The Weight of Being a Woman

There are days I cannot breath as a woman. The weight of my sex is so heavy within me that it’s surprising I can walk or talk. Every exhale is labored. Every inhale like breathing under water. The weight of being nothing but an ‘also ran’ is constantly with me. We are attached, me and this Siamese twin of otherness.

For me this is what it feels like to be a woman at times: the pressure in my chest blossoms into fury, and yet I know there is nowhere for that outward spray to go, and so two thousand years of history sits there in the middle of my chest. The whole thing is almost impossible to move except in the tiniest of increments so you can suck enough air to keep you alive.

It’s exhausting.

It is exhausting knowing deep down in my bone marrow no matter what I do, no matter how hard I work, how much I learn, I will always be seen as second best by people who consider themselves best for no legitimate reason other than they’ve always been told they are. I will almost always have a qualifier in front of my name, an extra “W” for Woman added. Almost everything I do will be measured from a yardstick of maledom. It is exhausting to remind myself that I should not let that dictate what I do or do not do.

I try.

The weight of being a woman is trying to dispel the suspicion that the entire world is set up not only to facilitate my failure, but to take joy in it.

The weight of being a woman is the near constant battle of internal and external. The internal does not feel any different, no better than or less than, but the world around me screams something very different. The outer world does not match my inner world. It’s a constant battle to maintain equilibrium.

It weighs on me. As a woman.

I wonder, do some think a woman arises from her bed in the morning, groggy with sleep and warmth, feeling as if she is naturally less than a man? Do some assume women wear a sense of inferiority like a second skin? Burrow into it like a rabbit warren? Do some think women simply accept a notion of less as point of fact?

The weight of being a woman is fighting that notion, with nail and claw and written word, some days with nearly every breath I struggle to take.

I am not tired of being a woman. I am tired of being a woman in this world. I am tired of arguing for legitimacy, as if the possession of ovaries instead of testicles automatically confers something I am blind, deaf, and dumb to. I am tired of having an identifier attached to my name. I am tired of being a derivative. I am tired of being half the yardstick. I am tired of explaining how the system is set up against me, against my sisters, to people whom the system benefits.

The weight of being a woman is sometimes simply the sheer exhaustion of being nice. It is exhausting feigning polite merely to survive, constantly calculating risk, managing the way I walk through life. It is exhausting not trusting there are people have your best interests at heart, that they are not simply waiting in the wings in some sort of sexist ambush. It is exhausting trying to squeeze into the idea of feminine when everything within me overflows those boundaries.

The weight of being a woman is actual weight as well of pregnancies and infants on hip, of petticoats and bustles, layer upon layer upon layer of veil to mask us from ourselves, from the world.

The weight of a woman is the exhaustion of navigating the world with a currency of sexuality in your pocket. A currency given to me before I was old enough to use it or save it or spend it. A currency which is practically worthless now that I am of a certain age. Spent now, nothing left though my pockets still feel plenty heavy to me.

The weight of being a woman is watching young girls navigate their way through this mine field, knowing exactly where the detonating points are. Warning them will have no effect. It will take years of constant subtle–and not so subtle– explosions to convince them.

I want to take them aside and tell them about this weight, this weight of being a woman, but they will dismiss me as nothing more than an old crank. Halfway to crone. Worldly womanly wisdom is not yet discernible in a wrinkled jowl or a head of white.

I’m not a kindly oldening woman offering sage advice.

I am a vortex of rage. An eddy of emotion, whipped frustration and just sheer exhaustion. Exhausted by the weight of being a woman.

The weight of a woman is trying to explain this, all of it invisible to everyone but those who carry it around with them, every day, everywhere they go.

There are days I cannot breathe as a woman.

Today is one of those days.

 

 

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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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Nevertheless, She Persisted

scolds-bridleThis morning I opened my eyes to the news that the US Senate, invoking an obscure rule, shut down Senator Elizabeth Warren while she was reading a letter written by Coretta Scott King. And by shut down, I mean shut up. Along party lines, the Senate voted to officially take away her voice.

In a system meant for debate, while considering whether a nominated candidate was qualified to hold one of the highest posts in the country, a place in which she is among (supposed) equals, they took away her voice. They took the power of her dissent.

Using an arcane rule from a dusty handbook, they scolded her.

Yet another woman who spoke out was told to shut the hell up.

It was an ‘official’ way to attempt to humiliate a strong-minded woman who stood up to question the experience of a man. A rule which has been used a handful of times despite many instances of contention and debate.

There’s nothing new in this. Outspoken women have always been shut up in one way or another, it is only the means which have changed over the centuries. In medieval times, a common ‘scold’ was sentenced to a turn on the ducking-stool, where she was tied and dunked into cold water–often times repeatedly. Think of it as a precursor to waterboarding. Women who dabbled in midwifery and herbs were branded witches, and burned or hanged to the delight of the madding crowds. Women like Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote of equality, had their work overshadowed by the salacious details of their personal lives, in Wollstonecraft’s case, posthumously. Women who demanded the vote were bludgeoned with clubs, beaten, and arrested, force-fed.

The lesson? Outspoken women are dangerous. They must be cured, humiliated, silenced.scold

Delve into the history books. Women are there—-behind the curtains and in between the lines. Hidden figures. Precious few garner the bold-faced caption headings reserved for men.

That’s what happens when you shut women up.

They have been trying to silence women for centuries, and yet we keep rising up from the ashes of those witch pyres to continue the fight. Every obstacle, every form of torture, every death penalty, every stoning, every cutting, every restrictive law, every arcane Senate rule they have used against us, women have never given up. Women keep pushing forward.

Those ‘witches’? They’re responsible for women’s right to vote, to own and sell property, to have a bank account, to choose what to do with our bodies, to obtain birth control. Those witches? They’re responsible for exposing pay gaps and the prevalence of rape and domestic violence, for pushing for better health care and for family leave. Those witches are responsible for making sure your husband can’t rape you and get away with it.

Up until not that long ago, women were, quite literally, property. Like household goods and sacks of flour. So call women what you like, witches, bitches, demons, fem-i-nazis. Women have been bearing the weight of those labels for all of time. We carry them on our heads and our backs. And still we fight.

womens-marchElizabeth Warren. Hillary Clinton. Lucretia Mott. Coretta Scott King. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Cecile Richards, Tammi Duckworth, Elizabeth Stanton, Mary Wollstonecraft, Ruby Bridges, Virginia Wolf, Frida Khalo, Rosa Parks. The list goes on. They all have one thing in common, something that many of us who are born girls seem to be born knowing:

You can try to shut women up all you want, but you will never, ever shut us down.

 

13 Women Who Persisted