Women, violence, anger, silence, enough

Have y’all read No Visible Bruises: What We Don't Know About Domestic Violence Can Kill Us by Rachel Louise Snyder? It’s not particularly uplifting, but it’s a powerful, meticulously-researched read and, in my opinion, a really important one. In the era of #MeToo, rampant abusers like Harvey Weinstein, trump, and so many more, Christine Blasey Ford’s powerful, truthful testimony (to no avail), draconian infringements on reproductive rights, and desperate vies for power and control, No Visible Bruises is crucial reminder that toxic masculinity, ignoring women, and the silence that comes from shame, stigma, and fear are an often lethal combination.

The longer I live and the more I read and listen, the greater my shock and gratitude that I have never been sexually assaulted. Harassed, yes, but even those experiences seem rather minimal in the grand scheme of things. My luck feels like some sort of massive break in the universal struggle of women. How sickening that I feel so rare in this way, for what does that say about what so many others endure?

In this year since one of my closest friends and I sat speechless and teary though the Blasey Ford and Kavanaugh hearings, I have thought about the ways women persist. How we pacify and quiet down and overcompensate and protect. How we too often sacrifice and diminish ourselves for the benefit and comfort of others, including other women and weighty social norms.

Enough.

This afternoon, I went to Politics & Prose for an author event: Jeannie Vanasco (new to me) would be in conversation about her new book, Things We Didn’t Talk About When I Was a Girl, with none other than Rachel Louise Snyder. I brought Snyder’s book, bought Vanasco’s and a London Fog to sip on during the talk, and settled in in the second row.

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I am so glad I went. Both women were so utterly real. So human and multidimensional and honest. They weren’t there to show off or curate their public personas or even, it seemed, to sell books. Both were there to think and reflect and educate and connect. Jeannie expressed mixed feelings and even a bittersweet confusion over why her friend, by all accounts a dear friend, did one exceedingly bad thing and to her. Rachel expressed anger and frustration, that which so many of us rightfully feel.

An older woman stood up to note that Kavanaugh’s behavior during his hearing was excused as righteous anger over being accused. I thought of Brock Turner being let off because he “has a bright future ahead of him” despite the fact that he raped an unconscious girl behind a dumpster. Another woman, younger than I, stood up to wonder if her anger at her horrifically-abusive father-in-law was ok even though he’s dying of prostate cancer. “It seems karmically right,” she said.

After meeting and thanking both Snyder and Vanasco, I clasped my now-signed books to my chest and shyly approached the woman with the sick father-in-law. “Excuse me, I said,” and she turned to me with kind eyes. “I think you have every right to be angry. I hope no one is shaming you for what you feel.” We talked for a few minutes, and her pain was so palpable. Her marriage is in dire straights in large part because of all the trauma perpetrated on her husband by his father. I squeezed her arm several times and wish I’d offered a hug. I saw her waiting by the bus stop as I drove out of the P&P lot and I hope she will be ok.

On my way home, I thought again, back to last year. I found this piece that I wrote just after the Blasey Ford-Kavanaugh hearings and thought I’d share some of it with you.

The powerful shrug of white male entitlement and anger that blew over Washington yesterday still hangs in the air, elbowing out the likelihood that Dr. Ford might truly be heard.

After dropping my children at school, I return home, slip my favorite women’s empowerment tee over my tense shoulders, and hastily draw my umpteenth protest sign—always crafted from foam core with different but equally fiery messages scrawled in black Sharpie Magnum marker on each side. This one turns out to be a favorite, with one side depicting three tearful female faces with blood red duct tape over their mouths and, below them, STOP written in thick letters. I grab the see-through mesh protest backpack that has accompanied me to every rally I’ve attended since the Women’s March in 2017: like the suitcase a near-term pregnant woman keeps close at hand, it is always at the ready. Since the election, there have been so many opportunities to use it.  

I call a cab and head to an 11:00 am gynecologist appointment made months before I knew who Christine Blasey Ford was, certain that I’ll have plenty of time to make the protest at the Capitol to fight Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination. It begins at 1:00.

On the way downtown, I call my mother. We are both weepy.

“Mom, how can they ignore this? How can they want to appoint this man? I have to do try and do something.”

“I know. It is awful. Thank you for going, honey.”

As we hang up, the cab arrives at my destination. 19th Street. The driver, a man, kindly says, “I have sisters, a mother, daughters. In my country we respect women. I am so sorry for you feel. I am on your side.”

“Thank you, sir. Thank you so much.”

I’ve  known my gynecologist for more than a decade. If she reaches five feet tall, it’s only just, but her presence is formidable. She delivered my second son, helped get me the medication I needed during a difficult postpartum period, and is a magical combination of mother, sister, friend, and role model. We have a history of connection and mutual respect, and in her I have long seen manifested the strength and sturdiness I admire and actively work toward.  

As eager as I am to see her, I’m worried: She’s always running behind and I’m desperate to get to the Capitol. When I sign in at 10:50, I notice that the 10:00 patient still hasn’t been seen. A quiet jolt of dread stirs my stomach. The receptionist assures me it’ll be just a half hour wait. I take my seat, start charging my phone, and try to breathe deeply. 

Thirty, forty, fifty minutes pass, and I’m furious and frantic. I feel my blood pumping, my armpits sweating, tears burning hot in my eyes as I try to swallow them back. I hear myself demanding to know when my turn will come.  

I have to be somewhere. It’s important. Please.

I’m encouraged to give a urine sample.

 An assault victim bravely stood up yesterday, strong and sincere, scared and quivering, on behalf of millions. I want to stand beside her, literally, figuratively, but instead I’m being asked to pee by a nurse buying time for an unconscionably late doctor.

I wipe and pee and wash and breathe. I am taken back to the doctor’s office to wait some more. The tears aren’t threats anymore; they are actively marking my face and my shirt, and I think of my sign, forced to wait patiently by my mesh bag. Silenced women turned on their sides and shoved between chair and wall to wait. To wait until it’s their turn. They don’t know when that will be. If it will be.  

At well past noon, the doctor walks in.  My irritated posture and blotchy, damp face greet her. Because of our history, I stand up to hug her, and then am crying hard, as if I needed comfort and she was the first available. I haven’t seen her for two years. She doesn’t understand why I’m crying. Do I?

She asks if I am ok. I try to explain. I NEED to get to this protest. The need is primal, intense. I can’t articulate it clearly. I am angry that you’re making me late for something that feels so important, I want to scream.

 She surmises that I have been a victim of assault and that my history is bubbling up in the wake of Ford’s coming out.

 Her words anger me. I have never been assaulted. Even this feminist who raised a daughter who is now one of the only women in her engineering firm’s medical group seems unable to understand.

I am not crying for myself. I’m crying on behalf of women: those who have been assaulted, and those who haven’t. Those who have been ignored, demeaned, belittled, shrugged aside, seen but not heard, considered only in terms of their breast size or skirt length. Those who have been stolen from, whether their virtue, their ideas, their goodwill, the very things that we’re told make womanhood such a vaunted status. I am crying because I’m coming to think all that may have been a suppressive crock.

I am crying because a woman to whom something terrifying and intrusive happened decades ago now has two front doors in her home in case one is blocked and she needs to escape. I am crying because instead of applauding and honoring her courage, a cadre of white men actively seek to undermine and discredit her. These men want to give one of the biggest possible prizes to one of their tribe. I am angry. These tears are of anger. And I want, need to be giving voice.

“Does protesting make you feel better?,” my gynecologist says. “I admire that you’re involved, but is it healthy? I tend to put on classical music and bury my head in the sand.” 

I get that. But it’s not the way I operate.

…I’m finally outside and immediately see my friend, who’s meeting me.

In her I see a mirror image. She is floored when I tell her that I felt judged by my doctor.

 “What? We ARE angry,” she snorts, and I am grateful.

I tell her about a book I have been reading about women’s anger and how it often manifests in ways that aren’t “masculine.” We cry so that our anger is palatable. We cry so that men will see us as in need of protection, which safely perpetuates gender stereotypes, rather than as mad, hysterical women, which might make us look as if we think our anger is as valid as theirs. Anger crying is, I think, both a learned behavior and a way of subverting the system.

Enough.

Youth Climate Strike & We the People March & Margaret Atwood & Nancy P

My goodness.

Last Friday, after watching early Twitter returns of Global Climate Strike marches around the world, I hastily made a sign, pulled Jack from school early, and took him to the start of DC’s march downtown near the Capitol. The turnouts in Berlin, London, Dublin, Australia, New York, Uganda, and elsewhere across the globe were unbelievably moving. Greta Thunberg, the teen climate activist from Sweden, is such a heroine of mine. Did y’all see her speech at the UN? HOLY SH*T! Greta, I salute and support you!

The DC turnout wasn’t as large as I’d hoped but the energy was appropriately enraged and energized, and Jack and I saw some great signs. On the walk back to the Metro, he admitted to being extremely scared about the future he’s growing into. “Really buddy?” “Well, yeah, of course. The science is terrifying.”

While his worry makes absolute sense to me, it’s not something he’s articulated before, and my heart pinched even more than it already was.

That afternoon, two of my best girlfriends arrived from out of town in anticipation of the We the People March Saturday morning and afternoon and Margaret Atwood’s discussion of her new book and sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale, The Testaments, that evening. While Saturday’s March was again not as large as I’d hoped (though the organizers said there were 10,000 people there), there were a number of satellite marches, and at ours the energy was fabulous. Signs too! And I met in real life an online friend of many years. Such a cathartic treat all around. I believe it is crucial that we keep up the pressure in support of American democracy as it seems imperiled in so many ways, and honestly, it really feels good to use your feet and voice to literally push your way forward sometimes.

After a huge lunch and much-deserved drinks, we rested, showered, and headed back downtown to The Lincoln Theater.

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Y’all, Margaret Atwood is 80 and she is a boss. Sharp as a tack, funny, extremely intelligent and well-read (as you’d expect). Rebecca Traister, who I love, was interviewing her, but Margaret was all anyone could watch. A couple weeks back, I’d started rereading The Handmaid’s Tale to be prepped to read The Testaments. As the new intro reminds readers, nothing in the book is fictional except the characters and the way MA has woven together horrible truths from the world’s past. Reading it is.not.easy. It doesn’t seem outlandish or remote, just a bit removed.

Margaret cuts to the chase. She has zero time for bullshit and neither should we. Her words and wit are calls to action, they are funny at times, lacerating at others. She is thought-provoking, frightening, and utterly real. We were all enthralled.

And today, another strong woman, Nancy P, announced a move towards a real impeachment inquiry. I think all of us who marched on Friday and Saturday, all who applauded Margaret and who read her words with eerie trepidation and consideration, all who speak truth to power, and all who are sick and tired of America’s toxic, grifting, ignorant, bigoted, cheating, lying, nepotistic, assaulter-in-chief have a bit of hope right now.

Hope. It’s a powerful thing.

So much miscellany (books, movies, speakers)

Unexpectedly I am watching the Caps in game 1 of the Stanley Cup. This is unexpected primarily because Washington teams forever seem to blow their wads too early, and so it's slightly surprising that they've made it to the league finals. Sorry, but that's an honest assessment. See RGIII times many, for example. Though I've been a DCer since 2005, I'm still a Cubs fan through and through, and to a lesser degree, a Seahawks and Bruins fan. I think this has to do with growing up in Louisiana which has/had, prior to the Saints, no such thing as a pro team, a father who much preferred college football, having zero athletic inclination myself, and being visual enough to appreciate the aesthetics of good (and bad) uniforms. 

In any case, I do love the physicality of hockey and the fact that hockey players do on skates, on ice, and in bulky gear, what some of us cannot even do on our feet, on land, and in no gear. It's really something at times- beautiful, graceful, and then POW! I love it. Go Caps!

This past week has been full. FULL, y'all! In so many ways I love living in DC- it is an embarrassment of riches culturally, and despite fatigue, I ate it up this week.

Monday: Cecile Richards (a heroine of mine) and Kate Germano (new to me but wow) in conversation with Michel Martin (one of my favorite radio personalities) at the Hirshhorn Museum. Cecile's new book is Make Trouble and Kate recently wrote Fight Like a Girl. I told Cecile how much I enjoyed last month's Planned Parenthood Metro DC gala and that I was a monthly donor to PP-IN on behalf of Wax Pence, and she said, "We all need to keep up the good fight. Tough to be a woman in the midwest in some ways, so thank you." PS- Cecile is stunningly beautiful. All three women are stunningly articulate. WOMEN!
After the event, I wandered into a side garden by the Hirsshorn. It's so lovely, and I am covetous of the bug hotel there.


Tuesday: T and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary. It was one of the nicest anniversaries in a while, and I made a great dinner. You should all try this fried asparagus with miso dressing from Nobu. and really, when is key lime pie ever bad?!


Wednesday: A dear friend and I met other friends and members of our school community at the National Portrait Gallery for a private showing of The Sweat of Their Face with my friend and the co-curator of the show and the head of our school whose area of study and dissertation was America's working class and the various representations of it. Also got to see the Obama portraits again and the new Henrietta Lacks portrait!

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Friday: Tom and I took the boys and a friend each to the opening night of Solo, the newest Star Wars story/flick. We all loved it and found it delightful. (In fact, Oliver and I saw it again today.) A) Alden Ehrenreich is a perfect young Han, and B) Donald Glover (who is always good and also hot) is a magnificent Lando, and C) Ron Howard really did almost-perfect justice to this back-story. Lady Proxima is a "no" and why does Dryden Vos have the facial scarring but otherwise, A+!!

Sunday: Cirque du Soleil with the kids. Luzia is no Kurios, that's for sure. Dang. I didn't much care for the show. The kids didn't either. The bendable man who could rest his own head in his butt crack was disconcerting, and the women don't need to be nearly naked to be impressive.
Today (Monday): Solo again. It's fantastic.

Meanwhile: I finished The Complete Patrick Melrose novels by Edward St. Aubyn. I'd started reading them prior to the release of the 5-part Patrick Melrose series on Showtime staring, yes, my Benedict, and my god are they spectacular. INCREDIBLE prose, not least because the story itself is largely autobiographical. I've watched the first two PM episodes and while I do think Benedict is perfectly cast as Patrick, I found the first episode lacking. The second, while terrifically tough to watch, is excellent. The novels are magnificent. I couldn't put them down. 

Alright, y'all, it's 2-2 Caps-Golden Knights. More later.