Women Who Don’t Burn

Not that long ago a friend pulled me aside and said, “You know, if you lived a few centuries ago, I think you’d have been burned at the stake.”

It was meant as a compliment, and I took it as one.

Because what he meant was that outspoken women, loud women, women who didn’t sit still, who pushed boundaries or dreamt or loved or worked outside the tight confines of the lives assumed for them, those women were often rounded up and burned as witches. Because there was no room for them outside a witch pyre.

Fast forward two centuries. Those same women were labeled hysterics and chained inside concrete institutions instead. As we evolved the punishments for women who refused to sit down and shut up when told to became less physical. We simply shunned them, banishing them to the bottom tier of society.

Nowadays witch burning is metaphorical rather than literal. We don’t tie women to a wooden stake anymore. No, today women get shamed, harassed, and threatened in the media.

Same shit, different century.

Four centuries removed from barbecuing women and we still don’t know what to do with women who don’t STFU.

Oh sure, we may be far from the madding crowd taking pleasure in watching a woman sizzle and fry, but we’ve moved to a place where the madding crowd takes pleasure in metaphorically burning women in public discourse.

The pyres are now cable news shows, the logs op-eds, and the match is social media.

Same shit, different burn.

It’s not easy to be burn resistant, not when society whispers in your girlish ear that you’ll be admired more for your bust line than your by-line, when from the first doll you’re given to the last child you birth you’re told women must be compliant and nurturing. We are still very much a society in which the most revered thing a woman can do is produce children, a society which applauds you for your achievements but with footnotes and codicils and a thousand pages of fine print.

We use women up until they’re no longer useful–usually around the time they hit their sexual sell-by date–and then we throw them out like so many old newspapers. Women who have failed, or lost, the train wrecks of society. We put them on the recycling pile where they’re expected to go gently into that good night.

But every now and again a woman comes along who picks herself up and refuses to go away. A woman who is resistant to the flames which were supposed to engulf her.

‘GNAGH!’ ‘HAA!! HA,HA,HA,HA!’

Hillary Clinton is only the most recent in a long line of women who will not burn. And boy, have they tried.

I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession which I entered before my husband was in public life, she said way back in 1992. And boy oh BOY, that one line managed to set off  a catastrophic string of witch fires that have burned with near consistency for thirty years. She may not have the dragons, but this woman has walked out of more fires than Daenerys Targaryen.

And that drives people nuts.

We generally don’t know what to do with women who refuse to succumb to the flames we place them in, women like Hilary Clinton or Michelle Obama, journalists like Lauren Duca and Anita Sarkeesian, even entertainers like Madonna and Beyoncé. Women who have learned to walk through the flames rather succumbing to them.

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Hillary Clinton recently wrote a book. Like countless others before her, she wrote a book. Last time I checked, no one was forcing anyone to buy it, or read it. I highly doubt it’s on any high school required reading lists. Yet the book is selling well, and her supporters are lining up to hear her what she has to say.

And people are going ape-shit.

Ultimately this isn’t about whether or not you like or support Hillary Clinton. In fact, ultimately it’s not even about Hillary Clinton, the woman. It’s about not knowing how to cope with women who refuse to go when some tell her to go, to shut up when some tell her to shut up, to stay down when they tell her to. In the case of What Happened, it’s caused so much frothing outrage that entire news cycles have interrupted natural disaster coverage and policy unveilings just to opine on whether or not she has the right to continue to exist in the public sphere.

But of course it’s not just about a book. It’s not even about what’s in the book. If, and only if the book was a four-hundred page opus of self-flagellation perhaps it would have been about the book. Because generally it’s only when a woman lays herself bare at the altar of self-sacrifice we begin to feel the stirrings of sympathy. Only when a witch’s skin begins to pucker and burn are we able to dredge up a modicum of empathy.

But when a woman doesn’t do that?

Whoeee, mama. Pitchforks and hunting parties and more women rounded up and burned.

This is not about what is in the book. There is ample room to discuss the merits of Clinton’s writing style. There is room for disagreement.

What there is no room for is the insistence that she sit down and STFU. That she no longer gets to have a place in the public sphere because someone else is telling her not to. Plenty of politicians write books. I can’t think of another one who was told, before the book had even come out, that he had no business writing it.

Like her or hate her, Hillary Clinton has every right in the world to tell her story. She has a right to exist, to write, to stay standing, to stay speaking. She has every right to still be there, walking away from that smoking pyre and marching into that good night on her own terms.

In case it wasn’t crystal clear from the great cookie quote of 1992, Hillary Clinton is not going gently into that good night.

And this is at the crux of it. This refusal, the audacity of some women to continue to exist, to be relevant to those around them, to simply not die. It outrages people.

Women, after all, are supposed to burn when we tell them to.

There have always been women who don’t burn. Maybe someday soon we’ll stop trying to fan the flames even higher and acknowledge that sometimes the ones we try the hardest to quieten are the ones we should be listening to the most.

 

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18 thoughts on “Women Who Don’t Burn

  1. Sheri September 14, 2017 / 1:20 pm

    I love this piece so much, Dina. I’m a Hillary Clinton supporter (then and still), but the attitude you describe that is oft-directed toward powerful women is spot on.

    Some of it has to do with the lack of attention span that seems to exist anymore, but the at the core is deep-seated, brain-parasite quality misogyny.

    When you mention women who just won’t sit down and STFU I think of women that make me glad to have been born when I was: Gloria Steinem, Helen Gurley Brown, Betty Friedan, Shirley Chisholm, Edith Windsor, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, and Hillary Clinton, to name a few. All women who refused/refuse to STFU.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Dina Honour September 14, 2017 / 9:48 pm

      When I think about the toughness of the skin of ‘trailblazers’ (women and others), it takes my breath away. I’m learning to deal with the inevitable insults that come my way now and then, and I am certainly used to the eye-rolling. But the women you mentioned have been dragged backward over the coals, hung, drawn and quartered, and still stand up to fight the good fight. It’s so ironic to me how many folks seem to look for strength in a man but fear it in a woman. The strengths we bring to the table are different, complimentary. Just think of the world if we used those complimentary strengths together!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Anonymous September 14, 2017 / 1:52 pm

    Proud to be a Mom of a daughter that will never STFU💕

    Liked by 3 people

  3. anonymouslyafroirish September 14, 2017 / 2:00 pm

    I think that people fear the power of a woman who knows what she wants and does everything in her capacity to go for it. It threatens what society should be and the powers that might be like structure- they need everyone in the place that they have set out for them. If you choose to stray, even a little bit, from that you are branded and your character made disreputable. It’s changing slowly, but it’s still so sad to see how slow this change is happening! But with women like you out there, there is hope for us all still!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dina Honour September 14, 2017 / 9:51 pm

      Thank you kindly! My superpower of choice right now is to empower as many women as I can and to raise my sons to be empowered. If we all start small just imagine the bigness we can achieve when we stitch all those small acts together!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Convivial Supper September 14, 2017 / 3:22 pm

    We’ve come so far, yet fall so short. I totally agree that it’s not about Hillary or her story, it’s about what they symbolize and reflect about our culture and society.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dina Honour September 14, 2017 / 9:52 pm

      Yes! Right now it’s Hillary, but tomorrow it will be another woman and in five years another—unless we call it what it is and refuse to take part. Many times we’re not guilty of lighting the actual match, but most of us are guilty, at some point, of standing in the shadow of those flames.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Melanie McNeil September 14, 2017 / 3:45 pm

    Yes, women are still pilloried for speaking up. And they’re even abused by other women, a great irony. The other day I commented in facebook about the use of the word “girls” to address adult females. My tone was direct and calm. Another reader told me to “chill the fuck out,” that we ARE girls. Well, she certainly was acting childish…

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dina Honour September 14, 2017 / 9:54 pm

      Well, I’m certainly not a girl, and go out of my way NOT to use the word. Sometimes it’s too ingrained, but I change it when and where I can. And…I notice that some of the men I know have started to do the same. Baby steps.

      The first draft of this had a line in there about other women often lighting the match–in fact, sometimes we even light it ourselves, like a cyanide pill we carry around with us throughout our lives. So yes, women can be awful to one another, no doubt about it.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. transfighter September 15, 2017 / 2:31 am

    Some progress has been made thank goodness, but there is more work to do.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. speaknowthinklater October 3, 2017 / 9:15 am

    Reading this has made me feel that if the world were run by these kind of determined women, would we be in the times we are now? Or would it actually be worse because “women are supposed to keep a tidy home and bare children”
    I have a lot of health issues. Fellow women call me strong and bionic with what I have been through (I am typing this from a hospital bed after my second knee replacement at 35) and the amount of times I have been on the brink of death. I know no different so in a way, I shrug it off. Is it strong to survive?
    I have also however, received comments from men, that if I were a dog, I would have been put to sleep a long time ago. This too, would be true… But what a difference in opinions?!
    It does go to show, no matter what women go through and overcome, it will always be looked upon differently if it were a man.
    More accepted even?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dina Honour October 3, 2017 / 12:05 pm

      First of all, wishing you a speedy recovery! It’s an interesting question you pose. One of the lines I use the most these days is this: “Women are called the weaker sex when they have survived centuries of men trying to kill them just because they are girls.” It’s a bit exaggerated, but in essence, it is true. Women have adapted and formed their own survival mechanisms, some of which appear to be ‘weaknesses’–keeping their heads down, not reporting rapes and sexual assaults–but they generally do these things as a means to live another day. Yet those things are seen as ‘weak’. I think there is a great divide in what men perceive as strength and what women perceive as strength. And the important thing–which no one seems to talk about–is that they are BOTH examples of strength, though different. Women are better at compromise, because they’ve learned compromise as a survival tool and mechanism. Men are often physically stronger. The problem is, we usually look at one of those (the male) as the pinnacle of strength (brute force, bravery, the ability to kill in wartime) and the other (endurance, compromise, survival skills) as ‘less than’. In reality, we need both, but in practice, one is given more credit. It’s like hunting and gathering. One doesn’t work w/o the other. Hunting provided protein, but gathering provided the sustenance in between the protein. Yet hunters get all the glory ;-).

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Karen November 27, 2017 / 10:57 pm

    From her, in the global sphere, to me, in the personal sphere, it’s the same shit, a bully “pushes me down” and tells me to shut up. I take a deep breathe and say one more recitation of the old proverb “Fall down seven, get up eight” as I get up and dust off.

    Like

  9. bobcabkings December 3, 2017 / 11:42 pm

    Reblogged this on cabbagesandkings524 and commented:
    On Wine And Cheese (Doodles), Dina Honor celebrates Women Who Don’t Burn. I know a few. You know who you are.

    Like

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