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.

On the Basis of Sex and the Open Discussion Project

The boys returned to school on Monday, and today Oliver stayed home sick. He is the easiest, most darling sick kid ever, and as today was frigid, we enjoyed a roaring fire while reading for book club, doing homework, and so forth. I got a bit of work done, though not as much as I’d hoped or planned. I am lucky that that’s OK, but it can be hard to not feel disappointed at times- at the loss of time, of the quiet hours counted on but taken. Tom and I showed the kids The Pursuit of Happyness last weekend, in part because it’s such a good movie but also for perspective; how on the line so many people are constantly, and the stress in that. It’s excruciating.

I didn’t think about it all too much until we picked up Jack and a friend and, as everyone had finished homework, went to see On the Basis of Sex. I felt this intense determination to see it. Today. I bribed my children with candy; Jack’s pal said, “Oh, that sounds wonderful. I’d love to see that.” I swear to god sometimes being with other people’s kids makes you believe that while you may not always see your lessons coming to fruition in your own spawn, you can have some faith that they are and will. Interacting with other kids with good parents lets you see that they can and do apply their skills and loveliness when the time is right. I see this all the time in my students too. Ah, parenting.

Anyway, after plying the children with all manner of “food,” we settled in to our seats, and I exhaled deeply. I’ve felt fitsy all week- tired, and an unsavory blend of worried and furious. The shutdown continues, hurting and stressing so many Americans. It continues because of an ignorant, mean man and the craven, pitiful people who enable him. It continues because of a greedy desire for power, nothing more. This shutdown has nothing to do with protection, nothing to do with security. It is wasteful and rude and the wall is stupid and ineffective.

I mention that because on Sunday I begin participating in the Open Discussion Project. I am both thrilled and honored to have been selected to do so, and yet, as the time approaches, I find myself nervous. The ODP, a joint project of six American bookstores, including my beloved Politics & Prose here in DC, is an effort to talk over the chasm of polarization dividing our country. You can learn more about it here, but in short, it brings together groups of people from across the political spectrum to talk and read books about current events and discuss them. “The goal of this effort is not conversion but conversation and understanding.”

I applied as soon as I read about the opportunity. I exclaimed aloud when I was accepted. I have studiously read our assigned book, highlighting and making mental notes all the while. And yet, I am nervous. I’m nervous because I’m furious. I’m nervous because although I value emotion and fully believe it comes from places of feeling and love I also recognize that it can counter reason, inhibit objectivism, and cloud and fuck things up. Emotion has always been part Achilles heel for me, part gift. We have a skeptical relationship, I think it’s fair to say.

In any case, I admit to feeling extremely correct in my belief that our country is in seriously bad straits, and I am sick to death of racism, sexism, bigotry, religion, and exclusivist conservatism cornering the fucking market on “real” and “salt of the earth” Americans.

No.

I, too, am a real American. A patriot. I am an atheist, an active anti-racist who recognizes that I will always have work to do, a feminist, and a proud progressive. I do not want walls built, on our borders or in our society. And so I worry that I will be unable to hear arguments for the wall. I worry that I will react badly to support for this “president.” I will try to listen, try to understand, but I’m nervous.

Back to the movie. We all loved it, the 7th graders and me especially. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a boss. Incredible human. I cried at the end and found myself struggling not to cheer or retch aloud several times throughout.

“Please introduce yourselves and tell us why you deserve a spot that would otherwise have gone to a man.”
”You used to be pretty and so smart. Now you sound shrill and bitter.”
”You’re just not a fit. I mean, our firm is a family. The wives get jealous.”
”The natural order of things…Caretakers are women.”

Jesus christ. It’s enough to make me insane. Talk about rousing emotions. I was nearly apoplectic at times. And yet still, women carry the bulk of the familial load, the mental load, the emotional load, and so on. We manage the expectations of how to look, how to act, how to be. But most women can never actually win. Not really. Can never strive without seeming strident. Can never assert without seeming shrill. I mean, just look at “grab them by the pussy and take what you want” having zero consequence versus “I want to impeach that motherfucker” being talked about ad nauseum for days. (Trump, Tlaib, respectively.) Really?

I think I carry all this with me into the ODP. I am mad. And driven. And worried. And strong. But that leash of propriety is still around my neck, yanking me back at times. Into expectation or submission or appropriateness or whatever.

It’s infuriating and in instills fear, often simultaneously. And I’m white.

Angry AF

I am mad. Mad for women, on behalf of women, as a woman. I have a wonderful father, a wonderful husband, marvelous sons, and even an incredibly wonderful male cat. I love them. Generally speaking, I love men. This isn’t about Men. I am not, as my father’s extended family used to “joke,” a femi-Nazi. (PS- not funny then, not funny now.)

This anger is about patriarchy and men who persist in behaving badly and who feel entitled and sanctimonious and smug. Toxic masculinity. General bullshit. Assault, cat calls, unequal playing fields, unequal standards, unequal pay, the male experience being the default, the woman having to prove and compensate and do more. The ways women are and are not allowed to emote. The expectations about how women experience their sexuality and how men do, and what is normative in each realm. Sluts versus youthful men sowing oats: nonsense like that. For the record, I’ve known a lot of male sluts. None was ever called a slut or a whore. How about we all just accept that anyone can love sex and choose to engage in lots of it, and none of that is any of our business whether that person is male or female. Thanx.

I am mad that despite the ease of that simple wish of gender parity and a realistic approach to libido, holier than thou men and women wish to abstinence-education away sex and so kids are neither given sex ed nor equipped to deal with their hormonal urges and burgeoning sexuality, and oh, let me think, which one gets pregnant and is then judged by/saddled with a child? That would be the female. See this link if you really do not understand that men are awfully responsible for pregnancy and maybe we all just need to accept that and find ways of encouraging all sexually active people to be both safe AND respectful of the fact that just one partner gets pregnant. Even if you understand this, you should still read that thread. And also, abortion should be absolutely legal and safely accessible in part BECAUSE not enough people seem to understand how pregnancy happens.

I am mad that because Brett Kavanaugh coached his daughter’s basketball team, it appears to be inconceivable to far too many that he ALSO seems to have assaulted a peer while drunk at a party and that maybe he doesn’t respect women and legal precedent enough to not overturn Roe. You know what’s infinitely conceivable? That a comfortable white guy with every advantage in the world since birth both did assault a peer AND has since coached his daughter’s basketball team. That shit is not mutually exclusive. Also, it’s very likely that he will vote to overturn Roe which is rich since he A) does not have a vagina or the ability to get pregnant and B) has said just enough about legal precedent to make GOP women feel warm and fuzzy about confirming his ass. Susan Collins, you are dead to me and I hope you lose HUGE in November. Do you remember all you said about how Franken MUST resign? No claim against him involved forceable assault of an underage woman. Your hypocrisy on behalf of party is ugly.

This Kavanaugh crap mirrors in gross ways shit we’ve already seen and struggled with. Per the remarkable Rebecca Traister, “27 years later, almost to the week, there will be another hearing into alleged sexual abuses of a SCOTUS nominee. Also almost a year to the week of the Weinstein story, two years to the week of Access Hollywood tape. 229 years since women’s riot kicked off French Revolution.” Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill, Harvey, our “president,” Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Les Moonves, and on and on. Is someone kidding?

I am real mad at women in history getting the shaft as the present and future march on. Who saw Hidden Figures? Also, Texas just voted to remove Helen Keller and Hillary Clinton from their school history curriculums. This is not remotely surprising but it is enraging on multiple fronts. Why not excise a man or two from the curriculum? And why does Texas still wield such power over the textbooks the entire country of America uses to “educate” its kids? This article, written in 2012 and fully corroborative of the paper I wrote at Harvard in 2005 about Texas’s influence (bad) on American texts, still holds today. And it’s why American kids in public schools are getting screwed more and more when it comes to real education as facts and science would have it.

I am peeved to the max that my female students report having to work extra hard to be heard and appreciated in their STEM classes (versus their male classmates), and I am angry that the statistics on women in STEM in America show a major drop from interest to degree attained and then another drop from degree attained to actual field worked in.

I am also mad at women who behave badly, lest you continue to think this is a gendered issue. Tomi Lahren, Anne Coulter, and Dana Loesch? Hard pass on all three. They are toxic, venomous, soulless vessels who put nothing positive into the world. That repulsive white cop in Dallas, Amber Guyger, who murdered the man in the apartment directly above hers? That bird needs to go to jail for the rest of her life.

And don’t even get me started on the racism in this case. In so many cases. This tweet says it all in that respect:

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I’m also mad at women who throw other women under the bus. Mad because they sometimes feel like they have to because women are fighting for a tiny slice of the pie and available attention and sometimes figure they need to throw their lot in with the men. Any woman north of 20 years old has experienced being hurt, betrayed, or even ghosted by another woman for (often) no reason beyond some manifestation of competition.

And lastly, I am damn tired of emotion being equated with behavior. Emotions are what any sentient person experiences when in touch with their inner selves: disappointment, fear, exhilaration, pride, love, sadness, fury, jealousy. The better acquainted we are with our feelings and the better we are at articulating them makes us better able to empathize with, support, understand, disagree, and live. The healthy expression of emotion is valid but is NOT the same thing as shitty behavior. My kids can be frustrated with me but that gives them no right to break my belongings.

While I’m at it, let me voice another potentially inflammatory opinion by stating that I disagree 1000% with the National Organization for Women’s petition to dismiss Carlos Ramos from umpiring professional tennis because of his calls during the US Open final between Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka. By all accounts, from men and women alike, Ramos has long had a reputation for being strict but fair, an excellent ump. NOW’s demand befits only the stereotype of women as one-dimensional hysterics, and I found it appalling. Did Ramos officiate perfectly? No. Did Serena Williams behave perfectly? No. You know who was flawless? Naomi Osaka, the player who won and then apologized for winning because everyone’s disappointment in that was abundantly clear. For more on this perspective, please see Martina Navratilova’s opinion piece and also this piece by Juliet Macur.