Women, as Hillary Clinton showed Wednesday morning, know how to absorb pain. And Clinton has had plenty of practice about how to stand before the cameras after public humiliation.
Clearly, she needed time to compose herself. She made no appearances overnight, instead calling Donald Trump to concede. But when she strode onstage in purple and gray, Bill Clinton behind her in a purple tie, her voice did not waver.
Women seldom have the luxury of giving in to pain. Many have children or grandchildren or aging parents to tend, whether they themselves are sick or in emotional turmoil.
So Clinton faced her despondent campaign staff and her despondent half of the country and tried to rally them. She spoke most directly to young people, and to women and girls. She had hoped to stand before them as a symbol of all that women could achieve. Now she had to demonstrate once again what women can endure.
“I’ve had successes and setbacks, sometimes really painful ones,” she told them.
It was hard not to recall her standing beside Bill Clinton after the whole world knew graphic and humiliating details about the affairs he had denied having.
“To all the women and especially the young women who put their faith in me I want you to know that nothing has made me prouder than to be your champion,” she said, and here she had to clear her throat. “I know we still have not shattered that highest and hardest glass ceiling but some day somebody will, and hopefully sooner than we might think right now.”
It’s difficult to know right now all that stood in the way of shattering that ceiling. Was it a woman, or this woman? Was it Clinton as symbol of the Washington establishment, as a consummate insider in a time of profound distrust of the elite?
We do know that voters disproportionately punish women who are seen as dishonest. We do know that it’s hard for strong, assertive and ambitious women to be seen as likable and competent at the same time.
Political scientists and cultural commentators will long debate what happened in this election, to this woman and to many women. The question is whether the image of Clinton, composed and gracious in defeat, persevering through pain, will inspire women to try again.