How Lucky We Are To Be Alive Right Now

Here we are, the ass-end of another year. I sat down yesterday to write about Salome and her veils.

Then I re-read 2016’s year-end post. Apparently I had the same idea last year.

Always ahead of myself, it would seem. And forever forgetting it.

I expected I would endeth the year in much the same way as I beganeth, but….I didn’t.

Oh, I am still angry, that much is true, but I am not blinded by my rage. I can see around my anger now, see through it. I’ve spent the last twelve months honing it and sharpening it. It is an asset I carry around with me, at all times. A talisman, an amulet I wear around my neck. A sharpened stick a la BtVS to slay demons, both within and without.

It seems strange to look backward at this year and think, how lucky we are to be alive right now, but it’s the truth. I feel more alive than I have for a long time. Sure, much of that prickly pins and needles feeling stems from sheer terror and jaw-dropping incredulity, and it is also true that in my oh-so cushioned life as a migrant I do not fear for my day-to-day existence. The shit-storm clouds gathering over the United States affect my sensibilities and my ideals, but they do not affect my day-to-day life. My whiteness, my bank account, my education levels and my opportunities protect me from the worst of it. For that I am both grateful, humbled, and very, very aware.

Geographically, I’m hobbled from putting my body in the line of fire. Congressionally I vote in one of the bluest states in the country. So I’ve spent the last year turning inward rather than outward, listening and reading, essays on race, on gender. I’ve spent the last year sitting in the messy, pants staining muck of my own discomfort, challenging myself to rise above it. Failing…and succeeding.

I am a better person for it.

So how lucky I am to be alive at a time when black American activists, writers and artists, leaders and voices are finally garnering the recognition they’ve always been due. How lucky I am to be alive at a time when all of that is there for the taking. My table runneth over with choice.

For women, 2017 was a year of validation. All the churning, gut-tingling knowledge which was systematically denied and suppressed and second-guessed finally blew the world apart in a hashtag. I won’t lie. The taste of public vindication is sweet. If 2016 was the year Salome’s last veil dropped, 2017 was the year women burned that fucker like so many bras.

As painful as it is to see stories spill out like steam rising from sewer grates, it is glorious as well. I rode out the back nine of 2017 on a wave of sisterhood unlike anything I’ve experienced before. Will this time be different? I hope so. We have almost reached critical mass, the moment when enough women are in leadership roles to affect real, lasting change. We are at the damn barricades. We just need to topple them.

How lucky I feel to be alive in a world which is finally acknowledging women, our experiences, valuing our contributions not just as a substitute for men, but for ourselves. A world where we are being looked to and asked to lead.

In 2017 I  mourned the loss of a Clinton presidency. I may have been sorely disappointed, it’s true. But I will never know. What I do know is that a Trump presidency has issued in a political, social, and economic awareness unprecedented in my recollection. The safeguards many Americans assumed would protect them are failing–in some instances, rather spectacularly. For many Americans (raising hand), 2017 was the year we stopped taking democracy for granted. Stopped assuming it was something which we, as heirs to democracy with a capital “D” were entitled to. The reality of course is that the United States of America, just like any other country, must work to retain the ideals and principles it was based on.

As an American living abroad, I get a good glimpse into how those outside the US view America. If I could sum it up in one phrase it would be this: “fun, but arrogant as hell”.

May 2018 be the year more Americans check their global arrogance at the door.

2017 was the year my family started seriously contemplating a move back to the US. Each day I question whether it is an advisable one. Tuesdays it may be a yes, but by Wednesday morning, I’ve reversed my decision. But that is for another day’s discussion.

There were lowlights: a seemingly evergreen sadness at the never-ending news cycle of violence and death. Mass shootings in the United States, trucks wielded as weapons, suicide bombings that barely register in the headlines because they’re across the world. There were personal lowlights as well. Standing in my kitchen sobbing as I struggled to reconcile the vulnerability I felt with the fear of revealing it, the sheer cliff-face ahead of me raising two young boys, heirs to the very patriarchy I thought I’d be dismantling. Failure to secure a publisher for my novel, All the Spaces In Between. 

Art by Rebecca Fish Ewan

There were highlights, like reading 1001 nights to an audience of writers at my first writing conference. It’s been a long time since I did something with only myself in mind, which benefitted only me. It was powerful, uplifting, and tremendously rewarding. Having strangers ask for a hug because your words affected them is a powerful and humbling experience.

There was Wonder Woman and the Women’s March. There were the moments my sons described me as a feminist writer to their own friends and teachers. There was a trip to Washington DC, in which I literally stood and touched the stone edifice of so many buildings and felt their solidity ground me.

And of course, there was Hamilton, the soundtrack of the second half of my year. How lucky we are to be alive right now, indeed.

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So here I am, looking ahead at my pile of new notebooks, of schedulers and calendars. At organizers and color-coded things. I know most of them will still be sitting there come December 2018, filled with the ragged edges of torn out shopping lists and scribbled notes about bills to pay. But the possibility they contain excites me nevertheless. I will persist.

I’m about a third of the way through novel #2, young adult speculative fiction. I hope in 2018 I’m three thirds of the way through it.

I will continue to write about women, to speak out about women, to fight for women. My words are slowly reaching more people. Bust Magazine reached out to me and has published a few of my essays. A fellow writer and editor asked me to pen a craft essay, which I used to highlight how I use my sex to enhance my writing, not hinder it. A parenting site reached out to interview me about raising feminist boys. As I joked to my husband, if I keep going at this rate, in 30 years I’ll be famous.

I am solid, finally grasping on to that quivering mass of rage-woman. I can actually grab a handful now. Actually much more than a handful, but again, I need to save something to write about next year, don’t I?

I know who I am. In fact, I’ve never been more sure of who I am.

How lucky we are to be alive right now, eh?

Bring it on, 2018.

 

 

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The Absence of “No” is Not Enough

For the last week I’ve been watching the #MeToo movement rise and fall in the media. Women are sharing, in great detail, personal experiences in order to highlight just how pervasive the problem of sexual harassment and assault really is.

What I’m also noticing is that men, on the whole, have been largely silent.

Now, I hope–sincerely–the relative silence is about allowing a safe space for women to talk about their experiences without trying to interrupt or explain why those experiences are wrong or mistaken or taken out of context. Sincerely.

My worry, however, is the silence is due to many men not hearing what women are shouting over the chasm. The chasm which exists between the way women define and view sexual assault, harassment, and consent, and the way that men do. That chasm is so wide and deep when you shout across it no one on the other side can hear you. All you get in return is a fading echo.

Generally, there are things which both women and men see as obviously and categorically wrong. A woman raped and beaten by a stranger. A child sexually molested by an adult. They tick the boxes of what we agree is defined as rape or sexual assault.

We go down the list. Is it any better if the person who rapes and beats a woman is someone she knows? How about if it’s her spouse? How about if the child is thirteen and the adult in question is twenty-two and swears she told him she was eighteen?

How about if a woman doesn’t bear any marks from her rape or assault? Rape is a crime of violence against women, regardless of bruises or ligature marks. Yet some feel a woman has to have noticeable marks of that violence as evidence of a man raping her. She must bear physical evidence of having ‘fought back’ in order for some to believe her consent was not given.

Already we’re wading into murky territory. And that’s just rape.

What about a man who badgers a woman into some sort of quasi-consensual act? I know women who have had sex because having sex was safer than continuing to be bullied, badgered, stalked, or harassed. I know women who have had sex because it was easier to have sex than to keep fighting against it. Think about that for a moment. Women, especially young women who are still defining their own boundaries, will sometimes have sex simply to shut men up, to stop further harassment, to control the situation, or to be able to walk away. 

If you don’t see that any of those as wrong, it’s a good indication of how wide the chasm really is.

If a woman has sex or sexual contact with a man because she knows the danger of him forcing himself upon her violently is real, does that make it any better that what we classically define as rape? Does it make it right or ok? How about if a woman has sex or sexual contact with a man because she knows the real danger of him ruining her financially? Does it make it any better? Does it make it right or ok?

Sometimes men will grind a woman down to a point where she does not say ‘no’. She doesn’t say ‘yes’. She simply stops saying ‘no’.  To some, the lack of the negative implies consent. I’m guessing this is where Harvey Weinstein’s defense of the accusations of rape is going.

He’ll argue because his victims didn’t say “NO”, there was implied consent.

This is important and this is where the chasm is the deepest: consent is NOT JUST the absence of ‘NO’. It must be the PRESENCE of ‘YES’. 

This is what sexual harassment is. It is badgering. It is pressuring. It is using the power held over someone else to wear them down, not to the point of yes, but to the absence of no.

And if that absence of no is taken for consent, or seen as ok or justifiable, or not that bad, that’s a massive, massive problem.

What women are trying to do with campaigns like #MeToo is show what all the badgering, the pressuring, the threats, the bribes, the blackmail does. They are showing, with their own stories, how the very real potential for serious harm–bodily, psychological, financial–plays out in real life. Women are not dumb. Women will do what they need to do to take control of the situation in any way they can to mitigate the damage.

Out of all the articles I’ve read recently, this paragraph from Lupita Nyong’o’s account of her time with Harvey Weinstein, stood out to me, yet it will likely get lost in the shuffle of more salacious details.

“Harvey led me into a bedroom — his bedroom — and announced that he wanted to give me a massage. I thought he was joking at first. He was not. For the first time since I met him, I felt unsafe. I panicked a little and thought quickly to offer to give him one instead: It would allow me to be in control physically, to know exactly where his hands were at all times.”

Harvey Weinstein will use that as evidence of consent. Many men will read that as evidence of consent.

Women who have experienced a similar situation will read it for what it is: a woman swallowing a smaller indignity to save herself from a larger one.

All of the lewd comments, the innuendo, the leering, the lurking, the touching, the insinuation? All of that is done without a woman’s consent. No man on the street has ever asked a woman if she wanted her booty to be commented upon. No boss has ever asked a female colleague if she wanted him to opine on what she’s like in bed. No supervisor has ever asked a woman if she wanted to view his porn collection or hear about the dirty dream she featured in.

Harvey Weinstein did not ask Lupita Nyong’o if she wanted a massage. He announced what he wanted, to the complete and utter disregard of the woman standing before him. She was nothing more than a vessel for his sexual gratification. Not dissimilar to the potted plant he allegedly ejaculated into in front of a female reporter.

Women do not exist for the sexual gratification of men. Women do not exist for the viewing pleasure of men. Women do not owe men sex, sexual acts, sexuality, politeness, smiles, sashays, exposed legs, cleavage. Women are not human repositories for male sexual fantasies, they should never be expected to bear the weight of those fantasies outside of consensual relationships. And by consensual, I mean one which is clearly marked by the presence of yes, not just the absence of no.

We need to have an open and ongoing dialogue about sex, about power, about violence. About consent. And that conversation needs to between women AND men, not just women shouting ME TOO in an echo chamber. And not just men shouting NOT ALL MEN in their own.

Maybe #MeToo will be the rickety, dinky little rope bridge that allows a few people at a time to cross that chasm.

One can hope, right?