced the same sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace, and spoke up for and donated time and money to Clinton’s campaign in the hope that her election would bring change. Now that she has lost, outraged professionals are donating money to Emily’s List, Planned Parenthood and other rights groups; volunteering; speaking out; and banding together in new ways to ensure that women’s workplace and reproductive rights are not lost.
For example, the Chicago Network, an invite-only nonpartisan organization for female leaders, hosted an audience-included roundtable Nov. 17 to discuss issues most important to women over the next four years. These Chicago professionals, including Vermillion restaurant founder Rohini Dey and media consultant Joyce Winnecke, insist on having a voice in national policy and agenda; highlights of that discussion are to be shared with the Trump White House.
Two rallies are planned for Jan. 21, the day after the inauguration: the Women’s March on Washington and a parallel event in Chicago. Hundreds of Chicago-area women are said to be participating.
Bellows, who specializes in separation agreements, says she’s seen sexism her entire career, writing the send-offs for female executives passed over during corporate mergers. To try to ensure Clinton’s election, she set aside eight hours per week, in one- and two-hour blocks, to make fundraising calls. “I wasn’t persuading anyone; I was reaching out to friends, asking them to give. I said, ‘Don’t buy the boots this fall; give everything you can.’ Then I asked them to call 30 of their friends and say the same.”
Lincoln Park real estate agent Debra Dobbs took action after griping with fellow brokers at open houses earlier this year. “We’re impassioned, invigorated and very angry. This is a woman who is a brilliant strategist, who says women’s rights are human rights. How dare they talk about her haircut, that she looks tired? It’s wrong!” To support Clinton, Dobbs proposed to fellow professionals a $500-per-person get-out-the-vote campaign with the aim of raising $150,000 to be used in swing states.
‘THEY GOT ON BUSES’
Democratic campaign officials locally saw a new kind of activist. Women, and men, poured in, says Lauren Beth Gash, founding chair of the 10th Congressional District Democrats, which has seven offices on the North Shore. “They were moved to do something. They’re Democratic voters who used to yell at the TV. They got on buses, they knocked on doors, they made phone calls—even when they said they’re uncomfortable making phone calls. They were so angry at the way she was treated and feared a Trump presidency. They were newly energized; we had no trouble getting volunteers.”
In Lincoln Park, 43rd Ward Committeewoman Lucy Moog saw the same uptick at campaign offices, with people walking in on their way home from work. “They would say, ‘I’m not even a political person, but this is infuriating to me, and I need to do something.’ They went to Iowa, they canvassed, they made phone calls. Blood was boiling.”
Among her activists: Laura Kofoid, who described herself as “jacked up” over Clinton’s mistreatment. “I can relate to what’s happening to Hillary Clinton because I experienced it” in business school and in the corporate world, says Kofoid, a Harvard MBA who worked in brand management at Procter & Gamble and now owns Laudi Vidni, a custom leather handbag store in Lincoln Park. “Are you too buttoned-up? Too prepared? How are you dressed? I talk about this with anyone who will listen.”
In the weeks before the election, in Skokie, 120 women of all ages looking to get involved in the political process stopped in at Mom + Baby biweekly events hosted by its founding president, insurance broker Alexandra Eidenberg. They came in because they were appalled by what happened during the campaign, she says, and stayed to talk about equal pay, family leave, jobs and career, the future. “There’s a lot of fear in the mom market.”
Elsewhere on the North Shore, some mothers of adult women said this was the most important election of their lives, a defining moment that sparked their activism. “I was horrified by the misogyny in this campaign and felt the need to speak up,” says Nancy Fredman Krent, a consultant and retired attorney in Highland Park who has three daughters. She’d always been interested in politics, but this was her first outing in a campaign office, where she made phone calls and input data. She volunteered 10-15 hours per week.
Professional women say they’ve faced the same sexism and sexual harassment in the workplace, and spoke up for and donated time and money to Clinton’s campaign in the hope that her election would bring change.
Ditto the formerly apolitical Nita Dean, mother of an adult daughter, who has worked in management and sales for a chemical distributor and now runs an interior design business out of her Fox Lake home. She still feels the sting of sexism she endured in the workplace and wanted to see a woman president. She spent 30 hours a week registering voters, assigning volunteers, and selling buttons and yard signs.
Nationwide, not all professional women are in the anti-Trump camp and feel mobilized to act. According to the Washington Post’s exit polling, 45 percent of white women with college degrees voted for Trump. But in Cook County, Clinton outperformed Trump by more than 50 percentage points among all voters (and we can assume nearly half were women), according to the Chicago Tribune.
The upside? Clinton’s experience has become a teachable moment for workplace consultants. “How would you handle 51 interruptions; what do you do?” asks Andrea Kramer, an attorney at McDermott Will & Emery and co-author of “Breaking Through Bias: Communication Techniques for Women to Succeed at Work.”
With her husband, Alton Harris, Kramer hosted fundraisers for Catherine Cortez Masto, a Democrat who won the U.S. Senate seat in Nevada being vacated by Harry Reid. The couple also donated money weekly to women and men whose election would have given Clinton an easier time in office.
“Every day in my office—in business meetings, at political events—we’re talking about and identifying the misogyny that exists in our day-to-day interactions with clients and each other,” Kramer says. “With this election, it’s top-of-mind.”