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America hates older women

For me, the lesson of this election is clear: Too many people hate older women.

As Donald Trump makes cabinet appointments and continues to send out threatening tweets, my Facebook feed reflects the rightful concerns of people of color, Muslims, undocumented immigrants, Jews, members of the LBGTQ community and others. And yet, despite widespread recognition of the breath-taking sexism of the president-elect's public and private remarks over his lifetime, there has been far less attention to the implications of Hillary Clinton's defeat for what the French politely call "women of a certain age." As usual, we are being ignored. As one of those women, I am feeling the results of this election deeply and personally.

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As a history professor whose classes often deal with issues of gender, my students and I have examined the vilification of older women throughout history. While all women in all historical time periods have been victims of misogyny, it is older women who have been the target of particular animus. Once they pass the age of fertility, women become invisible — or worse. They are the ugly crones in fairy tales. They are the evil stepmothers. They are the witches who turn to the devil for sexual satisfaction because mortal men no longer desire them. Philip Wylie's 1942 "Generation of Vipers" portrayed older mothers in particular as life-sucking and coined the term "momism." The vicious assaults on Ms. Clinton for her laugh, her "grating" voice, her "dishonesty," her purported "corruption," and her inability to inspire drew on the worst of this long legacy of trashing older women.

Many women of my generation were thrilled at the prospect of a woman in the White House — finally. Then, we watched in horror as the campaign unfolded. The discomfort over Ms. Clinton's gender was not only palpable, it was toxic and disgusting. We watched it first in the primaries as some of Bernie's lovable, crunchy "bro" supporters attacked Ms. Clinton in explicitly sexist terms. The Trump rallies were far worse, as white men with children in tow reveled in the calls to "Trump that bitch" and wore T-shirts that read "Hillary sucks, but not like Monica." The viciously personal nature of the attacks was appalling, but so was the media commentary, which relentlessly pointed out how much people disliked Ms. Clinton. At some point, one has to assume that the laser-like focus on Hillary-hatred in some cases fostered, or at least normalized, it. After hearing again and again how unlikable Ms. Clinton was, it became uncomfortable to admit that you found her, in fact, quite likable and even admirable. Pantsuit Nation took on the aura of a coming-out party as we older women rallied to her cause.

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With the Electoral College vote, we have now confirmed the election of an unqualified huckster who was openly racist and sexist for president rather than a woman whose qualifications were visible to anyone who followed the campaign. Yes, we knew about the emails: a bad decision. We also know that to equate this mistake with Donald Trump's multitude of sins was ludicrous. Yet the media and punditry, with the help of Russian hackers, promoted the story of her transgressions vigorously, in a way that suggested that they were indeed as shocking as those of Mr. Trump. With a late assist from James Comey and the FBI, the public had permission to assure itself that an irrational hatred of Ms. Clinton was her own fault, a consequence of her lack of trustworthiness, and not because of their revulsion that this older woman might represent our nation.

So the new president will be a man whose unsuitable temperament and lack of readiness for the White House were apparent even to a significant number of people who voted for him and which the chaotic nature of his transition now underscores. Reporters and pundits continue to opine on why Ms. Clinton lost the Electoral College to a clearly inferior candidate. They argue that she was irredeemably flawed. That this was a change election. That the good people of Middle America feared their loss of status. That the liberal elite simply didn't understand the pain of those left behind by the current economy.

But I, and other women my age, understand what this really means. Despite the fact that Americans have said that they are ready for a woman in the White House, they are not. They do not want to see us — women who have the experience, the gravitas and the scars to fill the most important roles — in public life. And that is why so many older women have experienced this loss as a personal blow. This election has been the most painful reminder yet that society would rather "women of a certain age" remain invisible. Because when we dare to become visible, we are reviled. That is a bleak realization.

Christine Adams is a professor of history at St. Mary's College of Maryland; her email is cmadams@smcm.edu.

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