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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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.

 

 

 

 

If You See Something, Say Something

see-somethingWhen my kids were small enough for peek-a-boo, they’d sit, a chubby toddler hand across their eyes.

“Can you see me?” they’d squeal, peeking through their fingers. To them, the logic was simple: if they couldn’t see me, surely I couldn’t see them.

A year ago, I found myself in a situation with someone waxing lyrical about his perceived virtues of Donald Trump (which essentially amounted to not being Hillary Clinton). I racked my brain to find a way to rationalize his ideas so that I could continue to be in the shared space we found ourselves in. I couldn’t. So I stopped sharing the space. I stopped doing something I enjoyed because I didn’t want to make others uncomfortable.

That’s what women do. That’s what liberals do. We don’t, in the parlance of my kids, walk all over other people’s feelings. Sometimes women don’t argue for no other reason than a deeply embedded survival instinct. Generations of women can attest that an angry man is often a dangerous man. As I wrote recently, keeping your head down as a woman is not an act of cowardice or consent as much as it is an act of survival.

I’m not one to shy away from confrontation. In fact, I court it most of the time. But I was deeply invested in the idea of allowing room for diverse thought.

I say was because I was wrong. Because racism and sexism? That is not diverse thought. It’s hate. It is some sort of superiority complex masquerading as something else. There is no room for racism. There is no room for sexism. If you feel that your skin color grants you superiority, or the organ dangling between your legs denotes supremacy, if you feel the God you worship or the book of stories you choose to live by outweighs those of others then you are, quite simply, wrong.

I can’t stop anyone feeling those things. I cannot nor should I stop anyone from thinking them or speaking them. But I will be damned if I will not confront the ugly truth of them and let them slide in order to keep a one-sided peace. A one-sided peace which is often mistaken for consent and agreement.

Women are taught, from a very early age, to keep the peace, to compromise, to find a middle ground. We are raised with an unspoken understanding that our role is to make everyone else comfortable, even at the cost of denying our own needs and beliefs. Making those around you uncomfortable? That is to be avoided.

You put your hand over your eyes. If you can’t see it, it follows that it’s not there, right?

Except it’s still there.

I’m a white, heterosexual, middle-class woman. I’m very probably past my child-bearing years. Hell, I don’t even live in the US at the moment. The easiest thing in the world for me to do right now would be to drape something across my eyes and tell myself that confronting it will make everyone else uncomfortable.

But just because I can’t see it doesn’t mean it can’t see me.

 
After 9/11, the NYPD ran with a Homeland Security campaign which urged New Yorkers: If You See Something, Say Something.

As Septembers came and went, the cry became less urgent. The fear of terrorism became something you learned to live with as opposed to something that fell out of the sky one cloudless day. It became a tag line. Black letters running across the bottom of a subway advertisement, sandwiched in between Dr. Z and Brooklyn Community College.

letter-2
Close up of letter sent to mosques in several U.S. states.

If you see something, say something.

What I am seeing, since the morning of November 9th, is evidence of the resurgence of acceptable racism, normalized sexism, legitimized bigotry. A digging in of heels over systematic oppression. A backward sprint toward a notion of “I can say anything now’ in some imagined Trump-landia, as if the election of a president magically stripped away any pretense of civil rights, civility, civilization.

Uh-uh.

Now is not the time to cover your eyes and pretend it’s not there. Now is not the time to worry about making others uncomfortable. Now is not the time.

If you see something, say something.

If you see someone promoting or repeating racism, say something.

If you see someone harassing someone else because of their sex, say something.

If you see someone giving someone a hard time because of their sexuality, say something.

If you see someone targeted because of their faith, say something.

Too many of us have been peeking out from behind fingers. We enjoy the privilege of looking away because it doesn’t affect our day-to-day lives, or it does affect us but somehow we normalize it.

This is not the time for looking away. It’s not the time to bite our tongues in order to keep things comfortable. It’s not time to keep the apple cart upright and moving.

The apple cart needs to be well and truly upset. The apple cart needs to be overturned, dismantled, smashed and burned for good measure.

Liberalism gets blamed for a lot of things. But the one complaint about liberalism I agree with is this: we focus too much on inclusiveness. Because in our quest to allow everyone an equal voice, to include all, we left enough space for the nasty stuff to get in. We gave the nasty stuff equal weight. And now it is in danger of spreading like poison ivy all over the skin of a nation.

silence-is-betrayalNow is not the time for inclusiveness. Now is not the time to make allowances for speech or actions which serve no purpose other than hate. Now is not the time to consider the bully’s feelings, to try to understand, to use logic. Now is not the time to let silence be mistaken for consent.

Now is the time to peel the hand away from our eyes and confront whatever is in front of us. No matter how uncomfortable it makes us or the people around us.

 

This Vote’s For You

women-vote-nyc-gettyimages-459216385-1This vote’s for you, Susan B.

This vote’s for every little girl who was told math wasn’t for girls and for every young woman who was told girls can’t grow up to be doctors or lawyers or engineers, astronauts or Presidents.

This vote’s for every woman who has ever had to moderate her voice or been told what or what not to wear.

This vote is for every little girl who was told she couldn’t be Bat Man for Halloween and for every little boy who was told he couldn’t be Wonder Woman.

This vote is for every angry woman who’s ever been asked “are you on the rag?

It’s for every woman who has put her head down to survive.

And for every woman who was told college is wasted on girls.

It’s for every woman who died from back-alley abortions or because her life wasn’t considered as important as the one she was carrying.

This vote is for every young girl who was turned away from woodworking and put into Home Economics instead.

It’s for every girl who asked “Why?”

It’s for all the men enlightened enough to see that a world in which women are equal is better not only for women, but for men as well.

This vote is for every woman who scrubbed toilet stalls or stood on her feet ten hours a day or cleaned houses or worked a factory floor in order to provide for her children.

This vote is for every woman beaten, every woman assaulted, every woman touched against her will. It’s for the ones who were able to get away and for the ones who couldn’t.

This vote is for the women of Seneca Falls, NY, to the women who fought and died for my right to cast this ballot.

It’s for every woman who has endured a lifetime of small moments meant to belittle.

It’s for all the women who have come forward, especially the ones who have been doubted, shamed, or shunned.

This vote is for every woman who has had to write under the name of a man, who’s had her work overlooked, her contributions diminished, who has lost her rightful place in history books.

This vote is for every woman who’s had to work twice as hard to prove herself.

This vote is my mother who never once told me I was less than because of my sex. For my father who never shied away from telling me how proud he was of me.

This vote is for every girl who has heard ‘like a girl’. It’s for every little girl who knows, instinctively, it’s meant as an insult.

This vote is for every woman who came before, who chipped away a little at a time. For every woman who watched a dream fade away because others weren’t ready for her.

This vote is for every woman who has been called shrill, aggressive, bossy, bitch. This vote is for every woman who didn’t let those words stop her.

This vote is for every eye blackened, every bone broken, every woman killed.

This vote is for every woman who went first, who cut herself on whichever ceiling she broke through, who had to tend to her wounds alone because she was the only one.

This vote is for every little girl growing up in a country where she is still denied the right to be educated, where she is sold into marriage or trafficked into trade.

This vote is for my husband, who believes I can do anything I dare to dream. It’s for my sons, who will grow up never questioning the idea of a woman’s name on a ballot.

ballots-for-womenThis vote is for every voice raised against inequality, whether it is shouting or whispering.

This vote’s for you, Hillary.