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.

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.

 

 

 

 

Why Don’t We Believe Women?

My feelings about Feminism are well and widely known. My opinions are not hidden under a layer of civility or justification. On the contrary, they have, in recent months, become louder and further cemented in my belief system. Despite all that, there’s one question I circle back to time and time again.

Why don’t we believe women?

Barring extremists, and apparently Polish EU lawmakers, I’m going to assume most people don’t think women are intellectually inferior. I think most agree–at least on the surface-that women should enjoy equal rights.

Yet almost everything we do as a society undermines that basic foundation–because we continue to mistrust women. This holds true for the poor and minorities as well, but I’m a little hyper focused these days, so I’ll focus on the female.

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

When it comes to sex and reproduction, we repeatedly and continually mistrust women to know what is best, to do what is right for themselves and their families, to make complex and personal decisions.

It seems the very idea of a sexual woman, one unencumbered by the weight of possible motherhood, is as terrifying now as it always has been. Smack in the 21st Century, women who have sex are still the Boogeywoman. Are we so frightened that allowing women control of their bodies will result in some sort of Vagina Dentata Spring Break? That we will unleash a secret society of Succubi? Are we really that afraid of women who have sex?

Look, a woman who was or is willing to risk death by putting her life in the hands of a back-alley abortionist, or ordering unknown pills of the internet, or mutilating herself with knitting needles solely for the purpose of ending an unwanted pregnancy is telling us something. Loudly and clearly. Why don’t we trust her? Abortion in the United States was not legalized to encourage women to have more abortions. It was legalized to regulate it. As much as it may offend some to think it, women have always and will always seek ways to end pregnancies. It was only legalized in the US because enough women were bleeding to death or dying of sepsis that someone finally took notice.

When a woman makes the very private decision to end a pregnancy why don’t we believe she made the right decision for her? Why don’t we trust she knows what she is doing?

The myth that all women are meant to be mothers, or that all women, when presented with a child will love and nurture it is not only false, it’s dangerous. Not all women should be or want to be mothers. Why do we doubt them? Why do we perpetrate the misguided notion that she can simply ‘give the child’ up for adoption, conveniently ignoring the health, financial, and psychological toll that nine months of pregnancy and birth will have upon her (while simultaneously completely ignoring the male role in that pregnancy)?

Why don’t we believe women?

When a woman tells a friend, or the media, or the police, or a judge that she has been raped, why don’t we believe her? Why do we continually search for reasons why she was raped instead of accepting the reason is simple: some men are rapists.

When a woman says she is being beaten, why don’t we believe her? Even with bruises circling her eyes, we will gratefully swallow any cheap excuse offered. She walked into a door. She fell down the stairs. We want those excuses because it means we don’t have to examine the complexity of feelings dredged up by the idea of a woman being violently beaten, including, first and foremost, the truthfulness of her claims.

We don’t believe women who report marital rape or domestic violence. Surely she must have done something wrong.

We don’t believe women who report sexual harassment on the job. Surely she’s just too sensitive, can’t take a joke.

We don’t believe women when they talk about the barriers to their success. Surely they’re just not trying hard enough.

We don’t believe women who tell us they’re treated differently than men in the same field. Surely it’s all in their head.

We don’t believe women who outline the obstacles they must overcome in order to compete in the workplace. Surely they’re just not as qualified, or don’t want it badly enough.

We don’t believe women when they speak of  the everyday sexism they face. Surely they’re just making it up to get ahead.

We don’t believe gay women really love other women. Surely they just hate men–or haven’t met the right one.

We don’t believe women when they file discrimination suits. Surely they’re just seeking revenge.

We don’t believe women of color when they tell us for every 78 cents on the dollar a white woman makes over the course of her life, she will make between 58 and 65 cents. Surely it must be something else. Certainly it is not because she’s black, Hispanic, because she’s a woman.

We don’t believe Trans women are using bathrooms in the exact same way we all do. Surely they are lying to cover some nefarious plot.

We don’t believe women when they talk about the challenges of balancing a career and a family. Surely they’re exaggerating, after all, men do it all the time.

Do we honestly think women take low paying jobs because they’re not as smart, or ambitious, or educated as men? Study after study shows the opposite. Study after study shows more women graduate college than men, but women make up a disproportionate number of minimum wage workers.

Are we honestly going to pretend it’s because they’re just dumb? Lazy? That they are un or under-qualified? That they want shitty jobs?

Or could it maybe, just maybe, have to do with the fact that women face obstacles which simply aren’t there for men?

We don’t believe women, either individually or as a group, when they try to tell us these things.

What’s it going to take for us to start believing women?

 

 

Do We Still Need Buffy?

Twenty years ago, Buffy the Vampire Slayer premiered. A blond assassin of the undead, an older white guy who wasn’t in charge, crushes, bullying, inter-species romance. Buffy had it all. Two decades on, the show is still a go-to reference when you find yourself looking around at the intersection of feminism and pop culture.

Today’s young girls, a full generation behind the vampire slayer’s fans, have grown up in a post-Buffy world. A world in which the Hell Mouth is sealed and all the demons are safely tucked away in their graves.

So twenty years on, do we still need Buffy?

I was an adult when the series premiered back in 1997, well past the age of breakouts and quarterback crushes, yet I loved it from the start. It was clever and bitingly funny. Many of the issues tackled were problems which follow you from the hell of high school hallways right into the abyss of adulthood. Plus, you know, Angel was a good looking guy. And if nothing else, I’m a sucker for a slayer-vampire Romeo and Juliet story arc.

The show blew a Buffy shaped hole in pop culture and through that opening, a slew of female protagonists marched. Xena, Katniss, Tris, Rey, Jin. Today’s girls have grown up never questioning strong female protagonists–slayers of the undead, leaders of rebellions, warrior princesses. Today’s girls are living in a post-Buffy bubble.

But that bubble? It’s in a world which is most decidedly not post-Buffy.

Girls may take strong female leads for granted nowadays. Princesses who insist upon saving themselves. Star Wars heroines who tell the guy to let go of her hand. Teenagers like Buffy and Katniss who are doing the saving, the sacrifice, and still finding time to fall in love on the side. A steady diet of girl power, fed to them by mothers who have often witnessed the double standards women face in the world themselves and are determined to show their daughters something different, and by fathers who are woke enough to realize how much representation matters.

But I worry that some of these young women, many of whom have yet to face workplace discrimination, the unfair burden that parenthood places on one parent, the systematic drip-drip of micro-aggressions that eventually wear a groove in your soul–those young women may think they are living in a world in which all the problems of sexism have already been slayed with a sharpened stake and biting wit. A world in which the Hell Mouth stays sealed and life is sunny in Sunny Dale once again.

But just because there was a Buffy doesn’t mean all the monsters are gone. All those nasties? They are still sulking around just under the surface. The vampires? It’s things like harassment, all the indignities which can suck the life out of many working women, everything from being overlooked for promotions, to being groped at the water cooler, to being talked over and interrupted. The demons? There’s the motherhood penalty, in which even women who aren’t mothers often make less money than their male peers, regardless of the male’s parenthood status. The Gentlemen? Well, several of them occupy the current White House administration. The ghouls and devils and masters? Double standards, double binds, the lock-step of a patriarchal system.

A sharp stick is only going to go so far. A biting wit is great for Facebook, but it’s not going to do much to slay years of ingrained attitude. We still need Buffy, or the idea of her anyway. We still need someone to show us how to slay the monsters with a roundhouse kick and a chair leg, how to be vulnerable but not allow that vulnerability to get in the way of taking action when action is needed. What we really need is a whole generation of Buffys. Forget the ‘into every generation a slayer is born’ stuff. Right now, the Hell Mouth is yawning and the Capitol from the Hunger Games is staring up at us.

I don’t know what’s coming, but I can tell you that in my many years, I’ve never seen so much focus on women, women’s lives, and women’s issues as I have in the last year. I’ve never seen the coordinated resistance, the anger and organization, the push back–from women–that I’m seeing now. And if something big is in the air, a seismic cultural shift, we’re going to need all the Buffys we can get.

The show may have ended thirteen years ago, but the need for a slayer never really goes away. Not really.

So, do we still need Buffy?

Hell Mouth yeah.