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.

 

Let Her Speak: Why Hillary Clinton is More Relevant Than Ever

Regardless of whether you love Hillary Clinton or hate her, the truth is this:

Hillary Clinton has been the standard-bearer of women working the US legal and political system for nearly 40 years. And for nearly 40 years, people have been telling her to sit down and shut up.

While I was trying to write about this without resorting to copious usage of the word f*ck, I came across a FB post about another woman. A woman who, outraged at listening to a male moderator explain scientific theory over the top of the expert who actually held those theories, stood up and demanded he let her speak.

Let her speak.

The FB post resounded with many women, perhaps the same way the continued vilification of Hillary Clinton resounds with me.

It resounds because it’s familiar. It’s a familiarity that starts as a tingle in the back of your throat, a nudge from some deeply rooted memory. And as that seedling of familiarity grows, it becomes something else. Sadness. Anger. Despair. Frustration. Because while not every single woman in the history of womankind recognizes the humiliation implicit in being told to sit down and shut up, a lot of us do.

It happens in ways that are obvious, and in ways that are not so obvious. Blatantly condescending and subtly patronizing. So subtle at times you doubt your own senses.

Did that just happen?

Did that person just imply what I think they did?

We ask other women, am I imagining things here?

And the answer is no, we’re not imagining it, and yes, they said what you thought they said.

Despite the constantly repeated narrative to the contrary, Hillary Clinton is a hero to many women. No, not all women. And yes, plenty of men. But let’s be clear, there are millions of women who still support her. And just like during the primaries and the election season, when the press didn’t bother to seek out comments from those with full-throttle support of Hillary Clinton the candidate, right now they’re not seeking out comment from those who most assuredly do not want to see Hillary Clinton sit down or shut up.

Once again, the voice of millions of Hillary Clinton supporters are being drowned out by those who are talking over us.

Let us speak.

Here is what I have to say: Hillary Clinton’s dogged determination to stay relevant, to stay in the public eye, in the face of her loss, is more important than ever.

Why?

Because Clinton is a lighting rod. Donning a cloak of super-human resilience, she has managed to stay upright in her crisp, white pantsuit. She refuses to back down, to go away, and, to the consternation of the mostly male journalists who seem to write about it, to accept sole personal responsibility for whatever they feel needs accepting.

Love her or hate her, she is a woman of historic achievement and historical proportions. A woman who received more votes for president than any white male candidate EVER. Who received 3 million more votes than her opponent. As the first female nominee on a major party ticket she navigated uncharted waters because there was no course for her to follow. She IS the course. She battled racism, sexism, fake news, rumor and smear, and a disinformation campaign waged by a hostile foreign nation. And despite all of that, she lost by a margin of 70,000 votes spread over three states.

Even when she does apologize, it’s not good enough. Newsflash: in terms of Hillary Clinton, it’s never going to be good enough. The woman could die and they’d accuse her of not dying fast or well enough.

So, what does a woman have to do to be good enough? As the viral FB post illustrates, it’s not enough to be an expert in your field. It’s not enough to be overly qualified. It’s not enough to have proved yourself, time and time and time and time and time again, to wait your turn, to be the best person for the job, to be the smartest or the strongest or the most resilient.

It’s never enough.

So no, I will not stay silent when you tell this badass woman to sit down and shut up. Hillary Clinton, and Hillary Clinton alone is solely responsible for the surge in women running for elected positions. Her loss is responsible for the clarion call that went out on the morning of November 9th to women everywhere. No, not all women. And yes, men too. But let me tell you something: This is my playground, and I have never seen a mobilization of women like I am seeing now. There is a storm gathering force, the likes of which I haven’t seen in my lifetime. And Hillary Clinton is responsible for that.

This kick ass woman who has been forging a path as a political woman in the public eye for decades, and has been doing it almost all on her own. She has absorbed body blows that would have felled lesser politicians. At times, she has been felled. And she has picked her pant-suited ass up off the ground and stood up to face the next punch. And here’s the thing–by her continually doing that–still–she allows the next group of women to follow in her wake. Hillary Clinton created the goddamn wake.

She keeps taking the punches for the rest of us. I don’t know how she does it, but in the same breath, it’s not surprising. Women are resilient. They’re crafty when they need to be crafty. They compromise when they need to. Because that is how women have survived people trying to kill them for centuries.

Death in the political sphere is metaphorical. But it’s a killing all the same.

We love failed women. We love when a woman asks us for forgiveness, because it means the power balance is restored. But Hillary Clinton is not asking for forgiveness. And that infuriates some, on both the right and the left.

Not only did this uppity bitch think she could be president, but now she won’t even ask for forgiveness? Who the hell does she think she is?

She is goddamn Hillary Clinton, that’s who. Bad-ass-iest badass on the scene. She is zero fucks left to give Hillary. And to the consternation of some, there are millions of us who are still with her.

Scroll through the comments section on any article demanding she go away. Look at all the comments–no, not all women, and yes, some men–who don’t want Hillary Clinton to go anywhere. Who are still interested in what she has to say.

And no one is asking us anything.

They’re telling us, once again, they know better.

Ah…there’s the familiar sense of being told, in a condescending way, we don’t know what’s best for ourselves. That we must somehow be misguided, fooled, wrong, mistaken.

You’re not imagining it.

Let her speak.

 

 

 

 

One Day at a Time, One Woman at Time

I have a challenge for you. Every day for the next week, compliment a woman.

To be sure your wife, your best friend, your mother or daughter–they should be complimented freely and frequently, but for now, go a bit further afield. A co-worker or colleague, perhaps. Maybe the woman who gets your coffee order right every day. Hell, send a tweet to a woman in public office you admire, an artist whose work you love, an activist who inspires you. Say something nice to the small, elderly lady you see going to the shop every day by herself.

Compliment a woman every day for a week.

That’s it.

As far as challenges go, pretty simple right? I mean I’m not asking you to sell Girl Scout cookies or shove two dozen hot dogs down your throat. I’m not even asking you to give up sugar or alcohol. Easy peasy.

Ok, ok, there’s one, small catch. Your compliment can’t rely on a woman’s physical appearance or what she’s wearing.

Did that make it more difficult? After all, appearance is our go-to with women, our fail-safe.

You look nice today. Your hair looks beautiful. You look good. You’re looking well. I love the way that dress looks on you. That color looks great on you.**
Look, look, look.

Look: There are tens of millions of women who are doing hundreds of millions of admirable, compliment-worthy things each and every day. Single moms who are raising amazing kids in difficult circumstances. Women who donate their time to help others. Women who work to cure cancer. Women who teach your kids and care for your elderly mother, who do a million shitty jobs with a smile. Girls who are acing AP chemistry exams and breaking sports records. How often do we actually see these women, the ones who aren’t our wives or daughters or friends? And, when we do see them, how often do we see beyond the shade of their hair or the clothes they’re wearing?

How often do we tell them that we see them, see what they’re doing?

**************

If the patriarchy was set up by men, the mechanisms which keep it running are lubricated by women. And most of the time we aren’t even aware we’re dutifully oiling the cogs.

Some women like the protection and order a hierarchical structure offers them. There are plenty of women who benefit from patriarchy. Think Serena Joy in The Handmaid’s Tale, or the Aunts, clinging to whatever crumb of power over others they are allowed. As long as a human being has power over another, they are going to question dismantling the structure that allows them that power–even if it’s hurting them in other ways. Some women bristle against the idea of inequality-perhaps because they haven’t faced any situation or scenario in which they’ve felt unequal. Others bristle against it because it’s a painful thing to come up against, the idea that there is a structure in place which fundamentally views a category of people as inferior.

So we fight. Not against the power structure itself though. We fight with each other.

Frankly, women are often awful to other women. Instead of working together to form a bridge so we can move forward as a whole, we’re hurling one another off at the closest checkpoint, burning it behind us, in front of us, making sure that no one can get across.

The structure’s already there. It only needs an occasional tweak. And we’re doing most of the maintenance ourselves.

**************

A while ago I made a conscious decision to stop judging other woman on the way they look. I try not to disparage women for the choices they make. I try. It’s not always easy. There are plenty of women in the world who disagree with me, and I them. Forcefully. There are women who believe that the role of women is to be subservient, behind the scenes, best supporting role in a male society category. As much as that makes me go all funny in the head and want to stage a full-scale intervention, if my definition of sisterhood does not have room for their personal choices, then I’m really no better. We don’t have to agree. But neither one of us is ever going to get anywhere if we’re dueling it out in the middle of the bridge while other women dismantle the support struts.

I refuse to support a system which encourages me to view other women as my enemy (except for Ann Coulter. I will make an exception for Ann Coulter). I am not going to keep oiling the gears. If a system of a down is going to keep me down, I’m going to make the fuckers who are benefitting from it work to keep it running.

I’ll be damned if I’m going to do the work for them.

So I stopped. I make a conscious effort every day to support other women. I pay more attention to the way I treat other women. And I, who write about it, who is so focused on it that I miss the forest for the trees at times, I have a long way to go.

So I’m on a mission, to lift one woman at a time, one day at a time. And the easiest way to do that is to actually see other women. To look at them. To listen and support. And to let them know I see them and hear them.

That’s it.

I can’t swoop in and change the world, even though there are times I desperately want to. I can’t beat people over the head, though some times I desperately want to do that too. I can’t control what is out of my hands, but I can control how I react to the world around me. And I can control how I live my life.

And for now, I choose this.

One woman at a time. One day at a time.

I’m not saying it’s going to change the world. But it will change me. And isn’t that a good enough place to start?

 

 

 

**In Darling, You Look Marvelous, I wrote about the importance of women complimenting other women, particulary their physical attributes, as a way to get over viweing other women as competition. Viewing women as ‘other’, as competition, is simply anohter cog in the machine we’re continaully greasing up.