A Rock and a Hard Place

Recently a writer tweeted a comment in reaction to a female politician’s actions.

Women on Twitter correctly pointed out that in their experiences, as actual women, that particular advice

1. Wrongly shifts the burden onto women
2. Doesn’t do fuck all
3. Often has the opposite effect
4. Could be downright dangerous

Instead of actively listening to thousands of women who were contradicting his (likely well-meaning) advice with their real life experiences, he doubled down, effectively proving #3 above.

I guess women asserting themselves more forcefully only works if it’s not back at him.¹

I don’t think this writer’s advice was overtly malignant or malicious. More than likely it was poorly thought out, badly expressed or even just hasty. Or perhaps he really does hold the naive view that saying “No” more assertively is going to change the world. Heck, we all express ourselves badly on occasion. We all hold views that could be more nuanced, can all learn things from listening to those who are more experienced at living through a certain filter.

In this case there were literally thousands of women responding that in their experience–again, I can’t stress this enough, as actual women–his advice didn’t hold water.

Why?

Welcome to life between a rock and a hard place.

A woman exists in this space, caught between a rock and a hard place–whenever she must trust her own instincts (and the communal instincts passed down from woman to woman, girl to girl, generation to generation) in order to survive a given situation. Most  times it’s not life threatening–being talked over, interrupted, having your ideas stolen without credit. Being leered at, touched without consent, told to smile.

But sometimes there’s more at stake than your ego or a publication credit.

It’s quaint to think a loudly shouted “I said NO!” is enough to stop a rape or sexual assault. It’s just not true. What is true is sometimes a woman’s best chance of survival lay in another direction entirely. Yet if she doesn’t say no, the law, the courts, society (men AND women) assume consent.²

Death or rape?
Survival or assault?
Raped more violently or believed in court?

Rock and a hard place.

Even when a woman does say “no”, if it’s not loud enough, repeated enough, in the right pitch, tone, and key–we can come up with 1000 different requirements–it’s not enough. Why? Because even when a woman says “no”, all it takes is her rapist to contradict her. Report it and risk having her actions, dress, sexuality, alcohol consumption, and life choices questioned and judged, likely for naught…or try to move on with her life knowing her rapist got away with it. Rock and a hard place.

A woman who is sexually harassed at work must decide whether to speak out and possibly risk her career, a promotion, her professional reputation. She has to decide if reporting her grope-y boss to HR is worth that risk. If your employer is the US military, the ante just got upped.  Rock: ass-grabbing, leering boss. Hard place: a bad reference which could kill her job prospects.

A woman in a domestic violence situation must calculate the likelihood of her abusive partner following through with his threat to kill her, her extended family, or her children. She may have to decide between the rock of financial destitution or the hard place of a fist to the face every other Thursday.

A woman who is cat-called on the street weighs the risk of answering back. A woman told to smile more must decide. The rock of humiliation and anger? Or the the hard place of the real possibility of being followed, stalked, or physically threatened?

Women are killed for less.

Women know, instinctively and through experience, that saying “stop” or “no” more loudly, indeed saying anything at all, is sometimes dangerous–economically, physically, socially. When it is, she is forced to choose the least worst option.

When the least worst option is the humiliation of having to put up with a grope-y boss or some mouthy teenage boys calling you hot mama, you do those calculations in your head lickety-split.

It doesn’t mean you like it. Or invited it. It doesn’t make it okay. It doesn’t make it right. 

And yet time and time again, a woman’s choice between two shitty options is used against her. She must have liked it. If it really bothered her she would have said something. If it was true she would have come forward. I see well-intentioned comments to that end all the time .

If it were me I would have….

punched him
screamed
walked away
fought harder
divorced him
stood up for myself

Life is black and white to those who haven’t walked in someone else’s heels.

Contrary to the stereotype, women are great at math. Let me tell you about the mental calculations most women do at various points in their life. The ones involved in calculating the odds of walking home alone at night and making it home safe, alive, and un-raped. The odds of being free to continue walking if you snap back at someone cat-calling, dividing the salary you might lose if you report your co-worker by the rent that’s due. Women grow up tabulating these odds in the back of their heads. It’s second nature. When faced with these situations, you choose. And that choice is sometimes between a rock and a hard place.

This is what the women on Twitter and in feminist spaces are reaching out to say. Equality, even within laws that protect against things like assault and harassment–is far more complicated than simply saying no, or leaving, reporting.

If all it took was women saying “no” more firmly the world would be a different place. And a hell of a lot louder.

It is not fair to put the burden of survival, of a life unmolested solely onto women. Yes, women should and must be vocal, assertive, and aggressive at times. But men must also learn to listen. The burden is never on a woman not to get raped. The burden is on a man not to rape. The burden is not on a woman to say “No!” more loudly, to come forward more quickly, or to speak up. The burden is on the men who are doing those things to stop doing them in the first place. ³

What you are seeing now-the clap back, the outrage–it’s not a small coven of women intent on making the lives of men miserable. Women don’t hate men. On the contrary, most of us love them. We’re married to them, raising them, friends with them.

The sound you hear now is women chipping away at those rocks, pushing back against those hard places, securing even more public space for themselves. It’s women trying to forge a broader space to live, love, and work within so that they are not caught between those two shitty places. Rock. Hard place.

It doesn’t mean there’s no room for men. It just means that men must get better at sharing that space.

 

¹ Outrage Twitter may as well have been ‘hysterical’, ‘shrill’, ‘uppity’, ‘angry’ or any of the myriad of words used against women who are outside their ‘space’.

² Consent: It’s a Simple as Tea is an excellent way to teach consent to children and teens.

³Increasingly we are recognizing that men are victims of rape too. This is not meant to belittle the trauma of male victims, or to excuse female rapists, solely that it was an authorial decision to focus on male upon female rape/assault in this article.

Wonder Women

When I stepped out into the bright sunlight from the darkness of the movie house, I had only two things on my mind….

Wonder. Woman.

I wasn’t expecting to get emotional over a movie based on a comic book character, especially one in which I was going to have to look past the sexy push-up bra and the cascade of dark, glossy locks.

But I did.

Here’s the thing: Unless you belong to a group which is un or under represented–in movies, television, books, politics, life–you probably don’t appreciate the emotions that come with  finally witnessing that representation–ten feet high on a movie screen. But trust me, it’s one of the reasons there’s so much hype surrounding Wonder Woman, especially and notably, from women. It’s not that it’s not a good movie in its own right (it is), it’s that a new generation of girls and boys, sitting in a darkened theatre are seeing, many for the first time, a superhero who looks like their mother, or teacher, or cousin or sister saving the world and kicking ass. Sans push-up bra.

Science-fiction and super-hero movies seem like a laughable place to begin in the fight for equality, but in reality, it makes perfect sense. Kids need a safe space to fantasize. Fairy tales, science fiction, fantasy, those genres give kids that space. For a long time society has assumed that girls only fantasized about playing dolls and princesses in towers waiting to be rescued. No one stopped to think that’s what girls fantasized about because that’s all we’ve ever allowed them. What will those dreams look like, how will they differ, when we give kids the freedom to dream big? Movies like Wonder Woman make it safer for girls–and boys– to dream. It’s where you get to work out complex feelings in the relative comfort of fantasy play. Safe places to grow and spread their wings.

And girls? Girls have had their wings clipped for centuries.

One woman in block heels and a golden armbands won’t change that.

But it’s a step in the right direction.

**********

There’s a nice little sequence in which Diana must exchange her battle garb for more restrictive Edwardian dress so she won’t draw attention to herself. And then there’s this: When asked who she is, Diana starts to answer only to be interrupted by the film’s main male character. Not knowing how to explain the Amazon beside him, he refers to her as his secretary. Because—what else would she be? Women’s places are well-defined and described. There is no way for him to accurately describe Diana, no easy path to comprehension and understanding and so we fall back on the obvious. A secretary. A helper. Coffee fetcher, typist. Gal Friday behind the scenes.

And in the space of that one line, that one instant–Diana Prince becomes EveryWoman.

How many women who read this or who have watched the movie have been asked to fetch coffee, or order lunch, or work below her pay scale or title rank because she’s been assumed to be something less than what she actually is?

It was the moment that changed the movie for me, from an action adventure movie starring a woman to a feminist film, whether it was intentional or not.

**********

My favorite scene however, the one which had tears threatening to spill out from under my 3-D glasses, was when three male characters held a piece of armor on their backs for Diana to spring from. They were, quite literally, giving her a leg up, the support she needed to launch herself into a battle to save them, and a town under siege. Diana has always been sure of her destiny, and in that moment, the men were sure of it as well. And instead of trying to stop her, they instead gave her what she needed to get there.

What woman among us hasn’t thought she would be the one to change the world, a man, a life? Women have always been there, behind the scenes, assisting and fetching, trying to save the world.

Do not assume women are naive enough to realize some battles will not be won without fighting or without sacrifice. And do not assume we are not willing to fight and sacrifice when it is necessary. Give us a shield to climb upon, to propel ourselves up beyond that glass ceiling and into the stratosphere and watch what we can do.

It took me a moment to recover from that one.

**********

Wonder Woman the movie wasn’t perfect, but neither are wonder women, the reality. We are flawed. We have weaknesses, we falter, and sometimes, we fail. We fail to save the ones we love. We fail to change the world. We lose our way, we get lost. All of that? It just made me love the movie even more…because we don’t need to be perfect in order to effect change. We don’t have to be all things, it’s ok to be some. Warrior, lover, savior, failure.

If you doubt the effect that movies like Wonder Woman have, I leave you with this. In the dark of the theatre, my son’s friend leaned over and whispered, “she’s like The Hulk AND Superman in one!”

At 46 I can still dream big. My dream is this: the girls and boys sitting in those theaters won’t doubt the commanding presence of a female super hero–on-screen, in the board room, or at the dinner table.

Let girls dream big and they can save the world. Give them a shield to launch themselves from and they will soar.

 

The Book of Life

Ah June, the season for hay fever, end of school madness, and if you’re an expat, goodbyes.  Emotions are running high, low and often, amok. June is always jam-packed with all sorts of feels.

Watching friends and acquaintances prepare for their next move, helping them navigate the spectrum of emotions that are part and parcel of saying goodbye to a certain time and place, it reminds me of the blind terror I feel each time I sit down to a blank page.

For me, there’s always–always— a niggling fear my words have dried up along side my ovaries. Or that they’ll be shit. A small voice in the back of my head chants What if nothing happens? What if it sucks? What if, what if, what if? But…woven in and out of that fear is a little excitement, a thread of hope that maybe, just maybe, I can conjure up a bit of magic. An idea, a gem of a sentence, on a really good day, a thousand words that tether a few lofty ideas to reality.

Getting ready to move, even for those who are semi-pros, is like sitting down in front of a giant blank page. It doesn’t matter if it’s a flashback repatriation or if you’re setting the scene for an exciting new plot twist, moving on is the equivalent of trying to write the opening sentence of the next chapter in your book of life.

The good news? Chapters are infinitely easier to pen than a whole new book. Getting ready to move, much like getting ready to write, involves a lot of thinking, contemplating, and turning over of ideas. Some of those ideas are going to work brilliantly. Some will fall flat and explode upon impact. The even better news? You’re not starting from scratch. You’ve got plenty of chapters already done and dusted and they all come with you. The back story and the settings. The seeds that will later sprout into full-blown story arcs. All the characters you’ve met. And take it from me, characters have a way of popping back up in ways you don’t expect.

When you’re moving, your life is chock full of blank pages–and anything can happen. A surprising plot twist. An epic journey. A hero, a challenge, a rite of passage. A new character from out of nowhere, one that ends up changing the whole dang story. The possibilities that come along with a blank page, a new chapter, or even a move–they’re endless.

At times it’s scary and confusing. Will it all work? How are you going to tie it all together? It’s exhausting. A blank page takes a lot of work to fill. But all that possibility! All that space and room to make great things happen, interesting things, beautiful things. There’s so much room for all of those things–and more.

And, for all those you’re leaving behind as you close out one chapter to begin another? We are all still part of your book, the one that will be carefully packed in tissue paper and transported  in sea containers and trucks and planes all over the world. We’ll pop up, in conversations or a  FaceBook On This Day post (love those), maybe even a guest appearance somewhere down the road. But even if we don’t, we’re not deleted wholesale. Despite physical distance, we’re forever part of your back story now, part of the fabric of your book.

My advice? Sharpen your pencil and dive in. The first sentence is always the hardest. (And it’s almost never the one that you end up using.) Don’t worry about mistakes, there’s plenty of time for editing down the road. But most of all? Always remember all that work you’ve already done is just a chapter behind you when you need it.

Life only hands you one book, my friends–it’s up to you what you fill it with.

 

 

To the Thirteen White Male Senators Deciding the Fate of My Health Care

We have no interest in playing the games of identity politics. To reduce this to gender, race or geography misses the more important point of the diverse segments of the conference the group represents on policy — from members who support Medicaid expansion, to those opposed to it, to those who have called for long-term full repeal.”

Dear Senators,

All due respect, but I believe it’s you who are missing the important point. You cannot reduce to gender or race–but you can expand to them.

You presume, you thirteen white men, to make decisions and policies which will affect all of us, from sea to shining sea. You assume we will trust you, because until recently, we’ve had no choice but to trust you. But I don’t. I don’t trust you. You don’t represent me. I don’t mean party politics, Republican or Democrat. I mean you have never experienced the need for female driven policy, or policy that focuses on race, or centers issues unique to the LGBTQ community. Because you are none of those things.

Female driven policy is different. Race driven policy is different. LGBTQ driven policy is different. And that is a good thing. It brings diversity to the table. It’s Thai on Monday and sushi on Thursday instead of meatloaf every, single night. It means the needs of others, needs that are different from your own, are brought to the forefront. It is taking and shaping the experiences of those identities and using them, smartly, to craft broader policy.

Senator McConnell, have you ever found yourself unexpectedly pregnant, halfway through high school, unable to afford to raise a child? Have you, Senator Hatch ever been the victim of a rape? How about you, Senator Cruz? Have you ever been refused medication because a nurse perceived you to be exaggerating your pain levels simply because you’re black?

No?

Senator Alexander, have you ever had to use a breast pump at work?  Have you ever needed to limp into work with stitches holding your cervix together, Senator Thune? Senator Lee, have you left your six-week old infant at daycare while your breasts leaked with milk, because you were afraid to lose your job? How about you, Senator Enzi? Ever walk into work, bleeding due to a miscarriage, unable to take time off from work?

No?

Senator Cotton, have you ever looked at the maternal death rates for black women and worried, will that me? Senator Cornyn, have you read the infant mortality rates for black infants and worried if the child you were carrying inside you would die?

No?

How can you, thirteen white men, craft a comprehensive health care plan which must include women and people of color and LGBTQ without including them in your debate and decision-making process?

It is presumptuous and condescending and dangerous. And yet it is par for the course.

There is no identity politics. There is America. There is diversity. There is us. We are those identities, and those identities define our politics in the sense that they must be given a voice in any policy that is going to last.

You ask us to trust you, yet you routinely and rather spectacularly at times fail to earn that trust. You fail not necessarily because you are trying to punish or withhold, though certainly that is sometimes true, but often because you just don’t know any better. Why would family leave and maternity coverage and reproductive rights be at the top of your list? Why would funding to find out why black mothers die at a higher rate, and black babies die more frequently be important to you? After all, those policies, those politics, aren’t part of your identity.

But they’re part of ours.

Anyone who doesn’t fit into the narrow confine of those that will sit around your table has the word identity attached to them. Card-carrying members. Race, gender, sex. When we try to point out the ludicrousness of trying to craft policy without the representation of those groups, we are accused of playing a card. As if we were cheating at poker instead of trying to save our own lives.

We’re demanding a seat at the table. Because, to paraphrase Cecile Richards, if we do not have a seat at the table, we are on the menu.

When your surrogates claim women are using Medicaid funds for abortions to ‘travel’, or that women who want abortions can go to the zoo, you fail. You fail when you admit you don’t know why women seek abortions. You fail when you don’t demand mandatory maternity coverage. You fail when you don’t craft humane family leave policy. You fail when you don’t ensure that victims of domestic and sexual abuse will be given health care. You fail when you don’t take into account the way Americans of color and Americans in rural areas are underserved by hospitals and doctors. You fail and you fail.

But your biggest failure is insisting that you have the ability and experience to make decisions for all of us, without our input.

You fail because you are thirteen white heterosexual men…only. And you always have been. The number has changed, but the homogeny has not.

Imagine if this committee was made up of thirteen black women. Or thirteen gay men. Imagine if it were made up of thirteen members that did not include a white, hetero, cisgendered, Christian male. Would you feel like your needs were being met? The issues important to you given consideration? Yet that is what you continually ask us all to do, time and time again. To trust you to represent us.

So no, I do not expect you to come up with a bill that will do right by women, or by Americans of color. Or by the poor, or anyone else who must carry with them the tag of ‘identity’ with them wherever they go. Because anytime you have a group that is without diversity of thought and experience, you’re bound to fail.

You have failed us enough. Why should this time be any different?