Hillary Clinton has inspired a lot of feelings in voters over the years, but the one that has arguably proved most challenging for her to elicit is empathy. Sad as this reality may be, a sizable number of Americans still have a hard time relating to unapologetically ambitious, successful, pant suit-wearing feminists. Recently, however, one woman set out to try to close this empathy gap with I Feel Like Hillz—an online Hillary merch store and social forum aimed at creating both awe and understanding of the candidate and allowing others to share exactly why they’re not just with her but feel like her.
The site was founded by Molly Smith, a 33-year-old Hillary supporter. The inspiration for the project, she told me during a phone interview, came in part from an unlikely source: Kanye West. During an online search for hip-hop merch, Smith says she had an epiphany: She was struck by “how Kanye is free to say whatever he wants. To say, essentially, ‘I’ve done crazy things, and I’m a badass and I’m proud of it.’” Hillary, on the other hand, isn’t given that allowance.
And so, on her site, she decided to marry these themes and offer a sort of hip hop ode to Hillz—graphic T-shirts and graffiti stencils serve as a bold vote of confidence for the presidential candidate, encouraging her to forge forward with as much bravado as Kanye.
On the website, Smith lays out the site’s mission—one that will surely resonate with many women:
When we see a tweet about Hillary’s “likeability,” we remember the time our boss told us we were “too serious.” When we watched her speak at the DNC, we got all misty thinking about the little girls who were also watching, and learning that anything is possible.
I Feel Like Hillz sets out to tell Hillary’s story through our own. How do you feel like Hillz? is our central question. Supporters from across the country send personal anecdotes, snatches of insight, and irreverent musings that capture how they relate to Hillary. For us, that can be as simple as “we’re tired of people telling us to smile.”
Many of the products sold on I Feel Like Hillz strive to reclaim the Democratic nominee’s most controversial quotes, repurposing them as rallying cries. The site’s signature T-shirt reads “I Could Have Baked Cookies and Had Teas,” which Hillary famously said as first lady. The comment came during Bill Clinton’s first run for the presidency, in response to criticism of her choice to be a working woman, as well as a wife and a mother. The end of the quote continues, “but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession.”
On the site’s forum, fellow Hillary supporters have responded to Smith’s central question—how do you feel like Hillz?—with personal, often moving responses. A voter named Emaani Thompson writes, for example, that she “feels like Hillz” because as a “mixed African-American female growing up Muslim in the modern world, I straddle the borders of my faith and the material world.” She continues: “I feel like Hillz because I am resilient, I am not phased by my obstacles, and I want to set an example for other young women. You don’t have to be labelled and put in a box just because of who you are or the group you represent. At the end of the day, it’s about you representing you.”
Like Hillary, so many women, Smith says, feel the need “to dampen the strength of their fire to appease others” or to “change their appearance and demeanor to make themselves more palatable.” (We’ve all seen Hillary attempt to morph her looks and personality based on the circumstances.) And far too many women can relate to the way she dealt with her husband’s infidelities. Smith remembers her “‘I’m okay’ face” after Bill’s infidelities. It made her feel like Hillz.
But Smith also gets why some women feel a distance from the candidate. “It’s that ‘I’m okay’ face that also makes Hillary unrelatable,” Smith says. “Empathy requires us to be vulnerable—to allow ourselves to be opened up emotionally, to be re-wounded, to accept parts of ourselves we may not like very much. It’s a give and take between the subject and listener.”
Despite her awe-inspiring perseverance—and performance—many women are still reluctant to give Hillary her due. Perhaps, Smith posits, it’s because it’s tough for us to feel empathy “for tough female archetypes,” because “we don’t have that many models for it.” Hillary, she believes, should be viewed as a model.
After all, she says, over three decades of public service, Hillary has weathered the worst, only to rise higher and higher. “The reason women are afraid to be like Hillary is fear of what other people are going to say about us,” Smith says. “But—you’re going to say I’m a bitch? Okay, so what. I am. Hillary’s been called everything under the sun, and she’s going to be our president.”