There are so many things to be said about election night. I haven’t thought about more than a fraction of them, let alone come to any conclusions. But one thing came to me tonight I wanted to write down.
One of the biggest privileges there is in a society is to have the space and room and right to just be. To just be oneself without coercion, constriction. To be assured attention and respect, to be granted significance and relevance for just existing.
These are things that accompany life as a white man (I know, I know, not all men all the time; please, just wait and hear me out.) The reverse is true for minorities and for women, and for children, especially non-white-male kids. From my perspective as a woman, living life in a society which willfully and with malicious intent refuses to acknowledge the existence of more than a narrow slice of who I am, of who women are, takes an immense amount of energy. It takes energy to absorb or deflect daily patronizing communication, aggression, dismissiveness, arrogance, violence, and just the sheer insistence of many men that you make room for their opinions regardless of your comfort level, interest, or need in the moment. It takes energy to hear, for the millionth time, that the real reason there is any sort of issue happening is that you, a woman, are having an emotion. And by default that emotion is messy and inappropriate, because ewwww feelings. There are about a billion other examples, but I am too tired to come up with them.
The fact that women generally speaking apologize way, way, way too much? It’s not frivolous! It’s not random! It’s training and feedback. The pushback that women get for just having an opinion and daring to express it is sometimes incredibly fierce. And if a women so much as mentions that pushback, it intensifies with sometimes scary rapidity.
No or very few role models. A tiny fraction of speaking roles for women in movies, the majority of roles being decoration/girlfriend/way to show man’s relatable flawed nobility. So few women in power. Woman drama = men/baby/rape. Intense and punishing beauty standard. etc. etc.
I see movies and I howl with the anguish of the fact that in popular culture it is impossible that someone like me could be viewed as possessing full humanity, let alone be allowed to express it.
I am human. But the barrage of messaging I receive daily is in contradiction of that fact.
I want to have the space to be me. I want to be able to be me without pushback ranging from merely weird to annoying to scary to violent. I want to live in a world where simply saying, “No thank you” to a date doesn’t mean weeks and weeks of cold sabotage from a colleague. I want to live in a world where expressing my opinion in anything other than a carefully modulated tone is received as being emotional and therefore instantly dismissed. I want to live in a world where I don’t have to watch my friends and I be berated, told that we’re oppressing men, disrespected, simply for setting a conversational boundary along the lines of, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t talk about that right now.”
The idea that we were on the verge of having our first woman President, and a woman who had the audacity to state that women’s rights are human rights, was extraordinary and exhilarating. I didn’t realize it until the catastrophe of Tuesday night, but I was already stretching and spreading, already expanding my lungs, already starting to send tendrils of myself out into areas of thought and expression I’d (with damn good reason) blocked myself from for decades. I was already anticipating a greater societal space being opened for me to be me with greater safety, acceptance, and even appreciation. I was beginning to communicate more directly with less fear and caution or defensiveness, with more clarity and ease.
I realized all that as my teeth were kicked in right before I got shoved violently all the way back into the cage. It is a cage built of fear and microaggressions. It is a cage constructed, like a placenta, dually by society and by me. Its bars are made of things like holding keys in your hand so that you have a weapon if someone attacks you as you walk to your car at night; the internal debate about whether to smile back when some guy demands your attention on the street and risk being called a bitch (or way, way worse) if you don’t comply. Again, there are a million examples, but I am just too fatigued to list them all, and definitely too tired to be carefully eloquent.
I thought I was going to be able to breathe, but here I am, air moving in and out, but not enough, looking through the bars, yearning, feeling defeated and betrayed.
And. This is only one cage. There are so many. And they interlock. And as a middle class white person I am to varying degrees complicit and responsible and involved in the creation of others.
52% of white women. 52% voted for Trump. More than half. Racism trumped the sisterhood. It is such a betrayal. And I definitely feel scales falling from my eyes.
I am human; they will re-collect and I’ll have to take them off again. And again. But this is evidence so clear.
And it’s not only racism. It’s internalized misogyny, self-hatred. Women sucking down those messages about inadequacy. By 6th grade girls and boys no longer have equal presidential ambitions. And if a little girl things, “Not me,” she also must think, “Not her”. And, “Not them.”
I had a conversation with my AP English teacher in high school once. She said a few things that have stuck with me, having to do with reasons that I had a hard time socially. She summed it up this way: I talked in class and was unrelentingly honest; the boys didn’t like that, and the girls liked the boys and therefore didn’t like it either. I am sure there are oversimplifications in that statement. But damn, it rang true. My manner, my style, my self, did not fit. I was always, always too much. At home, at school, in life.
Of course there’s more to it than sexism. But it plays a role. How many times have girls, taught from the cradle to value boys’ time and attention above all else, overlooked or dismissed or underestimated the value of the girls in their lives? How many fathers have been praised as heroes for simply wiping a baby’s butt or taking their kids to the grocery store, or even, gasp, cooking dinner, when moms’ contributions are invisible except when they’re being criticized?
Men and boys are valued more in our society. And it’s not even something a lot of them notice. It is in the air they breathe. It is an invisible entitlement. Until you say no, or not now, or god forbid, I don’t like you, or you’re incompetent.
Women are trained to value primarily what is happening romantically in other women’s lives. It is often the first or only thing that is asked about. Yes, I know. Not all women, not all the time. But it’s a pattern. I hear so many comments about my girls’ appearance, their dresses, their cuteness. Who ever asks them what books they like to read? Who asks them what sports they like to play? Who asks them what they want to be when they grow up? Almost no one.
Of course women don’t think a woman should be president.
And then there’s the racism. Van Jones referred to a “whitelash” to President Obama’s 8 years in office. It is stunningly, obviously true. And I think the idea, to some people, that a black president would be followed by a woman president, that we might have 16 years of feminazi PC bullshit in the White House, was abhorrent.
Holy shit. Talk about cages. If President Obama were to evince a tiny, tiny fraction of the rage Trump trades in, he’d have been politically eviscerated. Black men are automatically perceived as dangerous. Women are automatically perceived as less capable. In order to just open your damn mouth you have to fight to get out of the cage. And it’s often not even really possible to do so.
So you massage your language, attempt to come up with acceptable content and presentation that won’t scare or offend or anger anyone, hoping that with this sort of stealthy craft the content will get in, make it through the eardrums and into the grey matter, and be considered for itself, on its own merits.
It’s laughable. And it leads to dishonesty, inauthenticity, stress, strain, dissociation.
I want to be free. I want my black and brown fellow citizens to be free. I want every person to be able to stand in the air under the sky, themselves, to face difficulty and trauma and joy and tedium and all that makes up life, without having to massage their personhood into a bland enough container that it won’t offend white male sensibilities.
I thought we were on the road. (I realize that we are on the road. But that’s a later stage/post.) As a woman, I am shocked and wounded. As a white person with some knowledge, I have to admit that I was not seeing clearly. I have work to do. I am not innocent. No one is.
“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly, now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”
A final note: my loving and caring partner sent me this piece. Being cared for, being seen, being understood, being supported; it doesn’t get much better than that. I am grateful for my loved ones, and for the communities and relationships in which these topics can be discussed and compassion and love flow with mutual goodwill.