Chelsea Clinton on Glass Ceilings and What She Hopes Her Child Won’t Have to Worry About
In 1995, then-first lady Hillary Clinton made a speech at the World Conference on Women in Beijing in which she said five words that are still ringing in women’s ears: “Women’s rights are human rights.”
Nearly 20 years later, her daughter, Chelsea Clinton, is working on No Ceilings: The Full Participation Project to quantify women’s opportunities across the globe and find out what works to expand them. Chelsea Clinton spoke to 900 college women at the 2014 National Conference for College Women Student Leaders about the project and gave advice to the leaders she hopes will take on the challenge of changing the world for women because, as Clinton said, “I can’t imagine anything that would make the world look more different than if women and girls were unequivocally enfranchised.”
Sorry, not sorry: The best advice Chelsea ever got was to stop apologizing for everything.
So what does changing things for women entail? First, Clinton said, the people who are already interested in these issues need to make it unavoidable and necessary for others to pay attention. And women leaders can be the ones to do that. Clinton recommends that leaders have a vision for what they want to change — whether it’s as local as their families or as far-flung as the globe. To find your vision, Clinton recommends thinking about what makes you angry or passionate. Once you have that, you need a plan to put that vision into action, the humility to ask for help when you need it, and the motivation to see the problem through despite the challenges and cynics you’ll inevitably face. Those cynics, by the way, are the ones making sure the status quo stays unchanged.
Clinton was candid about the challenges that women particularly face. “I do think thick skin is necessary in life in general as a survival tactic,” she said. But she was careful to emphasize that you should be discerning about the tough criticism you get. If it’s about something valid that could make your plans stronger, great. If it’s about your looks or something stupid, it’s criticism that says more about the critic than about you.
A graduate student from Oregon State University, Elba Moise, moderated a Q&A after Clinton’s remarks. When a Georgetown University student asked what could be done about the problem of violence against women who are homeless, Clinton responded with advice that is applicable to many situations that college women might be concerned about: Try to find out what policies are working well elsewhere, and ask your mayor to adopt them. If the mayor doesn’t do it, work hard to get her or him out of office in the next election, and think about running yourself.
Clinton’s inspiration comes from the women who came before her, like her grandmother, who was born before women could vote but lived long enough to cast a ballot in her daughter’s presidential race. But Clinton is also inspired by the next generation — the women at the National Conference for College Women Student Leaders and also the child she is expecting in the fall. She hopes that her child’s generation will be able to take women’s equality for granted. “One of the things I deeply hope for is that the conversations that he or she will be having will be radically different and unimaginable from the ones we have today,” Clinton said.